5 strategies for addressing cybercrime

From Jesse James to Butch Cassidy to Bonnie and Clyde, criminals have robbed individuals, stage coaches, trains and banks. Why? Because, as Willie Sutton famously said, “that’s where the money is.” Fast forward to the internet age, criminal conduct has expanded dramatically to include new types of fraud, theft and espionage conducted through cyberspace.

Cybercrime can be far reaching with long-term effects -- from the impact on organizations from the theft of intellectual property or business secrets to the consequences identity theft can have on an individual, including credit standing and loss of personal resources.

Responding to cybercrime is even more challenging because the economics favor the criminals. With just a laptop, a single individual can wreak havoc on individuals and organizations with minimal cost and little risk of being caught.More advanced technologies and protective measures will eventually deter nefarious conduct, help security officers catch and prosecute perpetrators and level what has become an unbalanced playing field. In the meantime, it is imperative that all digital users practice basic cybersecurity hygiene to increase their own protection and improve cybersecurity overall.

It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of exploitable vulnerabilities in cyberspace are the direct result of poor or nonexistent cyber hygiene. While it is also important to address the remaining 20 percent of more-sophisticated intrusions -- advanced persistent threats, distributed denial of service attacks, botnets, destructive malware and the growing challenge of ransomware -- raising the bar for basic cyber hygiene will improve our overall cybersecurity protection profile and reduce the threat from cybercrime.

Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and requires the attention of a broad range of stakeholders. It requires an effective public/private partnership that incorporates businesses and institutions of all sizes along with national, state, local, tribal and territorial agencies to produce successful outcomes in identifying and addressing threats, vulnerabilities and overall risk in cyberspace. Individual consumers also have a role, and adding cybersecurity to K-12 as well as higher education curriculums will help raise awareness for all users. Teaching users how to better protect themselves is a necessary component to any strategy.

A framework addressing cybercrime should include these five strategies:

1. Raising awareness

A comprehensive and sustained national cybersecurity education campaign is essential for raising public awareness of the risk and impact of cyber activity and the need to deploy basic protective measures on desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and other mobile devices. The explosion of connected devices -- from smart refrigerators, lighting systems, heating and air conditioning, security services to autonomous automobiles -- puts an exclamation point behind the importance of cyber protection for individual users and organizations of all sizes and levels of sophistication.

Cybersecurity education should cover the basics:

    • Use strong passwords.
    • Apply system updates in a timely and efficient manner.
    • Secure devices by enabling a firewall and deploy solutions to address viruses, malware and spyware.
    • Learn not to click on email links or attachments, unless the sender is known and trusted. Even then, phishing emails sometimes spoof the sender’s identity to trick the user into clicking a link or attachment.

2. Leveraging trusted resources

Additionally, building, maintaining, scaling and updating an online source of information on how users of all levels of sophistication can establish and improve their protection profiles in cyberspace is imperative. Leveraging capabilities, such as those created in the United States by the National Cyber Security Alliance through Stay Safe Online or in the United Kingdom with Get Safe Online, to implement a comprehensive and sustained national education and awareness campaign is a fundamental component of any successful cybersecurity program. Current cybersecurity efforts, such as the Stop… Think… Connect campaign sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, are a good start. However, existing programs need to scale more broadly to accelerate positive change.

Enterprises can reference valuable tools such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, Center for Internet Security/SANS Top 20 Controls, ISO 27001 and NIST 800-53 for recommendations on improving an overall cybersecurity profile.

3. Building an economic framework

Simply purchasing every new tool or security product is not the answer. From the individual user to the small business to the large enterprise, it is important to make investment decisions for cybersecurity in a risk management construct that includes trying to secure the biggest bang for the buck. AFCEA International’s Cybersecurity Committee took a look at this issue and provides useful information to assist in the examination around the economics of cybersecurity. More information can be found here and here.

4. Working with invested partners

Improving our national and global capabilities to detect, prevent, mitigate and respond to cyber events through a joint, integrated, 24x7 public/private operational capability that leverages information sharing, analysis and collaboration should be a priority. To build a mature operational capability for cybersecurity, we should learn from how the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leverage technology and data analytics to identify patterns and trends to issue early alerts and warnings as well as recommendations for potential protective measures.

Working through the global community to address gaps and coordinate law enforcement, investigation and prosecution of cyber criminals will help tackle both the economics and the challenges of anonymity in nefarious cyber activity. Global agreement on cyber deterrence and norms of cyber conduct will benefit national and economic security, public health and safety and everyday life in cyberspace.

5. Implementing a response plan

Implementing a National Cyber Incident Response Plan is essential to national and economic security. It should recognize the unique nature and risk presented by cyber events and provide a predictable and sustained clarity around roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders during thresholds of escalation. A strategic, yet agile, framework should be accompanied by operational playbooks that focus on critical infrastructure. These steps are necessary to achieve ground truth and situational awareness during a cyber event.

There are initiatives across these topic areas, but many remain ad hoc. Ongoing improvement in cybersecurity requires a coherent, coordinated and collaborative approach across the stakeholder community. It is not just about the federal government, it is also about state, local, tribal and territorial agencies. It is not just about the public sector, it must include industry in a true partnership founded on mutual respect and engagement that honors, recognizes and leverages roles, responsibilities and capabilities in a joint, integrated and collaborative manner. It is not just about domestic risk, it is about global risk to an interconnected and interdependent community and the threat to national and economic security.

Each of us has a role to play in improving our individual and collective cybersecurity. With the proliferation of mobiles devices and the explosion of the Internet of Things presenting new and emerging cyber challenges, we must implement basic protective measures that will help to reduce the risk while increasing the cost and difficulty for cyber criminals.

Although we are no longer dealing with bandits hiding behind rocks to hijack a stagecoach, we are nonetheless still facing website defacers, hackers for hire, criminals seeking financial gain, political hacktivists, nation states engaged in political and economic espionage or even terrorist organizations.

Together, we must move forward aggressively to improve our national cybersecurity posture in a globally connected world. With a multidimensional and coherent approach to cybersecurity and cybercrime, each of us can contribute to make a meaningful difference.

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