Low barriers to entry driving cyber threat warns NECC chief

The man responsible for coordinating the UK’s response to economic crime, has warned that the barriers to entry for those wanting to carry out cyber-crime are falling to a point where the speed of transition from novice to criminal is far too rapid.

Rob Jones, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), part of the UK’s National Crime Agency was speaking as part of CityWeek in London and warned that the scale and cost of cyber criminals compromising business emails was a threat which was still underestimated.

Delegates, to the event hosted by City & Financial Global, heard last year 39% of UK businesses suffered a cyber-attack and of that number 31% said they suffered an attack at least once a week.

“Cyber-crime is deemed to be a tier one  national security threat,” Jones said. “Therefore we and the government take it very seriously.”

He added the country’s National Cyber Security Centre was delivering “world beating” systems with which to fight the threat and was working with the public and business to deliver “game changing” solutions to prevent cyber-attacks.

“There are criminal eco-systems which support  cyber-crime,” Jones added. “If we add to the 31% figure we have already heard, 41% of all crime is fraud with the majority of those frauds being cyber enabled or cyber dependent. We have a bit of a problem in the digital world.

“This is about managing cybercrime threats, but it is also about preventing cybercrime threats.”

In terms of ransomware  issues remained.

“We  saw a spike in ransomware attacks a few years ago and that had seen the crime accelerate away from us,” he continued. “We have been working hard to catch up, and Ukraine -Russia had an effect and that was to actually slow it for a while, but it has certainly not gone away.”

Jones said the issues with compromised business emails was an area that many businesses did not have in their radar.

“The compromise of business emails has probably been underestimated  in terms of the scale and the monitorisation for organised crime,” he added. “Compromised emails generate a massive amount  of criminal profit.”

He said the biggest threat to the UK remain from overseas actors who were attacking people and businesses in the country. It meant that the traditional method of identifying criminals and arresting them was harder given the geographic challenges but the country’s crime agencies continued to liaise with the counterparts in an effort to tackle the threat.

“Our focus is increasingly around disruption at scale,” Jones explained. “The environment is largely dominated by Russian speaking actions, which are based in jurisdictions of risk.

“There is a strong state – crime nexus and is it well understood. However, it is more chaotic now and that is because there is a very low barrier for entry for those who want to become involved in cyber-crime and that concerns us.

“The criminal ecosystems are supporting those low barriers to entry.”

Jones explained that systems are easily accessible on the internet, as is compromise data with compromised credentials selling for as little as 70 US cents each.

“We are keen to crackdown and undermine those who are providing the tools and the credentials,” he added. “We have gone as far as to set up such sites ourselves which allow us to gather credentials and shut them down, which goes to destroy trust in such sites.

“We are seeking to undermine the sites, identify the threat actors and go after them.”

It has included the use of sanctions with the UK authorities working with the FBI and OFAC to impose sanctions on those which have been identified as part of the cyber-crime threat.

“The message is that we will disrupt cyber  criminals using whatever means are available to us,” Jones said.

“We  saw a spike in ransomware attacks a few years ago and that had seen the crime accelerate away from us,” he continued. “We have been working hard to catch up, and Ukraine – Russia had an effect and that was to actually slow it for a while, but it has certainly not gone away.”

Rob Jones, NECC

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