New coalition wants to go Batman on cybercrime

A well-known U.S.-based anti-cybercrime advocacy group is launching a new Canadian chapter with help from some of the country’s biggest corporate giants.

With support from Bell Canada, the Competition Bureau of Canada, Concordia University, Rogers Communications and Microsoft Canada, the National Cyber Forensics Training Alliance Canada (NCFTA Canada) has been established to fight cybercrime activities in Canada such as phishing attacks, botnets, and identity theft. The alliance will undertake research and development projects in order to define cyber criminal prevention methods as well as develop counter-measures to these emerging threats.

Like the established NCFTA organization in the U.S., the Canadian alliance said they will look to bring together law enforcement agencies, businesses and academic institutions to collaborate on cybercrime prevention measures.

“We’ve identified a few specific areas we want to focus on for the initial rollout, including issues around phishing e-mails in the financial industry,” Lynne Perrault, competition law officer with the electronic evidence unit at the Competition Bureau of Canada, said. The proliferation of botnets and spam e-mails, she said, are also key areas of concern for NCFTA because they often provide the backbone for fraudulent activity and identity theft on the Web.

While it would appear that education and awareness on identity theft and phishing attacks has improved recently, Perrault said this isn’t the case.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in educating consumers, because at the end of the day, that’s the weakest link,” she said. “If people are going to click on a link or respond to the phishing e-mails, they are unfortunately setting themselves up to be taken. So, another one of the mandates will be to publish information articles and educate people on our findings.”

Mourad Debbabi, a professor and acting director of the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE), said fulfilling the need for new tools and techniques around cyber forensics will also be a key goal for the alliance. The economic loss in the global e-commerce realm, he said, was estimated at $3.6 billion in 2007 alone.

“This is a serious issue and needs to be dealt with now,” Debbabi said. “There is a need for research and technology initiatives to come up with new techniques and new methodologies to support the investigation of cybercrime activities.”

As for why large companies like Bell, Rogers and Microsoft have gotten onboard, Debbabi said the answer is obvious.

“For a communications company, they are carrying the traffic that’s being subjected to these attacks, so it’s in there best interests to be involved,” he said. “As for Microsoft, most of the platforms out there, in terms of applications and operating systems, are Microsoft-based, so a partnership with them is crucial. And that’s especially if you want to do some tool development research to support your investigations.”

Both Debbabi and Perrault also expect more IT-related Canadian businesses and organizations to join the cause in the near future.

From Bell’s perspective, the opportunity to collaborate with law enforcement, academia and other industry players to address common threats such as e-fraud and phishing attacks was the reason it signed on with the alliance. According to Bell spokesperson Jason Laszlow, anti-cybercrime initiatives such as the NCFTA will also increase the awareness and opportunity for students to get interested in the issue.

“With this research, we can leverage opportunities with academia to develop IT-related talent, which I think fits into the now well-talked about IT skills shortage,” he said.

The NCFTA Canada alliance will be hosted by Concordia University in Montreal.

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