The term cyber crime continues to present challenges in effectively countering illicit activity involving computers and networks. For the segment of society not turned off by the word cyber, the thought of crime seems to render the wider concept a problem of just law enforcement or government.
Effectively combating cyber crime, however, must include efforts and initiatives involving individuals and organizations outside of the public sector. A shift in government focus that expands to include funding initiatives beyond just those of law enforcement and academia is imperative in a serious bid to curtail widespread cyber crime.
Government focus as well as funding must include widespread education campaigns geared at raising awareness of the threat of cyber crime among the general public. Increased vigilance on the part of every individual around online activity, electronic banking transactions and disclosure of personal information will have a far greater impact in countering cyber crime than any police-based initiative ever could.
Raising the awareness of average computer users, however, will not occur through the commissioning of expensive studies on cyber crime in Canada. Unfortunately, most Canadians will never take the time to read such analysis. More effective spending on education campaigns would target audiences of mass media, through catchy television commercials or advertisements in public transportation.
Educating young computer users is just as imperative as educating police. Instructing young children and youth on the ethics of computer use, the risks of poor online practice and dispelling myths around on-line anonymity and other cyber legends will change the direction of an entire generation of plugged-in citizens.
Encouraging industry to reasonably promote security will help engage individuals in being vigilant. Marketing products as “simply secure” – meaning all the user needs to do is plug this box or install that software to ensure absolute security – should be discouraged. Humans by nature seek easy solutions. Misleading the average user into a false sense of security is just as bad as publicly assuring the masses that the government through funding schemes and increased policing has cyber crime under control.
Cyber crime is not limited to child exploitation alone. Although politically interjecting the specific crime of child exploitation and trafficking helps to gain support, increased attention must be given to the growing rates of fraud, money laundering and other crimes also facilitated by information communication technologies. Focusing on only one aspect of the problem at the expense of others will do little in the overall countering of cyber crime.
While law enforcement does face unique challenges in countering cyber crime, increased funding and education alone will not address many of those difficulties. As with similar issues experienced in government, the bureaucratic nature of many law enforcement agencies coupled with stifling hiring practices prevent the openness and innovation necessary to address the threat of cyber crime.
In an age when the focus of security has increasingly turned towards countering terrorism and the role of technology, past notions of policing need to be assessed. Indeed, it is quite likely that our traditional reactionary approaches are ill-equipped to handle threats such as cyber crime. As a result, new thinking around how such threats are approached, outside of the traditional law enforcement and defence arenas, should be considered. Such approaches must take into consideration, as well as engage, the many people who currently look towards the government for solutions.
(Alicia Wanless is executive director at Toronto-based market research firm International Perspectives and author of a recent report entitled, Countering Cyber Crime: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility. Connect with her firstname.lastname@example.org)