Interview: Unisys on the cybercrime treaty
Why Australia should sign up
Australia is working through the long process of acceding to the European Convention on Cybercrime. It’s a process that causes significant angst. Privacy advocates are concerned at the convention’s intrusive nature; ISPs worry about how much data they’d have to carry.
Unisys is an advocate of the convention, both in Australia and overseas. In this interview, The Register tackles the company’s VP of global security solutions Neil Fisher, and Asia-Pacific security spokesperson Jane Evans, about the company’s support for the convention.
Evans: Unisys supports Australia acceding to the convention. We believe it is enabling a response to the problem of cybercrime, and it helps address the public’s confidence and trust issues.
Cybercrime is a growing global problem, and we think it needs a global response. This convention offers one of the first significant and binding ways to do that. But there are no silver bullets here.
El Reg: The convention is intrusive on individuals, and it’s onerous on ISPs. If we’re to accept those characteristics, it needs public debate. But there’s a lack of information to support that debate.
Fisher: I would say that what I’ve read and seen for Australia no different from other countries. It is hard, in this debate, as we try and get our heads around what rights we have on the internet – rights of access to information, not just for law enforcement but also ourselves.
The UK has been slow to sign up to the convention.
From a positive point of view, the convention is trying to harmonize law and legislation in a difficult area. It tries to articulate the recognition that cyber-crime is… borderless. So how do you try to control it?
[The convention] comes from a fairly noble background – but implementation is a domestic matter. Things that you and I might see as sensible, other countries see as an intrusion.
So there are some peculiarities about all this. We need to strike a balance between good law enforcement, harmonized across geographical boundaries, to stop the epidemic of cyber crime, while protecting the rights of individuals.
And we need to make sure that what’s a good idea today doesn’t become a bad idea tomorrow.
Evans: What we’ve seen in our public opinion polling – identity theft, financial fraud, these concern people more than any other [security] issue. And this makes people more willing to accept a degree of intrusion, if they’re going to get greater security.
El Reg: If I look at the Australian Bureau of Statistics data on personal fraud, I can see that the total fraud when the report was published [in 2008] topped a billion dollars, but Internet-based fraud was under $100 million. Aren’t people worrying about the wrong thing – giving all their attention to Internet fraud when other kinds of fraud are bigger?
Fisher: I understand those figures, but they’re dwarfed by the total figure of cyber-crime. In the UK four weeks ago, they published the cost of cybercrime in the UK for 2010, and it came to £27 billion pounds.
There’s a raft of criminal activity – not just ID fraud – about which the public says “I’m paying for that as a taxpayer and elsewhere as a victim”.
The privacy community seems to feel like these are victimless crimes. They’re not. The perpetrators of these crimes need to be brought to justice. And up until this last decade, there hasn’t been a harmonized legal framework to do that.
I think individuals will tolerate intrusions into their private lives – they’re more on side with this than they have been in the past.
There are privacy issues: they have to be addressed. But are these privacy issues as paramount, or onerous, as the privacy community would have us believe?
Evans: It is also an under-reported issue, by the nature of what it involves. It’s difficult to get statistics to reflect an accurate picture – people are embarrassed to admit that they’ve been caught out by the latest email scam.
Regardless of whether the fears are rational or irrational, they cause real problems of confidence and trust. If a fear exists in the community, and it’s sufficient to motivate behaviours, then that fear is significant.
And as we move to service delivery online, you want people to feel confident that they’re interacting with you in a secure way.
Fisher: And there are issues that we don’t even know about yet – as we bounce towards the cloud, there are going to be new crimes there that we’ve never even thought of. Having a harmonious framework of law … puts us in a better position to deal with those new crimes.
I think, also – getting back to checks and balances – in the UK, this issue put far more power into the information commissioner, which became the neutral policeman of the police, to make sure that peoples’ information wasn’t intruded unnecessarily, and wields very large fines if they were.
El Reg: Let’s look at the question of rational fears again. It’s far easier for journalists to find warnings from the security industry against a threat than it is for us to find truly independent assessments of the severity of the threat. If someone says “there are a million PCs on botnets in Australia”, whether it’s true or not, it’s almost impossible to refute. So there’s a feedback loop here: we’re responding to fears that we’re helping to create.
