Interpol hopes physical border security will solve virtual borders

Although physical and virtual borders are vastly different, Interpol is already seeing results suggesting that it can apply the concept to online criminal activity.
Written by Michael Lee on

With its success in distributing information at country borders to help law enforcement agencies identify known criminals, Interpol believes the same approach can be taken in combating online crimes.

James Pang.
Image: Michael Lee

Speaking at the inaugural RSA Conference for Asia Pacific in Singapore on Wednesday, Interpol assistant director of digital crime investigative support sub-directorate James Pang highlighted that law enforcement is falling far behind online criminals.

He said that criminals are taking advantage of the fact that countries' mutual legal assistance requests are slow to process, or the fact that regulation around crimes committed online have not kept up with the fast pace of technology.

"Some countries do not even have any cybercrime laws to empower the law enforcement agency to launch an investigation, not to mention prosecuting the criminals," he said.

The situation is made worse by many law enforcement agencies facing a lack of resources, whether that is in the form of budgetary constraints, technology, or human resources, let alone a specialised unit focusing on online criminal activity. For those that lag behind, the problem looks to get worse, he said.

"The cost of setting up a dedicated cybercrime investigations and forensic unit can be very high. For countries where cybercrime is not identified as a priority, or there is a lack of senior hierarchy awareness of the problems, the resource to establish capacity to combat cybercrime is likely to take a back seat."

Rather than the common misconception that it's an international police force, Interpol's main objective is help the various disparate law enforcement agencies work together through the sharing of information. One of its most well-used databases includes its stolen and lost travel document database, which, according to Pang, was searched 800 million times in 2012.

But Pang believes that the same method of disseminating information to law enforcement agencies could also be used to combat online crimes.

"Interpol is now aiming to emulate its success in securing 'physical borders' to help police better secure the cyberspace," he said.

"We seek to rationalise and overcome challenges in cyberspace as we have done for border security management — placing technology in the hands of police so they can better fight cybercriminals."

Its strategy of taking its success in border control to the online realm will begin at two of its centres — the Interpol Digital Crime Centre (IDCC) and the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI).

The IDCC will tackle three issues that law enforcement agencies are facing, namely the lack of networks between public and private sectors globally, a lack of technology and forensic tools to equip the said agencies, and lagging global legislation. Pang said the IDCC could serve as an "intelligence nerve centre" to collate known trends and threats, and provide the information to relevant agencies as needed.

At the same time, the centre would be used to help advocate the sharing of technology and training in the use of such technology to less-developed countries.

While the IDCC is aimed at providing law enforcement agencies with the tools and information they need to do their jobs, these developments need to come from somewhere. Pang recognised that this was a potentially challenging task, considering that there is a significant "brain drain" toward the private sector. However, the IGCI aims to tackle these issues.

For the Asia-Pacific region, Interpol has established two branches out of the IGCI — the Cyber Innovation and Outreach directorate, and the Capacity Building and Training directorate.

The move appears to be working so far, with Pang reporting that a previous mission to take down members of Anonymous had been instrumental in enabling a "simultaneous transnational operation" to take place between law enforcement agencies in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Spain.

Pang said that this case demonstrated what could be achieved when each country's agencies work together, but also said it highlighted the need to further harmonise legislation and upgrade Interpol's own platforms for online crime.

Michael Lee travelled to Singapore as a guest of RSA.


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