Two news items draw my attention in the past few days. One was a message from the United Nations that the terrorist (or freedom fighters depending on your point of view of course) organisation Boko Haram could be funded by West-African drug criminals. The other item was on illegal gambling in the Dutch Football (soccer) magazine Voetbal International. How are these messages related (to cyber crime)?
The most obvious link is that law enforcement has a very hard time coping with these transnational forms of perpetrations. I just want to make a few comments here both as an eye-opener as well as food for thoughts.
Where does the money go?
It is not the first time someone makes the comment that there is a relation between overly large criminal activity in any country and instability and corruption at all levels of society. If e.g. the allegation of Voetbal International is correct and 100’s of millions of Euros are involved in illegal betting, than no match is secure any more from ill practices. Even for the greatest footballers an offer could become tempting. But who else can be bought to look the other way also? It’s not the game I’m worried about.
I’ve seen presentations in the past where it was shown how phishing attacks and 419 scam profits were used to get a foothold in drug trafficking. It was the ticket in for the criminals.
However, the world may have come to a situation in which the Internet crimes are making more than drug trafficking and are severely less risqué. EU commissioner Kroes mentioned the sum of $ 1 trillion earnings in cyber crime in her latest blog.
A police presentation in 2008
VI also mentions that, and this is relevant for this blog, the police is not overly interested in the gambling. No one dies, no one loses money (through robbery), no one files a complaint. This immediately reminded me of a presentation at an anti-fraud workshop I heard by a representative of the Bundes Kriminal Ambt in Wiesbaden in 2008. It amounted to this:
“People who lose money to Ukrainian scammers luring them with the promise of a beautiful girl are actually losers and not worthy of the BKA’s attention”.
More recent publications show that cyber crime has drawn the intention of police forces since 2008. At the same time it is clear that still a lot of ground needs to be covered in order to achieve structural success.
The dangers of criminal money
So whether the money is made through drug trafficking, cyber crime or illegal gambling, fact is that it deserves attention to save or own society. The power of money may be more than even our societies can cope with, especially at times when more people are hit by the economic recession and stringent budget cuts in public spending.
Virtual money and banks
Another interesting point made in Voetbal International is that all gambling money made is virtual money. It speeds around the Internet. True. This is one of the points Misha Glenny made is his book McMafia. Now who is it that has an insight into these money streams around the world?
At the same time I see that banks are under continuous digital fire through phishing attacks, skimming, but also undoubtedly other attacks that we are not told about. So, isn’t it time that banks learn to look at their business from both sides of the equation? Isn’t it their customers that speed the same money around? Times have changed fast for banks in the past few years. But it has also for their customers.
So, how can they, i.e. banks and customers, be best protected from cyber crime? Can law enforcement help protecting both banks and customers in more or different ways than now? Can banks within the limits of national laws share relevant data? I personally look at it like this. One bank is digitally robbed, the other ships the money, maybe they even do it themselves. And tomorrow the other way around. Does this fact set a common denominator for banks to discuss together, e.g. in a clearing house environment?
Cross border, digital crimes: Break down barriers!
In order to stop international crime, barriers need to be broken. Between nation states, between industry and between nations and industry. The first signs that a breakthrough is in the works are starting to show. Breaking the barriers is a necessity in order to push back criminality on the Internet and thus also save societies from temptations that undermine foundations of liberty. As such these illegal activities deserve the attention of (international) law enforcement.
Wout de Natris, De Natris Consult
Leiderdorp, 6 February 2012