Police, Scorpions in cyber crime limbo

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The Directorate of Special Operations’ (DSO’s) cyber crimes investigators are yet to be incorporated in the South African Police Service (SAPS) cyber crimes unit after the DSO was disbanded in January.
ITWeb reports the SAPS and Scorpions were expected to merge and form a “super-elite crime-fighting unit”, early this year, but have not yet done so.
The DSO, more commonly known as the Scorpions, comprised an unspecified number of investigators and prosecutors. They were given the authority and flexibility to source multi-faceted criminal information, in particular on the trail of money, drugs and people syndicated organised crime.
The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) web site says the prosecutors who worked in the Scorpions would remain in the NPA, while the investigators would be relocated into the SAPS.
A member of the SAPS, who refuses to be named, says all the officers in the cyber crimes unit will have to reapply for their positions when the Scorpions are integrated into the police’s commercial crimes office. This will leave more than 20 SAPS officers in limbo as to their future in cyber crimes.
The police would not officially divulge information on the unit and its interaction with the former members of the Scorpions, whom the SAPS source said were either waiting to be assimilated into the police, or had already moved into the private sector.
“The cyber crimes unit is an intelligence unit with the organised crime department and as such, we cannot divulge any information on our investigations,” says SAPS senior superintendent Tumi Golding. “Any information that is given might reveal our methodology and tradecraft.”
Former Scorpions deputy director of public prosecutions advocate Jacqueline Fick says the DSO’s cyber crimes unit obtained the first conviction in SA for the possession and use of spy software, and the use thereof to hack into various government computer systems in 2006.
Scorpions get the chop
Fick’s cyber crimes report, published in March, titled Cyber crime in SA: Investigating and prosecuting cyber crime and the benefits of public-private partnerships, details the Scorpions’ favourable track record in investigating and prosecuting cyber crimes over the past three years.
The Scorpions, along with the SAPS, formed cyber crime units in 2004 after the Electronic Communications and Technologies (ECT) Act of 2002 made way for cyber crimes to be prosecuted.
“The National Prosecuting Authority, which the Scorpions fell under, received a certificate of recognition from Motorola information protection services, US and Sun Microsystems for its contribution to the fight against cyber crime,” Fick says.
Yet earlier this year, Parliament ratified legislation that paved the way for the DSO to be disbanded and assimilated into the SAPS.
Fick says while the Scorpions tackled cyber crimes from both an investigative and prosecuting angle, the SAPS unit conducted court-directed operations. These actions include “reactive forensic and proactive evidential services” during the investigation of serious and organised crime.
Golding says the SAPS cyber crimes unit has investigated a number of such crimes, including phishing scams, and Internet and cellphone fraud.
Effective or not?
The police would not provide statistics or facts on the success of their fight against cyber crimes, which fall under commercial crimes, despite the industry’s fears of its exponential growth. Fick says cyber crimes, if reported at all, are not always differentiated from other commercial crimes, fraud reports or criminal damage statistics.
“Police statistics about reported crime seldom reveals where a computer was used as evidence of a particular crime, or where types of cyber crimes were committed.”
According to the last crime statistics released by Business Against Crime in July 2008, incidences of commercial crimes, which cyber crimes fall under, had risen by 13% to 61 690 per 100 000 people between 2007 and 2008.
In an ITWeb report last week, McAfee principal security analyst for EMEA Greg Day said cyber crime is growing exponentially and cyber criminals are getting smarter.
“We are seeing all sorts of cyber attacks coming through, looking to gain personal and financial information to benefit the cyber criminal,” he noted.
Banks, which have been the hard hit by cyber crimes such as phishing scams, say they have had only a few successes working with the SAPS on solving such crimes.
Standard Bank information security analyst Jock Forrester says the bank has run into “some dead ends” with the police in its phishing scam investigations.
First National Bank spokesman Stephan Higgins says the bank uses its own forensic team to investigate cyber crimes and hands the evidence over to the police for prosecution.
Bowman Gilfillan partner Warren Weertman believes the police do not have the necessary capacity to investigate these crimes.
Upping their game
Captain Gerhard Links of the SAPS cyber crimes unit says the department plans to expand the number of officers which deal with such crimes. Currently only four inspectors in Johannesburg, 10 in Pretoria, and 14 in Cape Town are sufficiently trained in the ECT Act to handle cyber crimes, he notes.
“Cyber crime is going to be the most important crime of the future and we are planning on growing the unit in order to combat this crime,” he explains.
Fick adds that training law enforcement officials in cyber crime is costly, and heavy reliance has to be placed on assistance from the private sector and international donors.
It is to this end that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) defence, peace, safety and security department initiated a training regime for cyber crime investigators.
The CSIR says it has already trained more than 60 learners, in the private and public sectors, in the cyber forensic process.