Business & Technology

Behind the Firewall: Scotland Gets Savvy About Cyber Crime

By Stefanie Hoffman | November 21, 2013

The fair land of Scotland might seem an unlikely place to boost expertise and revolutionize tactics aimed at apprehending criminals. However, police departments and detectives in England's neighbor to the north are helping reshape the agency's direction a bit by bulking up their cyber security acumen. And they're turning to the research community to do so.

According to the Edinburgh News, Scottish law enforcement agents have adopted a new Digital Investigator course into their curriculum, facilitated by cyber security experts at Edinburgh Napier University. If anything, the new direction in education aims to give agents there a bigger leg up when combating data and identity theft, malware attacks and other forms of cybercrime.

The week-long course-- now more than a year in the making -- attempt to help agencies better prevent and detect cyber crime by keeping officers up to date on the latest threats. Specifically, the training, ran out of the university's Cyber Security Lab, provides a high level overview of various cybercrime situations, covering skills like tracing IMs, phishing attacks and Web traffic analysis. It also delves into possible scenarios around cyber bullying and cyber terrorism.

In addition, the course arms participants with the ability to collect digital information that can later be used in other police investigations while also creating safer virtual communities in general.

The first set of officers embarked on training last month in September.

"You're never going to stop every single crime, but the police need the skills to investigate incidents quickly and take steps to tackle people who are abusing the Internet," said Bill Buchanan, director of Edinburgh Napier's Centre for Distributed Computing, Networks, and Security, according to the Edinburgh News. "We feel privileged to train these investigators as we can learn just as much from them as they do from us. If you're investigating cyberbullying or online fraud, there will be a trail of information left on the internet and officers need to be able to put these pieces of information together."

These days, the marriage of security research and law enforcement communities goes beyond logical and into the realm of necessary.

The reasons? Cybercrime transcends international boundaries. And while once relegated to basement hackers with a desire to cause mischief and gain attention, cybercrime assaults are increasingly executed by criminal masterminds and highly organized syndicates intent on swiping corporate intellectual property, classified government information, or other privileged data.

And all one has to do is to look at news headlines to know that phenomena such as cyber terrorism and cyber espionage have migrated from the stuff of epic spy films to reality.

Meanwhile, it's well established that crime is increasingly being taken to cyber space, and it's not going to subside any time soon. Law enforcement agencies have repeatedly failed to keep pace. Subsequently, they're beginning to feel the lack, now abysmally under-equipped to fight a rising tide of complex, sophisticated, and stealthy new attacks.

"These days there's also a lot more scope for cyber terrorism and Scotland is as much at risk as anywhere else. The police need to learn the methods that a criminal might use so they can stop it happening," Buchanan said. "Scotland needs to develop these professionals in order to mitigate the risks of the Internet, and it is great to see this investment in skills now happening here.

Now, historically law enforcement and the security research communities haven't exactly been strangers. Major research firms, such as Fortinet, have routinely partnered with international agencies and law enforcement officials in collaborative efforts to apprehend cyber criminals and bring them to justice.

That said, this is one of the first large-scale educational efforts to comprehensively boost a government agency's cybercrime expertise in preparation for an impending - and almost certain -- tidal wave of attacks down the road.

The fact that Scotland is among the first to get this effort underway may be a bit surprising. But it likely won't be the last.

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