Data privacy legislation hampering cyber crime prevention: ACC

Information security gathering and management shaping up as the new battleground in the fight against organised crime, the Australian Crime Commission says

Organised crime groups have penetrated law enforcement bodies, and authorities are helpless to fight back due to restrictive data privacy legislation, according to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) chief executive, John Lawler.

In a keynote speech at the International Serious and Organised Crime Conference in Melbourne last week, Lawler admitted that organised crime groups had penetrated law enforcement systems in the past, including those of the ACC.

“We have examples of where that has unfortunately occured, both in our key sectors but also within law enforcement and within the ACC and its predecessors,” he said.

“They will have done their risk mitigation strategies and indeed if they have trusted insiders or internal facilitators or people that would act corruptly, including from within law enforcement, that would be seen as a great prize.”

The ACC has worked with other law enforcement bodies in Australia to reduce this risk by updating its ICT systems and governance structures, but he admits that more needs to be done.

“We’ve also done some very good work with our board in ensuring some of our ICT, gateways and mechanisms for protecting that infrastructure from deliberate targeting from organised crime and others, is the best we can have it," he said.

He said one area where law enforcement is hampered is by the limited ability to share information across agencies and departments because of privacy legislation, a disability exploited by organised crime groups.

“I would argue it is exactly these safeguards that provide the unforeseen edge for organised criminality,” he said. “They know that law enforcement can't have the full picture, they know we can't access all the disparate personal information in government data management systems across the country.

“They know this hampers our ability to connect the dots, see the trend to analyse and provide the lifeblood for wide-ranging investigations and they leverage off this.”

However, he said the lack of information available could addressed by work being done in the Attorney-General Department, which is exploring the possibility of developing a website for victims to report cyber attacks.

This information is invaluable for fighting cyber crime but it is usually reported to online vendors such as eBay who are not required to pass it onto the authorities, he said.

"We want them to report these instances, we want that information and we need that data," he said.

“Where you have a bulk crime, the actual reporting of that crime and how it gets responded to and the expectations of the victim, are all things that need to be managed."

It wasn’t clear whether the information would be used to assemble statistics on cyber crime trends or used to inform investigations, he said.

"There will be some reports that come in and necessitate and require an investigative response and some will be used for statistical analysis used to inform the regulatory, policy and legislative frameworks.

"Most importantly the data will be used to identify preventative strategies and put those in place."

Problems with cyber crime statistics and data also extends to the vast amount of security research and information published by corporations, organisations and governments, according to Australian Institute of Criminology Senior research analyst, Dr Kim-Kwang Raymond Choo.

Choo said the data released by companies contains different definitions and cover different aspects of cyber crime, which makes it difficult for researchers and agencies to properly identify the emerging trends.

“Different reports put out by different organisations or companies, for example the Australian Bureau of Statistics have a national personal fraud survey that was just released, IBM release one once every quarter or half year, Symantec as well, Microsoft, have their own as well; you name it, you have it.

“One thing if you realise after going through all these different reports, they have different definitions and cover different aspects of cyber crime. Not that there's anything wrong in that.

“If we have a more consistent way of collecting the data, we can compare it in a more consistent and meaningful way.”

He said that a standard approach to producing and distributing data would help to put the information in a more meaningful context and allow governments and organisations to better respond to problems.

“The cyber security landscape is changing so fast, as researchers you find it difficult to keep track of what's going on. If we have a more complete picture of the cyber trend landscape, it will help us to formulate our responses and to drive out measures for educational advice."

Lawler and Choo also used their respective keynotes at the conference to warn of legislative gaps when fighting against cyber attacks on data held in cloud-based services.

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