Tracking down criminals on the net, uncovering digital security gaps and teaching police officers about cyber crime. Those are the tasks of the new Interpol innovation center in Singapore. Businesses are also involved.
Not until April 9, when hackers attacked the French channel TV5 Monde, did the looming threats in cyberspace become evident. The growing pervasion of the real world by the digital does not only create opportunities for prosperity, knowledge and the free development of individuals.
The growing dependence on the Internet also creates new vulnerabilities. Government agencies, such as military and intelligence services, and criminals - as witnessed in the TV5 Monde incident - have shown how terrorists take advantage of the vulnerabilities in new technologies.
About five years ago, the international police organization Interpol decided to start Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in in Singapore (IGCI) to avoid being overtaken in the technological race between criminals and police. The center's new six-storey building was inaugurated on April 13.
In the same week, "Interpol World" opens for the first time on April 14. Around 8,000 visitors are expected to attend the two-day security conference. Experts will discuss four topics: cyber security, border management, supply chain security and safe cities.
Technology curbs information overload
At the same time, "Interpol World" acts as a fair for the booming security industry. The Interpol World website writes proudly about how nearly 30,000 square meters of exhibition space are being used by 250 companies. Also represented at the "Interpol World" is the Singapore-based Fraunhofer Institute for Interactive Digital Media.
In an interview with DW, Fraunhofer's director Wolfgang Müller-Wittig described the junction between research and the world of police work: "In this world of information overload, we offer user interfaces that help the user identify unusual patterns and that is when visual analytics can be used in security matters."
This is how unusual behavior patterns can be more easily identified and possible crimes uncovered on the Web. Fraunhofer Institute and IGCI are also discussing a closer cooperation, apart from "Interpol World."
In general, IGCI has been conceived in such a way as to collaborate closely with partners such as research institutes and private companies. IGCI director Noboru Nakatani told DW that he thinks it is IGCI's task to provide a means of supporting the 190 member states of Interpol by the private sector.
"Actually in IGCI, eight private companies are working everyday side by side with Interpol staff. And then they actually assist Interpol work by monitoring [the] online black market, where you can get drugs or weapons. Or some expert coming from Internet security companies like Trend Micro or Kaspersky, they actually work on malware analysis."
Merging of Interpol and businesses
The close interaction of businesses and the police alarms critics. In the past 10 years, political scientist Heiner Busch has been observing a "stronger merging of police forces and the nascent security industry".
The problem is that Interpol, the world's largest police organization with 190 member countries, is thereby supplying surveillance technology to oppressive nations as well. One example is the Munich-based IT company FinFisher, also represented at "Interpol World". Its "State Trojan" was bought by the German federal government but also, according to media reports, by Bahrain's government, who has been using it to monitor the opposition.
Interpol was also in the headlines in 2013 because of agreements with businesses worth millions. Football's world governing body, FIFA, the tobacco corporation Philip Morris and an association of large pharmaceutical companies all paid millions to the international police organization, which operates under a tight budget provided by its member states. According to findings by the German news site, sueddeutsche.de, 26 percent of the 78 million euro Interpol budget comes from companies and foundations.
Opening with a strike against Botnet
On IGCI's opening day, Noboru Nakatani is proud of his organization's recent successes. In an operation organized by IGCI on April 9, the Simbda botnet was taken down. It had infected nearly 800,000 computers worldwide with malicious software. Ten command-and-control servers were seized in the Netherlands, and additional servers in the United States, Russia, Poland and Luxembourg were taken down.
According to the confident Nakatani, the Interpol headquarters in Lyon work on the basis of past experiences. But Interpol needs to give its member states a means of dealing with the entirely new type of cyber crime in the Internet age. Criminals have not hesitated to use the latest technologies, stated the IGCI director.
But police authorities prefer to work in the old-fashioned way and are often reluctant to use new technologies. This tendency is then reinforced by bureaucratic obstacles in the acquisition of the newest technologies. IGCI strives to counteract this tendency.
It also plays yet another part - it is the first major Interpol organization in Asia, apart from a small office in Bangkok with only five employees. Africa has four regional offices, explained Noboru Nakatani. There is one in South America and one in Central America, an office in New York for the United Nations and a Brussels office for the EU.