Soca tackles cybercrime at domain level

Cybercriminals can register domains with false details far too easily, according to the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Lax domain registration processes are making it easier for criminals to operate online, according to the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency.

The British law enforcement agency is talking to Icann — the organisation that coordinates the internet's naming system — and several regional internet registries, including Ripe, to persuade them to tighten up their procedures for authenticating applicants for domain registration and IP address-block allocation.

"It's far too easy to register domains," Paul Hoare, a senior e-crime manager at Soca, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "There are virtually no controls."

With the talks, Soca is trying to tackle the problem of internet crime from a different angle. It aims to cut criminals off from the start from online outlets for their actitivies, as opposed to tracking them down once a crime has been committed.

Law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to tackle all internet crime head-on, according to Hoare.

"There are criminals in forums with tens of thousands of members," Hoare said. "Realistically, we're not going to lock them all up, [as] we have neither the resources nor the manpower."

In a speech at the e-Crime Congress in London on Tuesday, Hoare gave the audience an example of a false name used to register a domain: 'Mucky McMuck, Mucky Avenue, Muckland'. The applicant was able to successfully complete the registration.

An Icann report on the accuracy of Whois registrant information in January found that over 27 percent of website registrant details were erroneous. Hoare said this translated to approximately 29 million domain names that are effectively untraceable.

This lack of stringency means that cybercriminals are able conduct their business anonymously, said Hoare, especially when added to the relative ease of setting up as an ISP to offer bulletproof hosting for illegal activity. Websites can be set up quickly to carry out internet crime such as malware distribution and phishing, he said.

Industry professionals at the e-Crime Congress welcomed Soca working more closely with internet registries and registrars. Richard Howard, intelligence director for VeriSign iDefence, said that some law enforcement agencies had been "absent from the table" at many Icann meetings.

"It's very forward thinking of Soca, hopefully other [law enforcement bodies] will join them," said Howard. "Bad guys have been playing the system."

Marcus Alldrick, senior manager of information risk for Lloyds of London, also welcomed closer collaboration between Soca, registries and registrars, but added that Soca needed to take a more active role in telling industry and consumers about its achievements.

"Soca is going after one of the causes of internet crime, rather than its symptoms," said Alldrick. "They are looking at the mechanisms of e-crime and dealing with it at lower levels, which is great for industry to hear."

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