Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Hitting cyber-crime in real time

Richard Boscovich is assistant general counsel of Digital Crimes Unit. Photo / AP
Richard Boscovich is assistant general counsel of Digital Crimes Unit. Photo / AP

In one of the most restricted offices at Microsoft's US headquarters a team of attorneys, investigators and data scientists are locked in a battle with cyber-crime that is costing the global economy trillions of dollars a year.

The Digital Crimes Unit in Redmond was launched in 2010 with a mandate "to make the internet safer for every person and organisation on the planet".

No easy feat, according to its assistant general counsel, Richard Boscovich.

Research globally shows 160 million customer records are compromised every year and $3 trillion in market value destroyed from digital crime.

The average time between a computer or system being compromised and this being detected is more than 140 days.

"That's really a key number in the sense that most of these intrusions are very surreptitious, they're behind the scenes," Boscovich said. "And that number is often a lot higher as well."

Although there are many digital security companies globally, Microsoft has a unique view through the almost three billion people that have Windows or Office.

The unit is made up of a team of attorneys, investigators, data scientists, engineers, analysts and business professionals, with 30 working in Seattle and more than 100 internationally.

In the six years it has been operating, the team has been involved in at least half of the major takedowns of digital crime rings, according to the company.

This has included work against a Mexican mafia family selling pirated Xbox games, a ring in Malaga, Spain that was involved in online payment theft and a Russian virus writer - among many others.

The objective is to do enough enforcement actions and protect your customers.
Richard Boscovich

When asked if the company is making headway in the overall war on digital crime, Boscovich laughs.

"It's kind of like the old saying that for anyone who's in law enforcement and thinks they're going to eliminate crime, they're lying to themselves," Boscovich said.

"The objective is to do enough enforcement actions and protect your customers to the point where you see a reduction in the types of attacks, and where you're making it harder for people to attack you," he said. "And from that perspective I think we've been very successful."

The centre sits behind several restricted access doors and features a lab for dissecting malicious software - accessible by fingerprint authorisation only.

Another room behind remote-controlled opaque glass holds a monitor tracking the countries and internet servers with some of the worst digital attacks and known cyber criminals. Next to this is a central room with wall-sized touch screen monitors and seating for visiting police, customers, or other groups that visit regularly to collaborate with the team.

"There's a lot of work to do and there's always more we could do - there's no end point to it," Boscovich said.

"It's like the ultimate job security, there will always be this type of work and someone has to be doing it."

• Holly Ryan travelled to Seattle courtesy of Microsoft.

- NZ Herald

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