4 September 2019 • Martijn Tamboer
Thinking like a criminal
Money laundering on the internet. Cybercriminals keep finding more ingenious ways of remaining hidden from the investigative agencies. However, the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) is on their tail. Students contributed ideas in a multidisciplinary challenge-based research programme with THUAS.
There are 200 million people across the world who play the game Fortnite. Most players would never guess that this online platform is also a place where cybercriminals are at work. Similarly, money may also be laundered on large online funeral director firms or internet donations via the internet, thanks to crypto services that have their own cryptocurrencies.
These are just three of the examples presented to twelve students from the International Public Management, Information Security Management, European Studies and Law degree programmes at THUAS during an eight-week multidisciplinary research project.
THUAS took part in the collaboration on the initiative of FIOD’s Financial Advanced Cyber Team (FACT). “They presented two cases with basic information and
targeted questions. We put together a multidisciplinary team from our research challenge programme”, said Catherine Garcia-van Hoogstraten, who acts as a consultant to research teams and is a researcher in the Cyber Security in SME research group and theCentre of Expertise for Cyber Security. The students were divided into two teams. Research team 1 was given the
‘Unusual crypto services’ case study and team 2 was given the ‘Decentralised exchanges’ case study.
“Students from different areas of specialisation used their presentations to answer questions such as ‘which crypto services are used by criminals to launder money?’, ‘where is this offered on the deep web?’ and ‘which decentralised crypto exchanges are susceptible to criminal activity?’.”
The students who took part produced a research report that contained policy, legal and technical recommendations. In order to present their findings,
the students used means of communication such as infographics, interviews, blogs, questionnaires or roundtable discussions. The findings of the
research report will be used by FIOD in their fight against financial cyber crime.
“It was a real challenge”, said Garcia-van Hoogstraten. “However, the greatest challenge lay in the nature of this project, such as choosing the appropriate research methodology to make use of knowledge about FIOD’s problems.
“Our challenge-based research programme threw down the gauntlet to students to develop their talents in a combined approach when defining the problem and producing
recommendations and conclusions. This allowed them to test and deploy their knowledge in practice.”
On the radar
That is precisely the reason why FIOD embarked on a collaboration with THUAS. “We hope that we can get talented students interested in a career with an investigative service such as FIOD”, said Bobby McFaul, Senior Science Cyber Officer on FIOD’s Financial Advanced Cyber Team (FACT). “However, the collaboration with THUAS also means that we have some extra helping hands that may be able to spot signals on the radar.”
Smart way of concealing digital money
McFaul: “Young people often have a different perspective. Their online behaviour is different and they have a fresh take on the definition of problems. That’s the power of young people.” After all, young people quickly and easily make social contacts in the digital world. “For instance, while gaming you meet someone with whom you play a game”, explained Luket Chusorn, a student on International Public Management. However, that’s where things can go wrong. McFaul: “Young people can be persuaded to buy digital assets. This is a smart way of concealing the origin of that virtual money.”
The FIOD Zero Day Challenge Programme provided the students who took part with “a great opportunity to test their knowledge in practice”, according to Garcia-van Hoogstraten. “Unfortunately, there is still a skills gap in the field of cybersecurity. There are a lot of top level skills, but unfortunately it is often hard for graduates to reach operational level. As a university of applied sciences, we establish educational programmes to reduce this skills gap.”
FIOD gained an innovative view on cyber crime with the students’ out-of-the-box scenarios. McFaul: “I’m pleasantly surprised by the results. If this collaboration turns out to have been a success after our evaluation, I would like to continue the Zero Day Challenge from next semester onwards.”
Getting into a criminal’s mind
Luket is a member of one of the winning teams in the challenge “becoming inspired by cyber crime”. “Since then, I’ve bought a lot of books to read over the summer holidays. I am also going to be working with my brother-in-law who runs a consultancy firm that advises SMEs and local government authorities on cyber security. My studies are about human behaviour and solving problems. In my future career, I will probably want to use this to get into a criminal’s mind.”
If the project continues, any students who are interested can register on the Centre of Expertise Cyber Security website. You can request further information about the FIOD Zero Day Challenge Programma from one of the two consultants: Catherine Garcia-van Hoogstraten: C.vanHoogstraten@hhs.nl or Marco Romagna: M.Romagna@hhs.nl