NEW YORK—Cybercriminals are searching for loopholes in the global economy, and New York City is among their key targets for stealing identities and skimming ATM machines. Not surprising then, in the global fight against cybercrime, New York City is setting a global example.
Criminals in two massive cyber-operations were recently charged in Manhattan’s Southern District federal courthouse. On May 9, seven New Yorkers were charged in a global bank heist that stole $45 million from ATM machines in 27 countries. On May 28, another five New Yorkers were charged in a $6 billion money-laundering scheme involving digital currencies.
Both operations involved arrests in other countries. The ability to break up operations like these has come through systems built through years of work, and the success of New York City’s systems for fighting cybercrime has led to its model being adopted around the country.
According to Secret Service agent Brian Leary, in order to fight back against digital threats to the U.S. financial systems, the Secret Service established the New York Electronics Crimes Task Force (ECTF) in 1996, which relies on cooperation between academia, the private sector, and local and state law enforcement.
“Based on the New York model of success, in 2001, Congress directed the Secret Service, through the USA PATRIOT Act, to establish a nationwide network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTF) to ‘prevent, detect and investigate various forms of electronic crimes, including potential terrorist attacks against critical infrastructure and financial payment systems,’” Leary said, in an email interview.
The White House released the “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” on July 25, 2011. It states that in fiscal year 2010, “the U.S. Secret Service arrested 1,217 suspects for cybercrime related violations, with a fraud loss of $507 million.”
The Secret Service leads the ECTF, and according to Leary, the task force creates a “collaborative crime-fighting environment in which the resources of its participants can be combined to effectively and efficiently make a significant impact on electronic crimes.”
There are now 30 ECTFs located in the United States and in other countries.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has a field office in New York City, runs a similar program on cybercrime, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, which “functions as a domestic focal point for 18 federal departments or agencies to coordinate, integrate, and share information …” according to the White House report.
New York City has pioneered additional systems. The Manhattan district attorney’s office is home to a CSI lab for cybercrime, the High Technology Analysis Unit. On May 10, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced the formation of the Cyber Security Advisory Board to help the administration secure the state from cyberattacks.
The systems in place to help protect New York from cybercrime aren’t without good reason. According to Jonas Falck, CEO of cybersecurity company Halon, New York City is a prime target for cybercriminals.
He said the dense population and diversity of possible targets makes New York City a lucrative target—particularly for identity theft and skimmer fraud to rob ATM machines.
“It’s a big city to target, with lots of people and lots of ATMs,” he said. “You can get a higher hit rate than a smaller town with not so many people.”
The problem with fighting cybercrime is that most attacks are transnational, and police acting alone can’t do much about it. While they can make arrests on the ground, the ringleaders in other countries can go unscathed.
Falck said his systems have let them track the origin of attacks. While many were once coming from parts of Africa and South America, they’re more frequently coming out of Ukraine, Russia, and China.
This ties into the current problem faced with tackling transnational cybercrime—it needs to be a global effort, and if a country does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, the criminals are nearly untouchable.
Where the reach of law enforcement ends, security and prevention pick up the slack, and the U.S. government also makes efforts on a nation-to-nation basis.
The White House plan to combat transnational organized crime states that one of the main objectives is to “Build international consensus, multilateral cooperation, and public-private partnerships to defeat transnational organized crime.”
It states that in areas where law enforcement cannot reach, the United States will use sanctions, disrupt the financial networks of the criminal groups, and put pressure on governments that support transnational organized crime.
It states, “We will continue to monitor TOC infiltration of the global economy to better protect the financial system and freeze the assets of criminal networks under expanded Presidential sanctions authorities and/or seize them under existing forfeiture laws.”