Cybercrime and the culture clash between cops and CERTs

Law enforcement and CERTs could be tackling cybercrime together but cultural differences prevent deeper cooperation, according to a European study.

On one side, CERTs deal with network and information security and rarely if ever are involved in prosecuting efforts. On the other, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) investigate and prosecute crimes, and usually demand information from CERTs but don’t share it.

The two cultures are increasingly sharing the same turf thanks to the rise of botnet attacks, hacking, phishing, and attacks on critical infrastructure, but cultural and process differences continue to hinder cooperation, the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) has found in a study involving participants from both sides.

At least one Australian CERT took part in the research, however it was one of a dozen from several nations that opted to remain anonymous.

Some of the “high level” traits that separate LEAs and CERTs are that the former are “procedural, rules based” while the latter are typically “informal, problem solving based”. CERTs seek “remediation”, LEAs prosecution. In addition, LEAs are likely more focussed on fraud or downloading illegal material while CERTs are more concerned by system availability.

One common ground is botnets, says ENISA, but known cases of cooperation are patched. Dutch authorities cooperated with CERTs and commerce in the Bredolab takedown, while the legal and industry led takedown of Waledac was achieved without CERT involvement. CERTs were involved in the Conficker takedown, but governments were not.

Cooperation is further complicated by the spectrum of CERTs. National CERTs of “last resort” are likely to be more trusted by LEAs, but private CERTs could just as likely be a valuable source:

“CERTs are at the sharp end of the collection of data and cyber-attack intelligence that could help deal with cyber-attacks and help address the NIS aspects of cybercrime. Whether based in government institutions, industrial firms or telecommunications providers, they fulfil an important role by identifying, collating, parsing and where appropriate distributing information regarding network security incidents and events. In some cases, they are expected to work in collaboration with law enforcement to help identify suspects and trace malicious activities through cyberspace.”

Private CERTs on the other hand might have less sway in a legal setting if their personnel are asked to act as an expert witness, while their potential role as collectors of evidence was ambiguous, since often the priority is incident response.

“An entity whose services have been knocked offline through a targeted attack is likely to be prioritising the re-establishment of its services over the logging of all relevant evidentiary data,” ENISA points out.

On the other hand, CERTs told ENISA they could collect evidence if there was clear and regular communications with LEAs.

“Computer Emergency Response Teams and Law Enforcement Agencies cover crucial but different aspects of cyber security. Cooperation between them is vital to properly protect our digital citizens and economy. However, until now little research was done on how to connect these two areas. This study contributes to better fighting cybercrime by identifying the collaboration challenges, and ways to overcome them,” said ENISA’s executive director ENISA, Professor Udo Helmbrecht.

Liam Tung is a senior journalist for CSO, Australia's #1 IT Security site

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Tags data and cyber-attack intelligenceCERTsENISA’s executive director Professor Udo Helmbrecht.governmentENISAcybercrime

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