Governments must respond aggressively and evolve to detect, deter and prosecute cyber criminals
Digital innovations have generated enumerable benefits for economies, communications and personal security. They have also helped law enforcement expand its ability to investigate criminal activity.
These same technological advances, however, have likewise bolstered a criminal’s ability to victimize individuals near and far, and law enforcement agencies must work across the same borderless digital domain to detect, deter and prosecute nefarious actors, according to Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We face an enormous task in responding to these new threats — ranging from botnets and ransomware to online child sexual exploitation and firearms trafficking, to name just a few — and that task is not getting any easier,” Caldwell, pictured, said in December 2016 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., where she delivered remarks on cyber crime enforcement.
The growth of sophisticated, global cyber threats has prompted authorities to respond aggressively by identifying, apprehending and prosecuting offenders.
“Some of the most significant criminal activity in recent years is the result of sophisticated criminal groups reaching across our borders from perceived safe harbors,” Caldwell said.
Consider the case of Russian cyber criminal Roman Seleznev, she said. In October 2016, U.S. prosecutors secured a conviction for Seleznev, a hacker who pilfered data for millions of payment cards from computer systems and small business owners across the United States. Because Seleznev is the son of a member of the Russian parliament, the Russian government filed diplomatic protests to pressure the U.S. to release him.
“That’s not how justice in America works, and he is now in an American prison,” Caldwell said.
Seleznev is scheduled for sentencing in February 2017.
“We recognize that we cannot prosecute our way out of cyber crime, but prosecution must remain an integral component of our response to global cyber threats,” Caldwell said.
International partnerships represent another key component in combating cyber crime. The U.S. has worked with foreign partners to address technical threats like botnets, darknet markets and international hacking forums.
As recently as December 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice led a multinational operation to dismantle a vast network of dedicated criminal servers known as “Avalanche,” Caldwell said. The servers allegedly hosted more than two dozen of the world’s “most dangerous and persistent malware campaigns.” According to Caldwell, Avalanche served clients operating as many as 500,000 infected computers daily and was linked to monetary losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.
“We were joined in this effort by investigators and prosecutors from more than 40 jurisdictions across the globe,” Caldwell said. “We must maintain existing international law enforcement cooperation — and develop new mechanisms to work with foreign partners — if we hope to continue these successes.”
Rather than let evolutions in technology dictate law enforcement responses, authorities must think ahead as a society and develop appropriate frameworks to address new and upcoming challenges before they become crises, Caldwell said.
“The world is changing around us, and those seeking to do harm are evolving with it; if those responsible for ensuring public safety do not have the same ability to adapt, public safety will suffer,” she said. “When there are multiple interests at stake — public safety, cyber security, international comity and civil rights and civil liberties — we cannot allow the most consequential decisions to be made by a single stakeholder, or leave them to the whim of the commercial marketplace. We would never tolerate that approach in other areas of importance to society, and we should not do so here.”