DOHA – The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) scored two major victories; recovered Bitcoin ransom and arrested lawbreakers; Using a new application encryption, according newspaper “New York Times” (The New York Times).
Criminals have constantly exploited technology to stay one step ahead of the law, whether it was the gangsters of a century ago who drove fast in racing cars, or the “terrorists” and hackers of recent decades who protected their communications with encrypted apps.
But last week the FBI scored two important victories; By confiscating most of the ransom of $4 million in bitcoin that Russian hackers stole from the American pipeline operator, and announcing a major year-long operation, the FBI deceived thousands of suspects using encrypted phones that were secretly controlled by the authorities, in which more than 800 were arrested. people in more than 12 countries.
The damage of the breaches was limited thanks to law enforcement officers who learned how to take advantage of two rapidly advancing technologies, “encryption” and “cryptocurrencies,” which were once a boon to criminals.
Yet these events have done little to fundamentally change the challenges facing authorities in an increasingly digital and advanced world, according to statements by former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, historians, and technologists. Former officials and experts said global blackmail is unlikely to prevent criminals from using crypt, and could even encourage them to go further, and while the FBI has shown that it can recover stolen cryptocurrency, doing so requires resources far from reach of most law protection agencies.
Technology in a cat and mouse game
The cat-and-mouse game has been repeated for decades between lawbreakers and lawmen, in which both parties exploited technological advances, whether they were criminals hiding behind encryption or investigators investing in facial recognition, drones and other mechanisms.
“You get a sharper sword, but they get stronger armor,” said Tim Weiner, author of Enemies: A History of the FBI. “The greed of the bad guys is always more powerful than the arrival of the good guys,” said Tim Weiner, author of “Enemies: A History of the FBI.” This has always been the trend throughout the history of war.”
Law enforcement agencies are now seeking to learn more about how to access digital devices, sometimes buying hacking tools from the private sector and urging lawmakers to give them more power to track down suspects.
Law protection gains
The technology wasn’t all bad for the police. Authorities in the United States are using gunshot detectors, devices that secretly connect cell towers with suspects’ phones and locate them, in addition to facial-recognition technologies and drones.
Law enforcement also has certain advantages when it obtains digital device technology. Despite claims by Apple, Google, and even the US Department of Justice that smartphones are largely impenetrable, thousands of Law enforcement agencies have tools that can hack the latest phones to extract data.
The police also have easy and timely access to data stored in the cloud, as technology companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft regularly and periodically hand over personal data of customers in the form of photographs, emails, contacts and text messages to the authorities on their orders. .
company said Apple it delivered contents tens thousands of “iCloud” (iCloud accounts) to US protection law authorities in 13 thousand and 371, during period extending from January 2013 until June 2020, said company At statement In 2018, it handed over the phone records of members of Congress and their families to the Department of Justice, including Representative Adam Beebe, without the knowledge of the House Intelligence Committee, knowing that the subpoena was part of an investigation by the Trump administration into leaks of classified information.
Communication interception has remained a vexing problem for the police. Previously, criminals used to talk and communicate through channels that were relatively easy to spy on such as phones, emails and basic text messages, while now most of them use encrypted messaging software but in reality they are not.
Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp, two of the world’s most popular messaging services, rely on so-called “end-to-end encryption” ( end-to-end); Which means that only the sender and receiver can see the messages, that is, even companies can’t access their contents, which allows the two companies to say that they can’t hand that data to law enforcement authorities.
The authorities’ targeting of smaller encryption applications prompted many hackers to turn to a new service called “Anom”, where they had to buy specialized phones with low specifications, along with an application in the form of a calculator so that Anom turns into a messaging application when using a specific code known as That it is encrypted.
In fact, it was the FBI who created the Anom app. The Australian Police Department began persuading a whistleblower to distribute devices to criminal networks, and then they were arrested, and after 3 years, Anum had more than 12,000 users.
Police in Australia and elsewhere around the world have arrested hundreds of suspects who secretly communicated using an application run by an FBI credit card, with police saying the criminals felt so comfortable using the service that they stopped using encrypted language and sent pictures of cocaine shipments. contraband and openly plotting the killings, and when the authorities obtained court approval to monitor any of Anom’s users they could easily have monitored their messages.
But the authorities handed over their weapons again to the criminals when the police carried out hundreds of arrests and provided details of the scheme to media cameras last week, thus ending the ruse that ensured their superiority.
Attractive tool for criminals
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been the currency of choice for international criminal gangs for many years, due to the attractive qualities of decentralization and anonymity that make them great for theft, ransom and drug sales.
Getting the money was the hardest part of holding something or someone hostage, said Ross Anderson, a cryptologist and cybersecurity scientist at Cambridge University who studies how police and criminals use technology.
He also said, “It’s easy to grab money nowadays with cryptocurrencies, as you can actually get very large amounts, like 7- and 8-digit amounts that can be delivered instantly to Russia, North Korea, or anywhere.”
This new model has led to increased software attacks viral or what known ransom programs, where hackers controls computer person devices or company and ask ransom, estimated company “Future Rikurdid” (Recorded Future) -the security company tracks Alahjmat- for one attack every 8 Minutes last year 2020.
Ransomware attacks have recently hit hospitals, meat parlours, minor league baseball teams, and ferries, with many companies paying ransoms because it is easier and faster than alternative solutions, despite giving hackers more incentives.
The Colonial Pipeline case showed that the police could also use cryptocurrencies to their advantage, as every transaction was recorded in a public ledger, making money traceable even as it moved from one anonymous account to another; This means that applying the law and getting enough money and experience usually enables it to hack an account and get the money back, but hacking can be expensive and time-consuming; This leaves a few agencies outside the FBI with the ability to do so.
Russian hackers have extorted more than $4 million in bitcoin from Colonial Airlines, which transports refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas to the East Coast and on to New York.
Battle and challenges of the 21st century
The history of the cat-and-mouse game between police and criminals is very long. In the 1920s, robbers realized that cars could allow them to rob a home or a bank and escape quickly to the next county or state, where the police would be less interested in solving a crime.
Today, law enforcement’s eagerness to keep up with technology has spawned a fast-growing industry dedicated to mining suspects’ communications, and Israeli company Celebrite said its sales rose 38% in the first quarter to $53 million with the purchase of its tools by Many police departments in order to hack suspects’ phones.
About 2,000 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states have such tools, including 49 of the 50 largest US police departments, according to Upturn, a Washington nonprofit that investigates how police use technology. The country’s top law enforcement officials are increasingly tech companies and lawmakers, and Vance Jr. told Congress in 2019 that data mining tools are expensive and unreliable, adding that they can sometimes take weeks or even years to hack a phone.
“There are many, many serious cases where we don’t have access to the device in the period of time when it is most important to us,” Mr. Vance told lawmakers.