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US Cyber Command is sending experts abroad to help allies catch hackers

While agents cooperating is helpful in international efforts to catch cybercriminals, more data sharing is also needed.

By Claudia Glover

The US government’s Cyber National Command Force (CNCF) is sending its experts abroad in so-called “hunt forward” operations to aid partner countries in combating cybercrime, and has launched 47 operations in 20 countries over the last three years. Though this could help the global fight against cybercriminals, it needs to be complimented by a higher level of data sharing between the US and its allies, one expert believes.

US Cyber Command is aiding allies with cybersecurity efforts (Photo by Daniel J. Macy/Shutterstock)

Major General William Hartman, the CNCF’s commander, revealed details of the operations as part of a talk delivered at the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Monday.

The US Military Cyber National Command Force ‘hunts forward’

The US operations have been carried out at the behest of the partner countries, Hartman said, adding that the CNCF recently sent 43 of its specialists to Ukraine to the cyber battle against Russia.

Emily Taylor, CEO at Oxford Information Labs and associate fellow at Chatham House, welcomed the CNCF’s interventions. She spoke to parliament’s National Security Strategy committee on Monday as part of a hearing on the problem of ransomware, and highlighted the importance of international data sharing.

“Barriers to the free flow of evidence across borders” need to be removed to compile cases against these criminals quickly, she told the committee. “If there can’t be international cooperation on cyber crime, then there must be some sort of response from the international community that does abide by the rules,” Taylor added.

While countries such as Russia are unlikely to take their own cybercriminals to task, other nations need to be able “to call them out for failing” to do so, Taylor added. “International cooperation at this time is incredibly challenging, but we will need something if we actually want these criminals to go to jail,” she said.

Achieving cross-border data sharing

Other countries, including the UK, are conducting similar operations. Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty told Sky News last year that UK spies were “already on the frontline” aiding Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russian forces.

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Taylor says more pooling of digital evidence across borders will be important to tie these missions together. “The US, EU and UK are really close allies, you shouldn’t be able to put a piece of paper between them, let alone have international cyber crime investigations thwarted because of lack of data sharing or lack of confidence,” she said.

Taylor adds that “anything to do with cyber security or defeating cybercrime has got to be a team sport,” including the efforts on the part of the CNCF to hunt forward. “This just part of the puzzle, part of the jigsaw, and there’s some other really difficult things that need to happen urgently internationally,” she says.

Read more: US cybersecurity remains poor but a fix is tricky to find

 

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