"We need to get closer to the kingpins," said Peter Zinn, senior advisor for the Dutch National Cyber Crime Unit, last week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. "We are making progress, but we're definitely not there."
Zinn and other law enforcement officials from Romania, Germany, the U.S. FBI, and Interpol at the summit offered their perspective and insight on the challenge of catching cybercriminals today.
Traditional criminals and cyber criminals are becoming one in the same. "Regular criminals and cybercriminals are married. Cybercrime is just part of the crime circle, a great way of making money," Zinn said. He cited a case in The Netherlands where two rival biker gangs hired hackers to "hack the living daylights" out of one another, he said.
The officials concurred that cross-jurisdictional investigations remain challenging, despite some key success stories. Coordination and cooperation across international borders is crucial, but not always easy due to incompatible laws and countries that don't or won't cooperate.
Even just inside the U.S., cybercrime investigation coordination can be difficult, said FBI supervisory special agent Perry Goerish. "In our own country, we have so many agencies working different threats. To coordinate among ourselves is cumbersome," he said.
The recent SpyEye bust was a prime example of international cooperation, he said. A Russian national behind the crimeware kit pleaded guilty in his role as primary developer and distributor of the infamous malware, in a case where U.S., U.K., Thailand, The Netherlands, Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, and Australia all had a hand in the investigation.
"SpyEye was a very international effort. We worked hand in hand—there was no lead agency; we worked as partners," Goerish said.
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Madan Oberoi, director of cyber innovation & outreach for Interpol's Global Complex for Innovation, says the lack of uniform laws hurts investigations. "A lack of legal harmonization ... hampers the investigative process," Oberoi said. "We at Interpol believe that multi-jurisdiction problem extends to many countries ... Interpol's 190 member countries are an effective voice and recognize this. Interpol is now establishing its global complex based in Singapore" for organizing cyber crime investigation efforts across borders, he said.
Academia and the private industry also need to be part of the investigation equation. But private industry often laments that any assistance they provide to law enforcement is a one-way street, and they don't get feedback or information in return.
"We are all trying to work better with the private sector," said Andre Dornbusch of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office. "Sometimes law enforcement has to learn how to give feedback to the private sector. They are on the front line, the first to be attacked. They have information that helps law enforcement get on with the investigation."
The FBI's Goerish concurred. "It helps us so much to get the information more on a timely basis" from them, he said.
Meanwhile, technology is being used by the bad guys to thwart law enforcement. Encryption, for instance, is a double-edged sword for law enforcement agencies. "Encryption is a good thing in itself" for security, Zinn said. But with encryption and the advent of Bitcoins and other online currency, "Our job is going to get a little more complex to pinpoint the money trail if they hide the money trail and their IP addresses," he said.
"We need new laws," Zinn said. "In Holland, we are set for a new set of laws. A huge discussion we want to be able to do is legal intrusion ... we want law enforcement to be allowed to hack," he said.
But not surprisingly, the concept is controversial. "It would be locked, checked by judges, etc., and it is something we could use to counter all abilities we've lost" to cybercriminals, he said.
"But lately, there's been something with the NSA and it hasn't really helped the conversation for our point of view. Rightly so, the audience gets suspicious," he said.
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