he Andean country tops the list of Latin American nations affected by cyber-terrorism, phishing and the filtering of military intelligence information, according to a report by the EMC Corporation.
Internet access is spreading rapidly throughout Colombia, where 70% of the country’s 47 million residents have surfed the web within the past three months, according to the International Advertising Bureau (IAB), an agency that monitors cyber activities.
However, the country’s vulnerability to cyberattacks is growing at the same rate.
Alongside Brazil, Colombia tops the list of countries in the region with the most cybercrimes committed between January and February 2014, according to the most recent information from RSA’s Anti-Fraud Command Center, which is the security division of the EMC Corporation. On the global list, Colombia ranks sixth.
In 2011, Colombia was the first country in Latin America to introduce a cybersecurity policy, through its National Council for Economic and Social Policy (CONPES).
The main measures include the creation of the Cyber Emergency Response Group of Colombia, connected to the Ministry of Defense; the Joint Cyber Command of the Armed Forces; and the National Police Cyber Center.
But these initiatives have not been enough to stop the hundreds of cyber attacks that are carried out against Colombians and their government.
That’s why the Colombian government installed the Cyber Security Technical Assistance Mission in Bogotá, with support from the Organization of American States (OAS), which has worked with the country on this mission since 2007.
From March 31 to April 4 in Bogotá, Colombian officials were joined by specialists from several countries, including Canada, Spain, the United States and Uruguay, to analyze the information security situation in Colombia and provide recommendations.
Belisario Contreras, the assistant project manager for the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) of the OAS, pointed out Colombia’s willingness to recognize its weaknesses, adding he trusts the “recommendations will be taken into account for the implementation of policies that yield positive results over the medium and long terms.”
“This is a process that all countries – from the most developed to the least developed – are facing together and we have to support each other to have the best possible policies,” said Erwin Dotzauer Strampfer, Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Computer Science at Oxford University.
He said the training of more people specializing in cybersecurity at professional, technical and technological levels, given the growing demand in the market and the limited supply, is another goal.
“The major challenge is to adapt our academic programs at the school level, teaching our children how to protect themselves from cyber bullying online, which is so common and has even led to the suicide of bullied teens,” Strampfer said.
Phishing among the most common crimes
Phishing – the theft of digital identities to access the victims’ bank accounts – and grooming, which often leads to cases of child pornography, are among the most common cybercrimes in the country, according to the National Police Cyber Center.
To combat grooming – of which there were 78 cases reported in 2014 – the National Police launched the “Protection” application, which provides warnings and blocks websites or chat rooms that represent a threat to children, on April 25.
The tool identifies 4,000 phrases that are used by delinquents to entice children into pornography or are related to bullying and extortion.
Once the webpage has been blocked, officials send an email to parents with detailed explanations about the website in question.
Among the complaints received by the National Police in 2013, 128 involved cloned credit and debit cards, a crime that has increased 25% since 2012.
In 2013, the National Police seized 480 devices that included small “skimmer” devices, which are electronic readers that store the information contained in the magnetic strips of credit and debit cards.
Through its website, the National Police Cyber Center receives hundreds of complaints daily and provides information on new forms of computer-based crimes and ways to prevent them.
Among the new forms of cybercrime is mobile malware that targets the Android operating system, which can intercept incoming messages from cellphones and forward them to criminals.
The virtual center’s website also features a chat function so residents can speak in real time with National Police officials who advise them on how to file a formal complaint.
International cooperation is the first step in the fight against cybercrime, according to attorney Marcos Salt, a computer crimes expert with the Council of Europe for projects related to Latin America and member of the group of identity theft experts with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Salt said criminals often store information on servers in other countries, which is why “the commitment of all nations to cooperating in transnational investigations is essential.”
Due to the development of new technologies, unlimited Internet access and the ease of acquiring electronic devices, most crimes committed nowadays involve digital evidence, according to experts.
“We’re no longer talking about typical isolated offenses,” Salt said. “These days, in order to efficiently investigate homicides, computer fraud, money laundering and financial issues, etc., it is very likely that during the investigation it will be necessary to obtain evidence that exists in digital environments.”