Waging war against cyber threats

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As U.S. government officials weigh the balance between individual privacy and a true public/private partnership against cybercrime, a Pittsburgh nonprofit dedicated to the fight again cyber-crooks has added a new member from the United Kingdom.

The National Cyber-Forensics Training Alliance, a South Oakland-based nonprofit that uses public and private sector experts to help address cyber-crimes, announced Thursday that it has added the U.K.’s Serious Organised Crime Agency to its list of international partners. SOCA, considered the U.K. equivalent to the FBI, handles cases dealing with class A drugs, human trafficking, major gun crimes, fraud, money laundering and computer crime.

The cyber-forensics alliance has partnerships with more than 40 private sector organizations in the U.S. and more than 15 law enforcement or regulatory agencies around the world.

The collaboration plans to bring a SOCA agent to Pittsburgh for the next three years to work with in-house experts on issues such as phishing, sales of credit card numbers and other cybersecurity concerns that negatively impact U.K. citizens.

“Make no mistake, this is the opening shot of a long campaign,” said Serious Organised Crime Agency chairman Sir Ian Andrews.

The announcement was made during a luncheon discussion on how governments and industry are working to deal with cyber threats held Thursday at Heinz Field. The cyber-forensics alliance gathered officials from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as bringing in Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to chime in on the importance of collaborating and sharing information. Cyber theft cost victims in 24 countries an estimated $388 billion last year, according to the 2011 Norton Cybercrime Report.

“We can’t afford to allow the bad guys to flee across national boundaries,” said Mr. Corbett. “An email doesn’t stop at the border to clear customs. A financial transaction can’t pause to be searched. Things now move instantly, meaning we need to be on guard against those who would steal or terrorize at the same rate.”

Beyond encouraging further collaboration, officials pointed to successes that have already come through inter-agency collaboration. Mr. Andrews cited an example of a recent collaboration with the FBI that led to arrests in Europe, the United States and Australia.

William G. Ross, a supervisory special agent of Homeland Security Investigations, said he wasn’t initially sure of the benefits of collaborating with the cyber-forensics alliance. But after a six-month review showed the alliance had provided support in more than 300 cases — including more than 40 financial cases and some that went into the realm of proliferation and narcotics — he gives the program his full endorsement.

“I was very surprised as to what we were able to accomplish through the NCFTA,” he said.

Calling cybercrime a “global and international challenge,” Mr. Andrews said nations and organizations that don’t make a true effort to collaborate will only become part of the problem. “The international community that comes together to counter [cybercrime] will only be as successful as its least effective partner,” he said.

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