Despite the many benefits of the internet, cyber-space plays host to an ever increasing number of threats to state security and new types of electronic crime. More and more criminal groups are transferring their activities to the virtual world, which they see as a source of quick and relatively easy income.
On current trends we can expect further growth in the use of advanced IT to commit crimes, perhaps extending into new fields of social and economic life. The internet may be used for blackmail, for example, with criminals threatening to exploit security gaps in computer systems. The fraudulent use of stolen digital information is another ‘growth industry’. Attention must also be paid to online distribution of content promoting terrorism, Nazism and xenophobia.
For the Polish state, the most important thing is the security of critical infrastructure, in particular IT infrastructure, which is now fundamental to the functioning of government. In Poland, the body in charge of this is the Internal Security Agency. For many Poles, however, the biggest problem is the growth of trade-related cyber-crime, which generates very high financial losses.
The most serious threat in this regard is the predicted increase in fraud on internet auction sites. The largest such portal in Poland has about 11.5m registered users, with an estimated 160m articles sold in 2010. With 16m Polish homes already online – another figure on the rise – researchers at marketing institutions forecast that e-auction transactions will replace many traditional forms of trade.
Our unlimited access to the vast global resources of the internet mean we must expect other types of cyber-crime to develop rapidly; various forms of fraud, phishing crimes – where classified online information such as passwords or credit card data are stolen – electronic spying, distribution of child pornography, human and narcotics trafficking, the sale of stolen goods, violation of intellectual property rights and crimes related to unauthorised access to digital information and identity theft.
To reduce these threats it will be necessary to provide law enforcement agencies with the resources to fight cyber-crime effectively, including appropriate co-financing to allow them access to the most modern technologies for prevention, detection and prosecutions. Equally important is a suitable legislative environment, one which keeps pace both with technological developments and new categories of Internet crime.
Another key issue is international cooperation. The number of ‘real-time’ economic cyber-crimes is ballooning and this requires fast cross-border responses. In the first half of 2010, for instance, Polish law enforcers initiated 881 proceedings on economic cyber-crimes, a figure which jumped to 1,220 in the same period last year.
Effective law enforcement – whether dealing with cyber-threats to the state, commercial users or home computers – will also require public-private partnerships with telecommunications operators and companies providing electronic services, as well as researchers and scientists working in the advanced technology market. Without such partnerships, we will be unable to provide appropriate protection to state or self-governing institutions, the commercial sector or private citizens.
The author is Poland’s former Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of the Interior.