Uniting European CERTs And Law Enforcement In Cybercrime Battle

European Union agency IDs hurdles preventing better intelligence-sharing, cooperation among first-line Computer Emergency Response Teams and police

Europe increasingly faces major challenges bridging gaps among its various national Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and law enforcement agencies in the fight against cybercrime. The European Union's European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) warned today that cooperation among European CERTs and law enforcement is crucial, and issued recommendations for how to forge closer ties.

Nagging cultural gaps between the two worlds, as well as legal and regulatory hurdles, are the main barriers to more orchestrated cooperation among CERTs and law enforcement in Europe, ENISA says.

"What we're seeing is a recognition at the [highest] levels that cybercrime is serious issue. As a community, everybody has to work together to deal with this issue," says Brian Honan of BH Consulting and a member of the Irish CERT. That means CERTs, law enforcement, users, and security companies all play a role in fighting cybercrime, he says.

"In order to work together, we need to communicate well together," Honan says.

Udo Helmbrecht, executive director of ENISA, says CERTs and law enforcement agencies each handle "different aspects" of cybersecurity. "Cooperation between them is vital to properly protect our digital citizens and economy. However, until now little research was done on how to connect these two areas. This study contributes to better fighting cybercrime by identifying the collaboration challenges and ways to overcome them," Helmbrecht says.

At the heart of the cultural gap between CERTs and law enforcement are their different missions. The technically oriented CERTs work more informally and on issues as they arise, while law enforcement takes action when it sees a possible crime being committed.

"There are differences in our goals: Law enforcement is crime prevention and prosecution of crime, and CERTs are coordinating services in the event of a security breach and to help [organizations] recover from a breach," Honan says.

They even speak different languages when it comes to the parlance of cybercrime. ENISA says CERTs and law enforcement agencies typically define cybercrime and attacks differently, and those definitions can vary within different EU nations as well.

"For example, law enforcement may be focused on a variety of types of fraud (e.g. romance scams; auction fraud) the posting of illegal content (copyright violations; online child exploitation material) or even investigations and crimes where there is an ICT element (e.g. forensic exploitation of crime scene evidence). In such cases, it would appear that the role of the CERT could potentially be of a supportive nature," the ENISA report says.

Legal and regulatory issues also make cooperation a challenge. The Irish CERT's Honan says the European Data Protection Directive, for example, complicates things for CERTs. "The biggest challenge CERTs have is the European Data Protection Directive. It's a challenge for us to even get information in the first place," Honan says. CERTs have to be very careful in how they share threat information -- such as a breached database of stolen credit card information, for example -- with third parties under the Directive, he says, which regulates how personal data is processed within the EU.

"If you're sharing that information with third parties, you have to be careful in how it is shared or you could end up breaking the law yourself," Honan says. "You have to make sure the information you're getting has been given to you legitimately ... often, you are sharing information with other CERTs, so you are relying on them to make that call as well. Once we get information, we keep it secure as well."

Organizations often go to their CERT first in the event of a breach for fear of the legal ramifications and public embarrassment of a breach. "We put the onus on the organization to report it to the police," Honan says. "If law enforcement isn't being informed about security breaches and impacts, they don't get any intelligence on what's going on, and that intelligence could be used to prosecute," he says.

[Newly revealed cyberspying campaign against Israeli and Palestinian targets demonstrates how the threat is no longer mostly a China thing. See The Globalization Of Cyberespionage.]

And although many cybercrime gangs operate out of Eastern Europe, their worker bees are spread around the globe these days, also making it more difficult for law enforcement. "I think in a way it's a misnomer that most of organized cybercrime is coming from Eastern Europe. In one sense, it's true: The leaders are residing in an Eastern European country. But the group itself is multinational," says Michael DuBose, cyber investigations practice leader for Kroll Advisory Solutions and former chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"It usually needs to have U.S.-based co-conspirators to fulfill a financial transaction that comes out of the hacks," for example, DuBose says.

DuBose says in the U.S., law enforcement's successes in cybercrime cases have been "uneven," with some states doing better than others. And law enforcement typically takes its cues from the U.S. Attorney or state's attorney general on which cases to pursue for prosecution. "When you have an international criminal group ... it's difficult to get the interest of a local U.S. attorney. They may not end up with a warm body to prosecute."

That's where cooperation among different nations' law enforcement agencies is key, experts say. But in regions such as Eastern Europe where cybercrime is rampant, that can be a tall order.

Meanwhile, ENISA recommends that CERTs and law enforcement agencies expand their training, improve structures to support information-sharing, facilitate collaboration, and harmonize and clarify legal and regulatory issues.

The full report from ENISA is available here for download.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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