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Criminals are taking over the Internet

March 26, 2008

A parallel world is being created on the Internet, as many science fiction writers had predicted. Our faults and virtues, the same ones that have existed for thousands of years, are now shaping the virtual world, and it's not pretty. The criminals are taking over. To commit crime on the Internet is so easy, so convenient, that they are abandoning their real-life efforts in great numbers.

I've recently had a pleasure of attending a talk by Merlin, the Earl of Erroll, where he discussed the changes forced upon our society by rapid adoption of technology. The talk was sponsored by Breach Security, as part of a promotional party organised here in London, at the Company of Information Technologists. Merlin is a well-know figure in Britain, and it was refreshing to hear someone give an honest opinion about where we are heading, and about the state of security and privacy in the UK.

One thing that made an impact on me was his account of how criminals are actively taking advantage of Internet technologies, and exploiting the loopholes in the current organisation of the police force and the justice system. One problem is that these organisations were designed to tackle large problems, whereas most crime that takes place on the Internet is, individually, low in value. The cost of pursuing a large number of small cases is simply prohibitive. In aggregate, however, the cost to the society is much higher, but we are lacking mechanisms to deal with it. It's even worse when you take into account inefficiencies of collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries. These have a significant impact even within one country, but really are devastating when crime crosses over.

Can we do anything to deal with the problem? It's obvious that we stand no chance to investigate and prosecute most of such crime cases, so we should focus on prevention. We should focus on making it more difficult for criminals to make money. What that exactly means is not clear, but I'd really like us to start by adopting a method of payment more secure than credit cards. The technology is already available, all we now need is will.