Two recent events heralded by the Commercial Crime Services division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are a ‘game changer’ in the crackdown on cyber criminality.
The first was the arrest of 800 criminals in what is one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against clandestine criminal activities.
It centred on the encrypted phone network ANOM connecting more than 12 000 encrypted devices and used by over 300 organised crime groups to send messages, images and co-ordinate activities across 100 countries.
What the criminals did not know was that ANOM was set up by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2019, targeting global organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering organisations.
The FBI and law enforcers from 16 countries, supported by Europol and in co-ordination with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, used intelligence from 27 million messages obtained and reviewed them over 18 months.
An operation known as OTF Greenlight/Trojan Shield was carried out, resulting in more than 700 house searches, seizure of tons of drugs, firearms, luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various currencies and crypto currencies.
In the second event, the US Department of Justice recovered 63,7 Bitcoins valued at $2,3 million paid to the ransomware group DarkSide.
The funds allegedly represent proceeds of a May 8 ransom payment to individuals in that group, which targeted Colonial Pipeline, the largest pipeline system for refined oil products in the US.
The attack resulted in the company having to take sections of infrastructure out of operation.
The company’s computer network was accessed by attackers and Colonial Pipeline received and paid a ransom demand for approximately 75 Bitcoins.
Reviewing the Bitcoin public ledger, law enforcement was able to track multiple transfers of Bitcoin and identify about 63,7 bitcoins (the proceeds of the ransom payment) was transferred to a specific address, for which the FBI has the “private key,” or the rough equivalent of a password needed to access assets accessible from the specific Bitcoin address.
This Bitcoin represents proceeds traceable to a computer intrusion and property involved in money laundering.
The success of these cases is encouraging and commendable; but it must be remembered some spheres of the digital world – particularly the Darknet – offer a safe haven for murky operations difficult to trace and harder to bring to justice according to an ICC statement.
The law is evolving in favour of fraud and financial investigators and efforts by credible and responsible online platforms, including crypto currency exchanges, to ensure there are measures in the system enabling litigators to follow the money and bring criminals to justice.
Jurisdictions need to ensure exchanges are well-regulated and that comprehensive KYC (know your customer) checks are used. These measures will not stop cybercrime but will go some way in tackling a growing threat affecting businesses, organisations and individuals.