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When you think of the city making the most strides in the fight against cybercriminals, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, may not be the first place that comes to mind.
But the city has fostered a unique collaboration between private companies and federal agencies, known as the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance (NCFTA), which has helped to break down barriers and solve some landmark cybercrime cases, The Wall Street Journal reported late last week.
Recently, federal agents operating out of Pittsburgh were responsible for taking down Darkode, which was said to be one of the most sophisticated cybercrime forums online. By tapping into the information and resources of private companies, the field agents and investigators can work alongside the employees of banks and other businesses to identify cyber threats.
“You can’t build a wall between us and private industry…and expect them to open their books and doors to you,” Scott Smith, head of the FBI’s Pittsburgh division, told WSJ.
The NCFTA collaboration, which was established in the early 2000s, has really become a win-win for both sides, especially for the private sector which has limits law enforcement does not, such as the ability to obtain court orders for prosecuting cybercrime suspects or seizing computer servers.
“We can write detections to block malware, but if we can help law enforcement arrest the people behind it, we don’t have to block it anymore,” Aaron Hackworth, an engineer at information-security firm Dell Secureworks Inc., which partners with law enforcement in Pittsburgh, explained to WSJ.
Dan Larkin, a retired FBI agent who helped start the NCFTA, said that while agents are used to taking on the role of the “800-pound gorilla bull in the china shop” who could easily just subpoena companies for information without offering anything in return, sometimes taking a different path is the best option.
Because if “the FBI and other agencies allow private industry to advise them candidly, there’s a better path,” Larkin added.
With the number of cyber attacks not only growing, but also becoming more sophisticated, Pittsburgh’s success rate has shown this partnership approach to fighting cybercrime may be one that has the potential to really make a difference.