Internet: ‘Playing field for crimes’

Natashya Gutierrez
Security specialists gather to discuss cyber crimes and how to prevent them, emphasize how the Internet can be used for good - and evil

URGENT TOPIC. Cyber crimes and prevention were topics of discussion at Protect 2012, an annual, international conference on risk managament. April 25, 2012. Natashya Gutierrez.

MANILA, Philippines – The Internet has been a site of connection for families, friends, even future lovers.

But for criminals, it has also been the place to find victims.

In the 21st century, a new set of illegal activity coined as cyber crimes surfaced with the invention of the Internet, a list that includes identity theft, electronic banking, intellectual property and hacking — as highlighted by recent attacks by China and the Philippines on each other’s government-controlled websites.

Cyber security was one of several topics discussed Wednesday, April 25, at Protect 2012, an international conference focused on risks and emergency management, that gathered think-tank experts, specialists and stakeholders to exchange ideas and strategies on how to prevent crises.

Facebook and crime

Thomas Betro, who has managed law enforcement, counterintelligence, counterterrorism and cyber and security programs for the United States government, described the Internet as “the playing field for crimes.”

Through his work with the US, Betro said he has witnessed the fast rise of globalization and emerging trends in safety and security, as brought about by the Internet — further complicated by a proliferation of web, social media and mobile technology.

Betro, the current Vice President of Law Enforcement Practice at AGT International, a security solutions organization, cited an example of a criminal’s use of Facebook: A man had taken a woman hostage and was continually updating his friends on Facebook about the ongoings behind the scenes — even posting photos of his hostage victim — while friends posted on his wall to warn him of the police’s whereabouts and plans to capture him.

The unprecedented use of Facebook in this case, highlights the challenge for authorities to react quickly to cyber crimes that can vary in nature and scope.

The creative use of social media sites by criminals, Betro added, can also be seen in how sites like Facebook and Twitter have been used to plan movements, rallies and criminal activities, which have caused unrest in regions across the globe.

CEO and Executive Editor of Rappler Maria Ressa, echoed Betro’s sentiments, pointing to the London riots, a fire fanned by social media that led to widespread destruction in the city.

She also cited examples of how terrorism spreads across social networks and websites that masquerade as news websites, by disseminating subliminal signals and emotions such as fear, anger and hatred.

Furthermore, technology, she said, can now trace who is reading the site, where they are, how old they are, and what they are reading — making it easier for terrorists to spread their ideologies, knowing exactly who their target is.

For good

But the same tool, Ressa reiterated, can be used for good.

While social media was used in planning the London riots, it was also used to clean up the city afterwards.

Social media was used to organize clean-up efforts to gather volunteers to spruce up London after the violence, highlighting the fact that as potent as social media is, harnessing it may not only be used for evil, but for good as well.

It can be used, she said, to instigate change, as seen in the Arab spring which relied heavily on social networks to spread their cause and emotions, ultimately toppling dictatorships in their countries.

“The Internet has been branded as a place where criminals go, but the upside of Tom [Berto]’s analysis is, it can also be used to plan great things against criminal activity,” she said.

Betro stressed the need to jump into the virtual world in order to counter cyber crimes, and consequently, the value of web training and specialization, as well as adopting technology necessary to successfully prevent crises.

“We have to fight crime where it is planned and carried out,” he said. “We cannot afford to be reactive.”

He added that while technology cannot completely replace human intelligence, human intelligence is “much more effective with technology.”

Ressa added that she feels optimistic because of the technology available to this generation, saying it could be a tool used to strengthen democracy in the Philippines.

“It is incredible. We can DO things. We can help do things together,” she said. –