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Swiss square up to tackle cyber crime

The recent accessing of a World Economic Forum database by Internet hackers highlighted the problem of cyber crime

(Keystone Archive)

Cantonal police chiefs are meeting this week to discuss the creation of a special federal force to combat Internet crime. Cyber-crime is growing in Switzerland, but only one police force, Geneva, has a unit specially dedicated to fighting it.

Recent high profile cases of Internet crime in Switzerland - hackers accessing a World Economic Forum (WEF) database, a paedophile CD-Rom and homophobic and neo-Nazi websites - have highlighted the need for action against cyber-criminals.

The proposed force being considered by cantonal police chiefs would be charged with monitoring the Internet for illegal activities on websites or chat rooms, and coordinating the work of the cantonal forces and their dealings with foreign police.

The only existing force dedicated to fighting cyber crime, Geneva's Information Crime Group, was set up about six months ago. One of its two officers, Pascal Seeger, says that, while hacking and inflammatory websites might grab the headlines, a large proportion of the information crimes that he deals with are e-mail threats and credit card fraud.

"We want to be able to scan the Internet and target these illegal sites, especially the ones devoted to paedophilia. It's a real problem and we're determined to fight it," one of Geneva's two "cybercops", Pascal Seeger, told swissinfo.

Seeger concentrates on Internet crime, while his colleague, Didier Frozza, covers the forensic side of the job - analysing computer hard disks and mobile phone SIM cards.

A number of other cantonal police forces in Switzerland - Vaud, Zurich and Aargau, for example - have experts in computer crime, but they almost always form part of the fraud squad.

The Geneva unit has dealt with around 100 cases since it was created, but its size means it relies heavily on complaints from the public. The group will be expanded later this year, and then it will be able to be more proactive.

The Internet is, of course, worldwide and the Geneva "cybercops" have had to develop strong links with foreign police forces. Very often a crime which affects a company or individual in Geneva is perpetrated by someone on the other side of the world.

"We've just had a case where the domain name ended in ".ch", that is it's a Swiss website. But when we investigated it, we discovered that the domain name had been bought by someone in Finland," Seeger says. "However, the website was hosted by a server in the United States, and the webmaster was finally tracked down in Russia."

That crime was cleared up thanks to the extensive network that exists between police forces around the world. However, Seeger says that, while the Internet is a fast-moving world, justice often struggles to keep up.

"As police officers, we could work very fast. But we have to follow proper legal proceedings, and that can take months."

The volatile and international nature of the Internet makes it a kind of unregulated no-man's-land. So Seeger welcomes the recent motion by the Swiss Senate calling on the government to introduce stringent new legislation to combat Internet crime.

The Geneva cybercop would like to see a fast-track international procedure put in place, similar to the one that already exists to fight organised crime.

"Internet Service Providers keep data on who's been using the Internet for a maximum of three months - sometimes it's only one week," Seeger explains. "If I make an Interpol request, it may take eight or 10 months to get a reply.

"We can't work with this system. We need an international netforce, which allows us to get information more quickly," he adds.

Whether it is within Switzerland or internationally, Internet Service Providers (ISP) are crucial to any police investigation into cyberspace crime. These are the companies that manage the link from individual PCs to the rest of the Internet.

"ISPs are our main partners. Without them, we can do nothing, as they hold all the data. Some ISPs are very cooperative, but others aren't and sometimes we need search warrants to seize the information," Seeger explains.

He says that the cooperation of companies such as Yahoo! and Hotmail is also important, as their free e-mail services are often used to commit crimes such as sending threats and credit card fraud.

by Roy Probert


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