Encrypted chats and cryptocurrencies have reduced the barriers to entry for cyber criminals. What can we do?
The digital age has afforded cyber criminals and cyber terrorists lower barriers to entry to execute their malicious actions. Simply, the opportunity to undertake harm as a lone wolf or as a cell has become easier and increasingly more difficult for intelligence agencies, police and even military to stop.
Anne Aly, Labor MP for Cowan made this reflection in ASPI’s The Strategist this week. Aly has a distinguished history working in counter extremism, having been both an academic in the field and beginning her own anti-extremism network prior entering Parliament.
Notably, Aly argues that the ability for information, capital and propaganda to be traded across the world in a rapid and covert manner is becoming easier, thus allowing cyber criminals and terrorists to feed their malicious intrigues.
“One of the most compelling reasons to assess threat and capability continuously is that terrorists and criminals always find new ways to do harm. Just as terrorism has pervaded our lives in ways that turn everyday items into weapons and everyday activities into platforms for recruitment and influence, we must also meet the new challenges of security by turning our expertise to the internet and information and communications technology,” Aly argues.
However, simply understanding that cyber criminals and terrorists operate in this arena isn’t enough to stop the spread of crime, terror and malicious intent. These actors are aware that they are likely being monitored by security and intelligence services, and have thus migrated onto encrypted channels.
As such, we need a more robust framework in place to combat cyber crime and cyber terrorism than just monitoring social media and chat forums.
Aly continues, “Since 2015, there has been a significant increase in the use of Telegram (an encrypted instant messaging platform) by terrorist actors. Telegram has become the preferred online platform for Islamic State supporters to distribute propaganda, co-ordinate and communicate, replacing social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook. Telegram was used to coordinate attacks inspired or directed by IS in Paris (2015), Brussels (2016), Berlin (2016) and Istanbul (2017).”
Aly further notes that these same services are used to co-ordinate the trade of information that occurred as a result of cyber theft, both securely and anonymously.
Furthermore, the growing use of cryptocurrencies has allowed criminal actors to covertly finance terror and crime. As such, they have been able to use this as a low cost barrier to entry to exchange the tools of their trade – propaganda, intelligence and money – around the world undetected.
Aly notes, “To that end, I suggest a definition of cyber terrorism as ‘the use of cyber space to enable, inspire, influence or direct a terrorist attack or to raise funds to facilitate such attacks’.”
What can Australia do to beat this?
Not only should we have a better trained workforce with necessary funding as Aly notes, Australia also requires an additional taskforce. This taskforce should include elements from AUSTRAC, ASIS, AFP and the ASD. By definition, laundering or transferring illegal money through cryptocurrencies for the benefit of international terror or crime syndicates requires the knowledge and expertise of multiple agencies.
Further, Australia should look to introduce more thorough frameworks for the buying and selling of cryptocurrencies in order to ensure that this easy method of supporting cyber crime and terrorism is able to be stopped.