Inside INTERPOL's New Cybercrime Innovation Center

INTERPOL, the international policing agency, is opening a massive innovation center in Singapore in 2014. At the center, law enforcement will learn all about the latest cybercrimes... and have access to cutting-edge forensics laboratories and research stations.

INTERPOL, the international policing organization, is building a law enforcement tech geek heaven in Singapore. The INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation will function as a R&D lab, training facility, and forensics lab for all things cybercrime. Slated to open in 2014, the Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) will be part of the larger INTERPOL Singapore Center. Staff at the IGCI are expected to work on everything from combating child porn to creating low-cost cybercrime research databases for poorer nations.

Michael Moran, INTERPOL's Acting Assistant Director for Cyber Security and Crime, told Fast Company on Wednesday that the main focus for IGCI would be digital security and innovation research for police officers worldwide investigating cybercrime. Moran appeared on a panel the day before at the Kaspersky Lab Cyber Conference in Cancun, where he claimed that most cybercrime-investigating cops worldwide had inadequate budgets, overwhelming workloads, and talent problems. As Moran put it, “recruiting long-haired geeks is not easy for law enforcement.”

Beyond cybercrime, police officers and researchers at IGCI will also be developing experimental strategies to combat environmental crime, counterfeiting, corruption in football/soccer, and Asian criminal syndicates. The complex will include laboratories, conference space, and a museum-like space for tours geared toward the public. INTERPOL being INTERPOL, the whole organizational process behind the center is highly bureaucratic and intricate [PDF].

INTERPOL has not yet formally announced what products and tools will be developed at the IGCI. However, Moran mentioned to Fast Company that a heavy emphasis would be placed on developing and enhancing open-source forensics tools for local law enforcement. These open-source tools would aid police departments in poor and developing nations—who normally don't have funds for expensive software licenses—in solving more crime in less time. Moran noted that for law enforcement, recent technical innovations have transformed the nature of crimefighting. While his examples—computer-aided crimefighting, tear gas, and tasers—might give civil libertarians pause, they also signify how law enforcement depends on gadgetry just as much as any other industry.

The decision to place the IGCI in Singapore is part internal politics, part deliberate strategy. INTERPOL's current president, Khoo Boon Hui, is Singaporean and helped land Singapore the IGCI. However, locating the lab in Asia was deliberate; police officers and researchers at IGCI will work in shifts with their cybersecurity counterparts at INTERPOL HQ in Lyon, France and at another facility in Buenos Aires—guaranteeing daytime coverage of most of the globe.

Apart from developing tools to fight pirates and malware developers, the Singapore facility will also feature a high-tech forensics workshop for disaster victim identification. Following natural or man-made disasters, INTERPOL researchers will use the lab to provide on-call assistance for local police and first responders.

Returning back to cybercrime, Moran claims that obtaining accurate statistics is INTERPOL's greatest difficulty in the field. Rather than getting most of their information on cybercrime from local police departments—which, by their definition, includes everything from viruses to credit card theft to destructive hactivism—INTERPOL receives most of their information from cybersecurity firms. These private companies, of course, can sometimes resort to hyperbole when describing the latest online threats. Meanwhile, law enforcement worldwide is often confused when dealing with the online world... as the recent Homeland Security hubbub over “Tweeter” proved.

As Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter mature, they are increasingly assuming the roles of non-state entities. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the American SOPA protests, and other events, tech megafirms now have their own foreign policies for all intents and purposes. According to Moran, Google and Facebook have become much more open to collaborating with law enforcement over the past few years. This has been a sea change for police investigating online crime—in the past, even with a subpoena, companies were much less likely to disclose information involving users' identities.

For INTERPOL, who are prohibited from investigating “political” crime—placing a large amount of hacktivism outside of their bailiwick—the big question over the next few years will be playing catchup with criminals using the latest tricks from torrent sites, message boards, and even academic computer science journals for financial gain. Building a large-scale cybercrime research center isn't just smart policing; it's a necessity for police who want to catch the crooks.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

[Image: INTERPOL]

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