G8 Magazine, June 2013

As world leaders gather at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland this year, they will be considering and debating some of the most pressing global issues of our time. Those that specialise in the cyberspace arena hope that they will also have time to address the deeply worrying trends that threaten the economic and social benefits that the internet can deliver to humankind.

Many nations are only just beginning to understand the strategic importance that the internet can deliver to their future economic stability and growth. Advanced economies have just started to invest in protective measures, but all are playing catch-up.

The most significant threats against digital economies that the world faces collectively fall into two broad categories:

Nation-states that carry out industrial espionage to steal intellectual property for economic advantage; and

Organised criminal groups that wage war on businesses and consumers for financial gain.

This article concentrates on the second of these two online threats.

International engagement

Online crime transcends national boundaries. Criminal groups and loners who organise and carry out this 21st-century criminality act in a way that allows them to take advantage of

the international lethargy that typifies the response of governments to this phenomenon.

Governments have been struggling to find ways in which they can collaborate effectively to defeat online crime. Some of the early signs of international engagement have centred on the Council of Europe’s Budapest Convention on Cyber Crime.

Unfortunately, progress on encouraging countries around the world to become signatories or accede to the convention has been slow, despite great efforts by Council of Europe staff to evangelise the benefits of joining this cybercrime-fighting initiative.

The convention is opposed by some countries, which see it as a purely European measure that fails to meet their needs.

Striking back against criminality

Governments need to find common ground
in order to move this global stalemate and inaction to a point where they can start to strike back against online crime that harms all nations, all businesses and, most importantly, billions of citizens around the world.

These common points of interest revolve around two of the most prolific types of criminal internet activity:
• The sharing of images and videos of child abuse online among paedophile groups; and • Fraud and criminal financing, which includes funding terrorist operations.

There are a great many superb initiatives that are being undertaken globally in
order to address the first of these practices. There exists a common purpose that unites governments, businesses, law enforcement agencies, academia and citizens around the world. We all wish to see children protected and those who would exploit them brought swiftly to justice.

Furthermore, this area of agreement should be used to collaborate on addressing the other key issue that damages all economies around the world: online fraud and the illegal funding of criminal and terrorist activities and operations.

Many of the stakeholders that are successfully addressing the issue of online child abuse have colleagues who are engaged in trying to defeat financially motivated online crime. Billions of dollars are sitting in bank accounts around the world that are the proceeds of online crime. This is where
the authorities are able to strike.

Governments around the world could take two measures that would have a significant and long-lasting effect on the ability of online criminals to secure their ill-gotten gains:

1. Outlaw alternative payment mechanisms for trading currencies online; and

2. Introduce legislation to confiscate the proceeds of online crime.

The opportunity to act now

As highlighted by the latest initiative of the United States to arrest some of the suspects that were involved in Liberty Reserve (a group indicted for money laundering that ran a $6 billion worldwide operation out of Costa Rica), alternative payment mechanisms, such as Bitcoin and a host of others, can enable criminal and terrorist groups to launder money and fund their operations.

Governments of the world have the ability right now to ban these payment mechanisms. At the heart of this initiative is a simple premise: at one end of the transaction, a user must ‘buy’ the ‘internet currency’, and at the other end the criminals must turn the currency into real money.

If treasuries and financial institutions around the world were to block those transactions and permit only legitimate currencies to be used on the internet through regulated payment service providers and cards (such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express), then the flow of many billions of dollars to criminal groups would be stemmed.

Furthermore, if those same countries introduced, if necessary, additional legislation to confiscate the proceeds of such online crime, these funds could be either returned to those who had been defrauded or used to fund international projects that could bring about a more safe and secure internet environment for all citizens.

If the leaders of the European Union and United States could be convinced to take a lead on these initiatives, that would be a huge contribution to making the internet a safe place for financial transactions. At the same time, it would also strike a blow against those who would try to destroy the fabric of our the world’s well-being.

The International Cyber Security Protection Alliance stands ready to work with governments interested in taking these hugely cost-effective and sensible measures.

John Lyons, G8 Magazine, June 2013