Using Cryptography to Track Cybercriminals

Knowledge Exchange Video

Using Cryptography to Track Cybercriminals

Cybercrime is one of the fastest growing, most lucrative and destructive areas of criminal activity in the world today.

From fraud, hacking, piracy, copyright infringement, child pornography, intimidation, blackmail, trolling, stalking and sexual threats, cybercrime affects large numbers of people and companies on a regular basis.

And because of the borderless nature of the cybercrime – perpetrators could be on another continent – relatively few people are arrested or convicted for their offences.

Cybercriminals have relied on the anonymity and protection afforded by the scope of Internet to operate virtually without fear of prosecution in a separate jurisdiction. But Dr KP Chow, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering, The University of Hong Kong, is developing software specifically targeting these activities.

Since 2008, Dr Chow, who is also Associate Director of the Center for Information Security and Cryptography at HKU, has been working closely with the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department to help the authorities track down cybercriminals with the aim of prosecuting them.

"Our relationship with the Customs Department is actually on a long-term relationship," Dr Chow said. "We usually go through a software development process. We identify the problems they want to solve and then we come up with ideas, implementing the prototype. If they like the ideas then we will implement the system."

Guy Fong, Superintendent, Hong Kong Customs & Excise Department, said: "As far as I am aware we are the only customs service over the world that has developed similar technology to deal with cybercrimes."

The first system Dr Chow and his team developed, Lineament I, detected suspected infringement of intellectual property rights over the Internet using BitTorrent. Lineament II was then developed to detect potential auction fraud by using cybercriminal profiling and artificial intelligence.

With criminals moving from BitTorrent to so-called cyberlockers, Lineament III has been developed to analyse suspected criminal items inside the lockers.

While the systems have been successful, Dr Chow said the biggest problem his team faces is trying to keep ahead of the technology and advanced tools used by cybercriminals. And the best to do that, he said, was to understand how the cybercriminals act and how they think.