‘Spearphishing, smishing and whaling’ – we’re struggling to keep up, says cyber cop

New and constantly evolving forms of cybercrime have left Police Scotland “struggling” to keep up, one of its senior cyber officers has said. Online and device-specific threats such as ‘spearphishing’, ‘smishing’ and ‘whaling’, coupled with existing cybercrime, have left officers facing a “significant investigative challenge”.

“What we are seeing, and I don’t like using the term ‘pandemic’ because that is a bit alarmist, but I would say what we are seeing now from these companies, organisations like DD4BC, you will see that they are using ransomware and DDOS, and cybercrime-asa- service to target specific companies within jurisdictions,” said DI Eamonn Keane, of Police Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division.

Keane spoke to FutureScot ahead of the Scot Secure Cyber Security conference at Our Dynamic Earth on April 21, where he gave a talk on ‘being the hunter’. He said it was almost impossible to quantify the totality of cyber-attacks faced by Scottish business as many go unreported. But he said there was a level of co-operation now between officers and business that was encouraging.

“I’m delighted to say we’re getting much more traction and engagement from our business community and we’re here to support them,” he said. However, he indicated that the multi-jurisdictional scale of hacking presents a considerable challenge to the force. “It’s on an automated and industrial scale,” he said. “There are new crimes – and we in Police Scotland, yes we are absolutely struggling. We face a significant investigative challenge and resources dealing with all aspects of cybercrime and social media abuse.”

Police Scotland has itself fallen victim to a “number of incidents where there have been intrusions” – and one individual arrested for attacking the force is due to come to court. Keane also indicated that the level of boardroom attacks on ‘C-suite executives’ (chief-level in an enterprise) appeared to be on the rise – either through ‘social engineering’ (using open source online platforms to research and target potential victims), or through ransomware. “The landscape would be that we have now a small but significant body of what we could call hacking teams they are now interested in looking at vulnerabilities in organisations.”

There have been recent calls from the Scottish Police Federation to create a dedicated ‘National Cyber Crime unit’ for Scotland. Keane declined to echo the calls from the policing union but said he supports the idea of closer, collaborative working with partners, particularly with business.

“We’ve got some fantastic defence technology in Scotland, the likes of Lockheed Martin and Sopra Steria – and we need that help to assist in policing sometimes,” he added. Police Scotland is also working with global tech corporations to try and identify malicious code and “suck it out” of the internet, he said.

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