Supersleuthing BOFHs could help crack cybercrimes

MS exec: Sysadmins should gather evidence for the cops

LCC System administrators should be the detectives in cyber investigations, a top Microsoft security bod said.

It wasn’t helpful for cops to go blundering into companies’ networks to look for evidence in cybercrimes, because the sysadmin will know where to look for that information, said Scott Charney, VP of trustworthy computing group at MS.

“The evidence you need to investigate cybercrime is often in the hands of the private sector... and in these cases, the sysadmin becomes lead investigator in the cybercrime case,” he said.

Charney, who was previously chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section for the US Justice Department, said that companies often didn’t want to collaborate with government investigations because they were afraid they’d have to open up their networks. But in reality, it was better for the firm’s IT staff, who know the network, to search for the evidence, he said.

In the great anonymity versus accountability debate, Charney argued that what was needed was a bit of both.

“What increasing became clear [in my career] is that you had to ask the question at one level up. Do you want anonymity or accountability in certain things on the net?” he said. “For internet banking – we want robust authentication. But if I’m engaged in certain kinds of speech I may want anonymity and society should support that anonymity.”

“The reason for anonymity is that it protects important values like free speech... and things we want to support as human rights. On the other hand, criminals do bad things so you want accountability,” he added.

Charney also said that everyone already knows what to do about cybercrime, but getting it done was the problem.

“Strategically we know what to do but tactically it’s hard,” he said. “What we need to do is harmonise national laws and build capability in countries all over the world and then you need to establish 24/7 contacts so that you can access knowledgeable people in any country at any time so that you can at least freeze the info you need before it’s gone... and then find a quick way to get that information to the agency that needs it.”

Charney was speaking at the London Conference on Cyberspace (LCC), which is hosting debates on issues like cyber security, cybercrime, the digital divide and internet freedoms. ®

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