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Cyber-Fraud and Public-Private Collaboration

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July 24, 2023 · 6 min read

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The Role of Public-Private Collaboration and Public-Private Partnerships in Combatting Cyber-Fraud. The dawn of the Digital Age has heralded many conveniences and opportunities. Unfettered access to information, the ability to connect with anyone worldwide, and a plethora of digital services have simplified and enhanced our lives. However, this rapid digitalisation, while creating a seamless virtual world, has also given rise to a formidable foe: Cyber-fraud.

Once an abstract concept relegated to science fiction, cyber-fraud has now become an omnipresent threat that casts a long shadow over our increasingly digital lives. Over the past few years, cyber-fraud has grown exponentially, posing a significant risk to individuals, businesses, and even governments worldwide.

Defining the term “cybercrime” is challenging because it covers a vast and continually evolving spectrum of illicit activities. Broadly speaking, cybercrime refers to any illegal activity that involves a computer, a network, or a networked device. Unlike traditional crime, cybercrime is not confined to any physical location or limited by borders. It can simultaneously target victims globally, making it a complex issue with far-reaching implications.

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Cybercrime is typically categorised into two types: cyber-dependent and cyber-enabled crimes. Cyber-dependent crimes are those that can only be committed using ICT devices, where the device is integral to the crime. This includes crimes like hacking, the spread of malware and ransomware, and denial of service attacks. In contrast, cyber-enabled crimes are traditional crimes that have found a new medium for propagation in the digital world. These are crimes like fraud, identity theft, and harassment, which existed well before the advent of the Internet but have been given a broader reach and a more significant impact through it.

While law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity firms worldwide are tirelessly working to combat cyber-fraud, the sad reality is that traditional methods are struggling to keep pace with the evolution and sophistication of cybercriminals. This gap in our defence is especially true in dealing with cyber-enabled crimes, which have seen a significant rise in recent years.

Cyber-enabled crimes, particularly those related to cryptocurrency fraud and investment scams, are increasingly targeting individuals. The anonymity offered by blockchain technology, and the absence of centralised regulation make cryptocurrencies a preferred choice for cybercriminals. Unfortunately, the average consumer lacks the knowledge to identify and protect themselves from such scams.
This lack of consumer awareness, also referred to as cyber literacy, is a significant contributing factor to the spread of cyber-fraud. The world of digital payments, cryptocurrencies, and online transactions can be overwhelming for many. Without a solid understanding of these systems, consumers are unable to recognise the potential risks and safeguard their sensitive information, making them easy targets for cybercriminals.

How can we combat cyber-fraud?

As our world continues its march towards digitalisation, cyber literacy needs to become an integral part of our education. Teaching children about the potential dangers online, how to identify potential threats, and how to protect themselves is crucial. Schools, colleges, and educational institutions should integrate cyber literacy into their curricula to equip the younger generation for the digital future.

One alarming factor of cybercrime is the growing sophistication of cybercriminals. Gone are the days when cybercrimes were committed by lone wolves or small groups. Today, we face an organised crime industry that operates at an international level which in turn makes combatting cyber-fraud far more complex. These criminal organisations have resources at their disposal and often use advanced technologies to commit crimes.

For instance, cybercriminals now use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify potential vulnerabilities in systems, develop new attack vectors, and execute attacks with alarming speed and efficiency. Furthermore, the use of deceptive practices, such as creating convincing fake websites or using caller ID spoofing to hide their real identity, makes it increasingly difficult for unsuspecting users to identify and avoid these threats.

As cybercrime continues to rise and evolve, it’s clear that tackling this issue is beyond the capability of any single entity. It calls for a genuinely collaborative approach. This is where public-private partnerships (PPPs) and public-private cooperation (PPC) come into play.

Historically, PPPs and PPC have proven effective in planning, developing, and executing large infrastructure projects. These partnerships allow for better resource allocation, risk sharing, and leverage the expertise of private entities to deliver public services more effectively.
In the context of cybercrime, such collaboration is even more critical. Cyber investigation, being a specialised subset of Cybersecurity, is a field that is continually evolving. To stay ahead, public and private entities need to work together. Public entities, such as government agencies, can leverage the private sector’s expertise, while private entities can benefit from the public sector’s resources and legislative powers.

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Public-private collaboration and public-private partnerships can take on various forms, including sharing threat intelligence, conducting joint training exercises, and coordinating investigative response efforts. In theory, most government bodies and international organisations endorse the notion of collaborative initiatives. The United States (U.S) Government, Interpol, and the United Nations, for example, have been active in their advocacy of public-private cooperation (PPC) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the cyber investigation and cybersecurity sectors, and related disciplines. However, it seems that in practice, only a small number of global law enforcement institutions genuinely adhere to their stated position on PPC and PPPs.

Interpol, to cite a case in point, has often emphasised the significance of PPC and PPPs in the struggle against cybercrime. However, it seems that their investigators, inclusive of investigative management, do not truly align with this viewpoint. Cybertrace’s recent involvement with initiating and assisting a major international cyber-fraud investigation, overseen by Interpol due to varying levels of participation from other global law enforcement institutions, provides a salient example of this disconnect.

Regrettably, it was Interpol that appeared resistant to the participation of private investigative firms in the investigation. Law enforcement collaborators relayed to Cybertrace the active pushback from Interpol and their apparent reluctance to collaborate with experts from the private sector. This resistance underscores the practical challenges that can undermine the theoretical endorsement of PPCs and PPPs, further emphasising the need for alignment in attitudes towards these collaborative models across all operational levels of law enforcement institutions. This example is a prominent illustration of the divergence between governmental policy and its practical implementation. This is likely to pose the most substantial obstacle in the establishment of efficacious public-private cooperation.

In conclusion, as we continue to embrace the conveniences of the digital world, we must also recognise and prepare for the potential threats that lurk in its shadows. Cyber-fraud is a pervasive and ever-evolving threat that calls for constant vigilance, awareness, and public-private collaboration is a must to combat cyber-fraud. It is only by working together, sharing knowledge and resources, and staying ahead of the curve that we can hope to safeguard our digital lives from these virtual predators.

Tag: Combatting Cyber-Fraud, Public-Private Collaboration, Public-Private Partnerships, Collaboration, Public-Private

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