Neil Walsh, UN Chief of Cybercrime, explains how technologies like encryption and the blockchain are essential for maintaining international human rights but are being exploited by cyber-criminals.
TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Neil Walsh, Head of Cybercrime, Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism Department for the United Nations, about the impact and influence that the UN has on technology and cybersecurity.
Patterson: So, let's stay on the international component of cyber crime and one facilitator of that is the dark web. Another facilitator is the rise of cryptocurrency.
So, help us understand the scope. Beyond the horrific things that you mentioned a moment ago, which are truly horrific, let's look at the other things. The other materials that are on the dark web and don't necessarily have to adhere to one state or one currency. How do you combat the rise of the dark web and the rise of cryptocurrency?
Walsh: So, there are a number of issue that we have to address in this. First off, let's say you or I were an elected politician. What we figure the likelihood of somebody sitting us down on day one as a Minister, as a Head of State and explaining these concepts is pretty low. So, what we do, what me and my staff do, is we get in front of senior decision makers and explain what is a dark market, show them, literally go onto a laptop or a mobile device, go onto a dark market and show how easy it is to buy drugs, to buy a cyber attack capability and help them to understand that threat and that risk, so if they then make better decisions, better policy decisions and better reaction to that in their country.
But, what we also have to do in the cryptocurrency side especially is to understand how cryptocurrencies stick within the concept of legislation, frameworks of policy. Crypto currencies are great in many ways.
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We see lots of people in different parts of the world getting access to moving finance in a way that they've never been able to do so before and it's cheaper. They're not paying broker fees or, at least, a very small broker fee. They're not paying a lot of money to get access to their cash.
But, on the counter side of that is it is, as you know, it's a ledger-based system. There is no central control. So, let's say you establish this in a very small rural community and everyone starts using that instead of traditional banking. Where does your tax revenue come from? How do you reinvest in your society? And as we see crypto currencies being used for abuse like the child abuse scenario I talked about, they are used to pay for this.
Criminals think that they are anonymous. No, we know through lots of cryptocurrency work that we do and we have very good investigative capabilities with this working with private sector, they're not anonymous. We will track you down and we will bring you to justice. At least, law enforcement will bring you to justice in doing that.
Patterson: So, here is the delicate balance that has to occur here, right? The dark web, powered by encryption. Crypto currency, powered by the blog chain, which is powered by encryption. Both of those technologies are indispensable for a free society.
Patterson: In order for us to have freedom of thought and freedom of speech, we need to be able to encrypt and protect those thing.
So we can have private thought and we can have private communication. How do we balance the rise of these technologies that clearly facilitate bad actors doing bad things with the need for civil countries and civil societies to protect freedom of thought and freedom of speech?
Walsh: That's a really common question. And if there was an easy answer to it, I would have worked it out by now I think. But, let's look at it this way. I hate seeing kids being run over by drunk drivers. But, the solution isn't banning cars. So, we have to accept that the technology exists and attacking the technology aspect isn't necessarily the solution to that.
This is simply we see crime as a business model. As you know, one of the biggest threats that we see in cyber is cyber crime as a service, where highly specialists, advanced persistent threat groups are cyber crime groups will offer their skills to work for other criminals, for countries, for military, intelligence agencies, for government.
So, we need to change the dialog in this and it seems to me. and this is what we're doing across the U.N. is look at this as a broad threat picture. It's not whether it's terrorism or cyber crime or child abuse. It's something happening from A to B using a computer, using a mobile device, using cryptocurrency. And we have to then look at how the good parts of that ... because the internet ... we couldn't live without the internet now. Literally couldn't survive without it. And it's fundamental to freedom of speech, to human rights, to economic prosperity. But getting that balance right where there is the ability and a democracy and the ability where an object criminal case can be done to gather evidence and still bring people to justice. But, there is no easy answer to this.