The dark side of new technologies: crime

By Sheila Moorcroft

New technologies bring with them many benefits: they also bring new opportunities for criminals at the individual, device, organisations, system infrastructure, and global level. The nature of many of the emerging technologies raises the threat in terms of scale of impact, ease of use, number of access points. The race is on to fight back.

What is changing?

The internet of things will connect just about everything to everything else. Estimates of the number of connected devices by 2020 vary; some say 50 billion devices, others 200 billion. The issue is that security on these devices is minimal; they are vulnerable attack and could provide an almost limitless supply of sources for launching denial of service attacks or viruses. But it may not just be individuals who are vulnerable, so too could critical infrastructures or corporate systems, using them as a back door.

Mobile payments and voucher schemes offer convenience for customers and new capabilities for marketing. They are also a potential field day for criminals, providing easy access to individual identities, funds, and even financial systems – directly and indirectly. Wearable technologies take these capabilities further, giving access to medical information, and genetic and other biometric identifiers. That criminal access is also increasingly global and remote.

The spread of robots and high level of automation, plus artificial intelligence will redefine whole sectors as jobs disappear, and new ones emerge. They also raise issues around the boundaries of responsibility, who is in charge of a decision or an action, if things go wrong or the extent to which decisions could be ‘hijacked’ untraceably.

Invisibility capabilities and their related meta-materials are being developed for military applications and could even provide increased protection against earthquakes. They could also help criminals to hide facilities making counterfeit goods or illegal drugs or drones capable of spying on security operations.

The growing sophistication of many technologies, but also their relative ease of use combined with falling prices means that DIY (Do It Yourself) technology has moved from electronics to biotechnology to 3D printing. An individual can now do in a back bedroom what relatively recently could only be done in sophisticated facilities. Working guns and other weapons that are almost impossible to detect are already possible; remotely controlled robots using a Kinect could be used to ‘commit a crime’; genetic experiments are now do-able, ‘at home’, the possibility to develop and threaten the release of viruses has spread far wider.


Cybercrime has been listed as one of the major threats to national security. System complexity and sheer numbers of connected devices mean that new approaches to protection are needed as the IoT and mobile payments take off. But, consumers are not only the first line of defence, because so many of these devices will be consumer goods, they are also the weakest link in the chain. Security is a low priority; people are lazy and careless about passwords. We are in danger, potentially, of building a very leaky sieve. Manufacturers are being required to address the issue, but it could be an uphill battle.

The new technologies are of course also providing new tools for fighting crimes, such as the new system which can record a crime scene in minutes rather than hours or possibly days; a new radar scanner to detect 3D printed guns; systems which can remotely test sewage and identify drug usage; systems which can detect details such as reflections in an eye or watch from the sky; big data which helps develop new forms of intelligence.

But many of the solutions raise concerns about privacy and oversight. Recent press coverage and the Snowden revelations about surveillance have damaged trust in the security services at a time when we are vulnerable and need new tools. Organisations involved in security will need to find new ways of building trust among the public in a system which many perceive as having been out of control.

Skills shortages will also be a critical issue. A recent report estimated that we need 21 million skilled cyber security personnel worldwide, but only about 3000 currently exist.

As crime goes virtual, global, but also asymmetric – in terms of the scale of chaos one individual can wreak – the race to find new tools, approaches and the skills to fight crime at every level – the individual, device, organisations, system infrastructure, and global, is heating up.

Just as systematic intelligence gathering leads the way fighting crime, so scanning the horizon for a different kinds of intelligence about new technologies which may pose future threats as well as provide future solutions will be equally important.

For sources and more, please see:–crime


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