University graduates among masterminds in cyber attacks

SPECIAL Agent Patrick Linton, a cyber-forensics expert and director of cyber investigations and risk management at the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), says the authorities have been cuffing “a lot of local players”, including “brilliant” university graduates, who are masterminding the “continuous” cyber attacks that have been plaguing government systems.

Speaking at the Jamaica Cyber Incident Response Team (JaCIRT) National Cybersecurity Awareness Day in St Andrew on Thursday, Linton said, on the investigative side MOCA has been “prosecuting many cases”.

“There are a lot of local players from academia that we have been arresting and they are not stopping. They are leaving university and they are brilliant and some of them will look for the easy way out,” he said.

He said law enforcement, which has been able to reduce the attacks, has been studying the patterns of the cybercriminals.

“They are saying law enforcement can make mistakes all the time but the criminals only need to make the mistake one time, and we have seen many mistakes being made one time, and as a result, between MOCA and JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) we have been able to arrest a lot of these players. They continue, but with the driving force and collaboration we will be able to reduce these kinds of attacks in our space,” Linton declared.

Linton, in the meantime, said MOCA, in its role as incident responders, has observed that “Jamaica is under continuous attack”.

“When we look at a general mapping they are bombarding us continuously. We have at least provided some form of resilience; some of the measures we have implemented we have been able to mitigate some of these attacks. Some of them have actually been successful. Our aim is to reduce these attacks; we can’t alleviate them completely, [but] we can reduce them by getting our collaborative efforts in place,” he said.

Noting that government systems have been “under attack a lot for the past year”, Linton said some of the weaknesses MOCA has seen and is responding to are just inherent weaknesses, not necessarily in the human element and the technology, “but also just the lack of the general policies. So we are working collaboratively to get these in place”.

In the meantime, he said MOCA, which was recently mandated to look at the general landscapes of Government in terms of its cyber-security infrastructure, has actively started conducting assessments on these.

“If we are able to reduce the attacks in Government, [and] corporate, then we should have at least been able to minimise cyber threats down the road,” he told participants.

At the same time, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Ambassador Rocky Meade, in referencing the significant rise in cybercrime incidents, said there has been a more than 60 per cent increase in the occurrences, in terms of what has been monitored and discovered. He said a number of incidents have not been documented because some entities will not report challenges because of the impact on their image. “They will just quietly deal with the matter,” he said.

Head of JaCIRT, Lieutenant Colonel Godfrey Sterling (Ret’d) presented the metrics measured over the last 12 months by the entity which, he said, represents the truest state of Jamaica’s cybersecurity.

The top vulnerable parishes flagged by the entity over the year are Kingston, St James, and Trelawny. For September this year there were 55 systems identified as “vulnerable”, 2,300 malicious connections, 11 reported incidents, of which four cases remain open. There were some 41,300 spam e-mails, 568,000 vulnerable devices and 618 attacks. There were also two ransomware attacks and 370,000 compromised data sets.

Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy Amy Tachco, in voicing her Government’s commitment to partnering with Jamaica in its efforts to develop a robust, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystem and economy, said to support Jamaica’s law enforcement efforts to prosecute cybercrime, the US State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law enforcement will be providing US$2 million in grant financing soon. She said the US Department of Defence, through the US Southern Command, is also partnering with the Jamaica Defence Force to build Jamaica’s cyber defence capability as well.