As the executive director and chairman of international private intelligence and cyber investigations agency IFW Global, Ken Gamble has seen first-hand how cybercrime has evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic. We caught up with him after his presentation at RiskConnect Virtual 2021 to find out more about the battle between good and evil in cyberspace.
Q: How have the scams that you’ve seen in your practice changed during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to what you and your colleagues noted beforehand?
Ken Gamble:I have observed a significant increase in all types of online scams since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the criminal groups who carry out these scams take advantage of the fact many people are now at home, looking for opportunities online. This may be starting a home-based business or investing in a new crypto opportunity. Online scammers are often using state-of-the-art digital marketing that can easily fool victims into believing the schemes are real.
In addition to the increase in scams, there has been a huge decrease in law enforcement’s response to scams. In some instances, fraud police who normally field complaints from victims have been redeployed. They are out of office, conducting Covid-19-related duties, such as guarding quarantine hotels.
The combination of these two factors places even further strain on government and regulatory agencies to effectively respond to the increase in scams. It places a higher burden of responsibility on individuals and commercial enterprises to protect themselves, be more vigilant and take control to mitigate these online risks.
Q: As the world readjusts to living with Covid, there has been much talk about the ‘new normal’. When it comes to the fraud, scams and organised crime that you’ve observed, to what extent will fraud and efforts to counter it be similar or different to the ‘old normal’? What are the opportunities and threats for anti-fraud and risk management professionals?
Ken Gamble: The Covid-19 pandemic has given cyber criminals an upper hand because they are exploiting weaknesses in government and law enforcement responses. So, countering the efforts of highly motivated criminals has become more difficult than ever. This means that prevention techniques and defensive measures are more relevant now than ever before. Cross-border financial crimes are already very difficult to prosecute. Consequently, fraud and risk prevention practitioners are turning to technology more to mitigate risk and stop fraud before it occurs.
Q: What else has been happening while all eyes have been on Covid-19? Perhaps there have been significant news stories, trends, regulatory developments that have been crowded out of news coverage by Coronavirus, which RiskConnect delegates should be aware of?
Ken Gamble: Cryptocurrency investment fraud has exploded across the world. So have targeted hacking operations to steal data. This type of online criminality is borderless; it targets the vulnerable and crosses many countries and languages. The past 18 months has probably been one of the most vulnerable times for internet users across the world since the birth of the internet.
Q: According to science fiction writer William Gibson “The future is already here, just not evenly distributed.” What glimpses of the future of crypto scams can we already see today? And how can RiskConnect delegates best manage their risk exposure?
Ken Gamble: One of the biggest realisations that I’ve had this year, after 33 years of combatting serious fraud, is that organised cybercrime has become a vast, multibillion-dollar criminal industry. Therefore, the technology and security being used by some cybercriminal organisations has surpassed that of foreign government agencies and matches military-grade security. We are no longer dealing with an adversary with limited resources and funding, who works from a bedroom.
The approach to this type of cybercrime must encompass many different strategies. For example, not just prevention but global financial disruption, cross-border offensive operations and international intelligence gathering, to strike at the controlling minds of these groups using network agency partners. The battle can be won by working together.
Q: If you had a magic wand and could make one lasting change to combat financial crime, what would it be and why?
Ken Gamble: I would form an anti-cybercrime action task force that has global reach. Its sole mission would be to detect, disrupt and dismantle organised cybercrime organisations in foreign jurisdictions. To that end, it would involve law enforcement, banks and private sector specialists working hand in hand. The task force would then be resourced, equipped and empowered to conduct cross-border operations effectively, and severely disrupt the financial operations of international cybercriminal groups.