Fisher: That works both ways. The privacy people shout from the rooftops saying “your privacy is being eroded” by what are often reasonable or rational laws.
Look at EPIC [the Electronic Privacy Information Center] in the US – they oppose the convention in principle, but found a loophole for online porn under the First Amendment.
Our security index shows that the majority of people are reasonable, that they do expect checks and balances, but also expect law enforcement to act against fraud wherever it is.
El Reg: The other side of this, that I mentioned at the beginning, is the impact on industry. How do we manage the load of data that ISPs will be required to retain?
Fisher: The time stated for data retention is arbitrary – it’s not based on any legal case study. Whether it’s 30 days, or 90 days, or two years is a function of how long it takes to bring criminals to justice.
A parallel is the UK laws on terrorism and holding suspects without charge – they [the government] wanted up to 90 days incarceration without charge. That was reduced down to 48, and recently, because it’s never ever been invoked, it has dropped back down to 28 days. So it’s about trial-and-error.
In the UK there’s a new bill going through called the Interception Modernisation Programme. The press and the privacy people went overboard. The imagined huge warehouses of data from the Internet – which did a great disservice, because the IMP an merely extension of the existing law.
What I would say is that you have to hold the data for a period of time, to have as evidence – you don’t want ISPs to destroy the evidence before you bring a criminal to justice.
Evans: In the Australian context, we have privacy laws evolving here. And in parallel with this, a lot of these issues will be examined as the Senate Committee reviews the proposal [to join the convention – El Reg].
We absolutely need frameworks for the perpetrators to be brought to justice – but it is also critical that there are these sorts of safeguards around this data.
A good example is the pedophile ring that’s recently been broken up around the world – that’s why we need international frameworks.
El Reg: But that also offers a counter-argument, doesn’t it? These pedophiles were arrested and the ring broken up without the help of the convention?
Fisher: They’ve only been arrested so far, and charged … 63 in the UK, and they’re trying to get the rest of the ring.
Child pornography is a pandemic – it’s worldwide. In this prosecution, you’re only touching the tip of the iceberg. It’s a good example of crime without borders that’s very difficult to police.
SOCA [the Serious Organised Crime Agency in the UK] and the Australian Federal Police worked together, and those agencies worked with agencies in other countries… it’s all bilateral – it’s extremely expensive, and very time consuming, and there’s no guarantee that these people would be brought to justice at the end of the day.
El Reg: What improvements or refinements do you think the convention needs?
Evans: We don’t think these things are a silver bullet. One of the things we would argue is continued educational awareness around these issues.
These things largely involve individual responses – how people choose to respond to these issues. And we also want to ensure that we don’t build technology obsolescence into the convention, because we’re in a fast-moving domain.
Fisher: One of the counters to the convention back in 2002-2004 was “just get Microsoft to make more secure software”. But technology continues to change.
We’re getting functionality online that is very easy to use, without the user having any real understanding of what happens to that data online. That also makes crime easier, because it’s more anonymous.
The public needs to be more aware about what is happening online – how they’re using the devices – what’s good behaviour and what is stupidity, which is not always obvious.
El Reg: People are more interested in getting their hands on the device than in reading the terms and conditions. It’s not easy to teach them what acts might be stupid!
Fisher: I agree. In the UK at Christmas we asked people, “if you had a must-buy item, would you think twice about the credit card without the security padlock?” – a surprising number of people said they would buy first, think later.
But that’s just human nature – it is part of this as well. How we behave outside the workplace in things like social networking, we unconsciously bring into the workplace. Employers have to address that – they have to foster better practice.
What the convention is trying to do internationally is to foster better legal practice in terms of cyber-crime.
Evans: People are starkly complex beings. They have concerns about ID theft and so on; but they’re not doing basic things like putting a password on an iPhone or an iPad. Human behaviour is really complex – a consistent result since we launched the index is that behaviour doesn’t correspond to the threat.
El Reg: Thank you. ®