Cayman cybercrimes shoot up since 2014

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne

While the number of cybercrimes reported in Cayman – computer scams like phishing, compromising email accounts or malware – has quintupled within the past four years, the local police service’s ability to deal with such matters has not.

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said last week that two people, a police officer and a civilian tech expert, are now staffing the newly created Cyber Crimes Investigation Unit which recorded more than 50 cybercrime reports last year. That unit has been separated from the RCIPS Financial Crime Unit, which deals with finance-related criminal probes.

That is two more people focused on cybercrime than the RCIPS had when Commissioner Byrne arrived in Cayman in late 2016, the commissioner confirmed when asked about the police service’s capacity to cope with such investigations.

In 2016, a Ministry of Home Affairs report indicated that the RCIPS lacked both a “proper analytical understanding” of these types of crimes and an operation plan to address them.

Following a December 2015 government directive issued to the Information and Communications Technology Authority, the RCIPS began developing a cybercrime strategy in consultation with ICTA and representatives from the local financial services industry.

Commissioner Byrne said a plan is now at least partially in place, and while the police service’s ability to investigate “cyber-enabled” crime is limited at present, the capacity is increasing. Eventually, the goal is to incorporate digital forensics, cybercrime analysis and investigation to support law enforcement in combatting both more traditional criminal activity and cybercrime.

The difficulty with cybercrime is the criminals are usually advancing their methods at a much faster rate and law enforcement has to play catch up, according to Ministry of Home Affairs officials.

The ministry’s annual report for the 2015/16 fiscal year stated, “Phishing, trolling, malware, online scams, revenge pornography and the proliferation of child abuse imagery are each largely unreported and unrecorded [in Cayman]. Moreover, the RCIPS currently lacks a strategic framework and operational action plan for tackling cybercrimes.

“Consequently, criminals are continuing to exploit technology and the tools to preserve anonymity online [at] a disproportionately faster rate in comparison to the speed with which the RCIPS has introduced the skills, resources and the tools to combat cybercrime.”

Last week’s release of crime statistics data from the RCIPS included the department’s first attempt to report the extent of known cybercrime activity within the islands.

According to those stats, in 2010, incidents of reported cybercrime were “rare to nonexistent,” according to a police report on the issue made public last week. Cybercrime reports saw a major spike in 2014, going from just a handful to about 40 reports in one year. Since then, the number of reports of cybercrime has increased through 2017.

The main cause of the 2014 spike, according to police, was “business email compromise.”

“The criminal objective behind these activities was to compromise online banking accounts,” the RCIPS crime report noted. “This was the primary cause for the rise in cybercrime from 2014 to 2016, along with phishing emails using the brands of local retail banks and being sent to customers and the general public.”

Last year, “business email spoofing” overtook email compromise reports and the target appears to have principally been the Cayman Islands government.

“There were 11 business email spoofs reported in 2017,” the police report noted. “There has been an increase in spoofed emails that attempted to mimic the email accounts of both the RCIPS and the Immigration Department.”

Commissioner Byrne said public safety threats from cybercrime would only continue to grow in the near and medium-term and the RCIPS, as well as other regional police services, must prepare for it.

“This is really a growing threat. [Cybercrime policing] is a global requirement,” Mr. Byrne said. “Its inclusion in the [crime] stats at the start of this year indicate the attention we’re paying to that aspect of crime.”

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