- Criminal use of technology is not only putting a serious dent in worldwide economic productivity, it's also pushing police resources to the limit, according to one cybercrime expert.
Bill Bogart, vice-president in the global law enforcement program with Electronic Data Systems in Washington, DC, is in Saskaton, Saskatchewan this week to speak to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police about the issue at that group's annual general meeting and conference.
The security veteran says his message to them will be the same one he's been telling the law enforcement community for years -- that tackling cybercrime is fast becoming a number one priority, and it is one of the most difficult tasks facing them.
"Cybercrime is all new. It's not replacing something, it's come as fast as the technology has. I kid about the term, but there aren't that many sheriffs on the information highway," Bogart says.
There are more than enough criminals, however. Causing mayhem on computer networks is nothing new, starting with the days of the lone programmer hacking for kicks. But Bogart says that has steadily evolved into today's much more organized -- and dangerous -- hacker networks.
Bogart points to the Code Red worm, already estimated to have caused at least $US3 billion in lost productivity worldwide, as the work of well-organised experts.
"That is probably one of the most devastating activities we've seen on the internet," he says.
Perhaps more disturbing than the hackers is the growing appeal of technology in organised crime circles.
According to Bogart, groups in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as the Mafia and South American drug cartels regularly use the Internet to transfer money wirelessly across borders, manipulate the stock market and communicate with each other anonymously.
As well, human smugglers are creating sophisticated network links to coordinate everything from ship landings to payments.
"The internet and the ability to do electronic banking almost anywhere in the world. Not only has it expedited commerce and the economy, it's also assisted those involved in illegal transfers," he says.
The mix of organised crime and high-tech has created a new brand of criminal activity Bogart calls cyber-extortion. It's one he said will quickly outstrip viruses as the number one cybercrime threat.
"There was quite a ring that was operating out of Eastern Europe and that was breaking into databases getting credit card numbers. Then they would come to you and say 'We'd like a job as a consultant because I think you have 25,000 credit card numbers that have been scanned. Here's a couple of them. Check it out.'
"That happens. That has happened, and now you have a corporation that has to decide where the balance is between things like embarrassment and trust and how you are going to tackle those kinds of difficulties," he says.
However, not all of Bogart's message in Saskatoon will be so grim. He has nothing but high praise for the private sector, which he said is spending the time and money required to help police track down cybercriminals -- even at the risk of public embarrassment. Police are also doing an admirable job, he said, despite struggling to build up the necessary resources to investigate cybercrime.
Law enforcement agencies typically have a much harder time attracting qualified IT workers, says Bogart, as they offer generally lower salaries and little opportunity for training or promotions
He also lauded the Canadian government for taking the problem seriously.
"I think Canada has certainly done a much better job than the US," he says. "I think in Canada the government is very committed to e-government, e-commerce, whatever term you want to use."
Bogart's visit coincides with the release Friday of Criminal Intelligence Service Canada's (CISC) annual report on organised crime. In it, CISC (a collection of local and national police forces, as well as private sector interests) concludes that organised crime is using high-tech equipment to observe the police as they track them. CISC indicated that it's only a matter of time before criminals start using hackers to their advantage.
CISC also reported some good news: For the first time since 1990, a decrease is being reported in the total dollar loss associated with credit card fraud in Canada. The dollar loss figure reported for 2000 is $C172.5 million compared with $C226.7 million for 1999.
However, CISC indicated that credit card fraud is international in scope and ongoing investigations show that sophisticated organised criminals in Canada continue to operate and profit at both the national and international levels. In 2000, 33% of Canadian Visa and MasterCard credit card fraud occurred outside of the country.