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An Interview with Jim Emerson, VP of NW3C

Posted by Gina Cristiano on April 30, 2020
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Jim, we want to thank you for the time you’ve taken to chat with us about your work and about your expertise in the areas of white collar and cyber crime. It’s an area ADF is proud to support investigators in. Your work with NW3C covers areas of white collar cyber crime such as fraud, bribery, money laundering, and more. We’ve been proud to partner with NW3C before in our joint webinar and most recently in your Capture the Flag competition!

Gina: How did your background, and 25 years of service in the United States Marine Corps Military police, prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Jim: I was fortunate to be on active duty as information and other forms of technology were quickly changing operations and evolving within the USMC and Department of Defense (DoD). I saw first hand the emerging cybersecurity and digital evidence challenges 30 years ago over the second half of my career as it expanded and increased in importance. That prepared me for my next challenge and it became a focus for me.

an interview with jim emerson! (1)Gina: Your background is impressive, featuring a rich  history in fighting cyber crime and volunteer work for a variety of organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). What areas of technology do you see as most needed for investigating and prosecuting white collar and related crimes?

Jim: We sometimes take for granted that companies are working to address the next challenge and the challenge after next in terms of meeting the real need presented by the larger technology marketplace in terms of new products, new chipsets, new operating systems, and the myriad of application and cloud services software. We are fortunate to have companies like ADF doing the heavy lifting needed for law enforcement to succeed in preserving the public safety and rule of law. That said, we always want and many times need more capability considering criminal initiative and innovation in exploiting the latest technologies fluidly in spite of the speed of change and expansion. Our private sector partners allow us to keep up if not catch up.

Gina: I did a lot of research on economic and white collar crime before we chatted. According to the Harvard Business Review, “In a 2019 PwC survey, 49% of 7,228 organizations reported that they had experienced economic crime and fraud in the prior year, up from 30% of organizations in a 2018 survey - and more than half of the perpetrators were internal actors.” They stated that “leadership plays a critical role in shaping an organization’s attitudes towards preventing crime and its responses when wrongdoing is detected”. What steps can business leaders take to prevent the rampant spread of economic crime to their business?

Jim: There has obviously been an overall dramatic increase in the criminal landscape against business at all levels over the past half decade. Crimes are increasingly and regularly facilitated by technology of various types; stolen data, compromised technology and technology enhanced attacks on humans. Besides substantive understanding of the risk as it relates to each criminal approach, it is critical that leaders develop security cultures within their organizations, nimble cybersecurity programs to defend their technology at all levels, and collaborative relationships for both information sharing relevant to mitigation of risk and a full array of capabilities and partners for effective and timely response when the worst occurs.

Gina: What economic crime trends are you and the NW3C seeing as becoming more prevalent?

Jim Emmerson Quote - ADF Solutions - CyberforensicsJim: As noted above, crime increasingly is becoming faster, attacks are more credible, and schemes more complex when accompanied or facilitated by clever and malicious use of technology. For example, money laundering is more complex when automated conversion using cryptocurrency and online payment processing is used. Use of virtual Mules online moving illicit proceeds via electronic transfer of funds through multiple institutions internationally speeds and complicates both response and investigation. Finally, modular crime where the criminal does not need to create or operate various technology and services in a criminal scheme but rather buy or lease from another criminal lowers the bar to entry and possibly increases the amount of crime and criminal actors.

Gina: Technology is now often the means by which crimes are being committed, the way we investigate those crimes, and now a large portion of the evidence being collected. What are the best practices for data mining and collection in white collar crime investigations?

Jim: This is a topic which deserves curriculum in favor of a sound bite. That said, first of all, legal access to information and evidence is complicated given the array of Nation States a specific crime might involve. This makes smart transnational collaborative legal process essential to these investigations even in terms of simple preservation of data. Second, it is not enough to simply have a technical or physical capability to obtain evidence quickly and practically.  The approach begs an up-front plan to ensure admissibility of that evidence in litigation. As privacy and limiting intrusiveness of investigative and forensic capabilities is increasingly a concern of the civil society, judiciary, and government, legislation and case law demand more sophistication in how we plan and acquire evidence. 

Gina: What is the most exciting area of technology innovation that you see as having an impact on white collar crime? 

Jim: There are two areas I would say make me most hopeful: Our Technology Partners such as ADF Solutions who do the technology heavy lifting in this fight against crime are developing constantly evolved and enhanced tools and solutions which make effective investigation and prosecution possible. Without companies like ADF we would be trying to develop a vast set of capabilities through the government. Government is already under-resourced in many ways and dealing with backlogs in the race against crime. These capabilities allow Law Enforcement Agents (LEAs) in all demographics to level the playing field in battling cybercrime and cyber facilitated crime.

Additionally, organizations like NW3C are pushing the envelope in virtualizing both training and technical assistance for our State Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) LEA members. This allows us to reach far more students in any calendar period and provide unique opportunities to be even better stewards of finite government resources.

Gina: How is cybercrime a global? Thinking of fraud, money laundering, child exploitation, human trafficking, terrorism, etc. 

Jim: Geographic standoff or challenges for authorities to attribute crimes means potentially less risk from criminal justice authorities for criminals and criminal organizations. Additionally, criminal markets and supply chains intuitively find differing advantages and disadvantages in certain countries or regions where laws are inadequate or nonexistent.  If you want to commit fraud in 4K money trading or money laundering with cryptocurrency, you might put that part of your criminal organization in a country with inadequate criminal statutes and enforcement capability.

Gina: What factors impede cyber crime investigations?

Jim: A number of those challenges I have already alluded to; Nation State or regional nuances making transnational coordination challenging, legal constraints which limit criminal investigations or access to digital evidence, technical barriers such as user only controlled encryption, service providers creating self-blinding technology architecture in favor of privacy and business considerations, and the volume, speed, and complexity of cyber crime make it challenging.

Gina: Cryptocurrency is a very hot topic in economic crime right now. According to Reuters, “losses from digital currency crime soared for 4.4 billion in the first nine months of the year [2019] to more than 150% from 1.7 billion in all of 2018.” What would you say is a higher priority - crime prevention, or tracking down those criminals? Why?

Jim: Both! My personal opinion is that they are equally important in combating illicit use and abuse. Prevention in the form of oversight controls or regulation for what is the legitimate cryptocurrency sector at least helps differentiate good from bad and generate better information for investigation just as we do with AML efforts. Increased ability to supplement available investigative tools with advanced solutions is also needed to rapidly identify criminal actors regardless of where they are physically or how they exploit certain geographic advantages. 

Gina: Do you have a current passion project at NW3C? What can we expect to see coming out of NW3C in the coming months?

Jim: At NW3C we currently train the ICAC Task Forces and I am privileged to be part of a Task Force at NCMEC. I feel this is very important work! Additionally, the increasing inability for LEAs to access digital evidence due to either Legal or Technological barriers makes me very committed to the work we are doing to address the Going Dark challenge with our partners. Finally, NW3C efforts to lean forward in virtualizing training for tens of thousands of investigators, examiners, and analysts is critical to SLTT members in their work to keep up if not catch up!

Learn more when you watch a copy of our joint webinar with NW3C featuring the Benefits of Digital Forensic Triage: How to Quick Start Your Digital Investigation.

Watch: Benefits of Digital Forensic Triage Webinar

Topics: Cyber Crime, Law Enforcement, Digital Forensics, Project Vic, Crimes Against Children, ICAC, Military Police, Fraud Forensics, Cryptocurrency Forensics, Cyber Security, Military, ICAC Task Force, Cyber Forensics, AllinForensics

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