Q&A  | 

How can we investigate Cybercrime? With Escarlata Gutiérrez

"There is a type of organized crime specialised in cyber attacks in which criminals hide their identities and erase any trace that can be used to locate them."

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Escarlata Gutiérrez is a prosecutor for economic and computer crime.

“Our responsibilities include dealing with crimes committed through information technology, among them crimes related to the production, distribution and possession of child pornography and child grooming which is dealt with in article 183 of the Spanish Penal Code,” says Gutiérrez.

In addition, Gutiérrez has become renowned for the exposure of crime through her Twitter account where she refers to herself as a “trench” prosecutor.

What are the most common cyber crimes in Spain right now? Is cyber crime in Spain different from cyber crime in the rest of the world?

Cyber crimes do not have a specific Title in the Spanish Penal Code. Now that information technology is so popular, there are different types of cyber crime and crimes related to social media spread through the legal texts

In my experience, the most prevalent cyber crimes are those committed against assets, particularly computer scams. The types of crimes which are committed physically and virtually have also increased, for example harassment and threatening incidents which have a physical and a virtual dimension.

Cyber crime poses a number of distinctive challenges to the legal system. For example, to understand if certain conducts should be considered criminal it is necessary to have knowledge of the cyber world and the world of social media. Also, the volatility of digital evidence can cause additional peculiarities when it comes to offering evidence and investigating crimes.

It is therefore important that legal teams specialise.

An additional problem when pursuing cyber crime is the difficulty in determining the identity of cyber criminals. There are many cases of people escaping justice.

In June this year, the COLEX editorial house published a guide to cyber crime. I had the pleasure of coordinating the volume in which major trends of cyber crime and the peculiarities of digital evidence are analysed in practice and in relation to the latest jurisprudence.

Do cyber crimes predominantly affect any particular section of the population?

From my experience, the group which is most affected depends on the particular cyber crime. Crimes against assets affect both men and women of different ages.

Privacy offences, stalking, harassment, and threatening behaviour affects women to a greater extent, particularly younger women as a result of the wider usage of social media among that demographic.

What are the main forms of cyber attack?

Many scams occur through email, on many occasions through phishing, a technique which consists in trying to obtain data or passwords by deception in order to access accounts and make transfers not consented to by the owner. It is sometimes the case that the owner him/herself makes these transfers in the belief that he/she is paying for a service which he/she has contracted.

But, from my perspective, the main location for cyber attacks is social media which has an enormous global spread.

In terms of this spread in Spain 93 percent of people are internet users (29.6 million people) of these 87 percent are social media users (25.9 million people). In the case of adolescents (people aged between 14 and 17) the use of social media rises to 97 percent.

Does the cybercriminal have a different profile to other criminals?

It depends on the type of crime in question. In the case of gender based violent cyber crime, the profile is the same for those individuals committing offenses in person.

In terms of crimes against assets, or cyber attacks, the profile is a completely specialised type of organised criminal who is able to hide their identity and erase traces that might be used to locate them. These factors greatly complicate the prosecution of these cyber crimes.

Does this complicate the prevention and prosecution of crimes?

Yes, as has already been stated, the specialisation of the criminal actors greatly complicates the process of prosecution. Also, on many occasions crimes are committed in different countries and it is necessary to write international letters rogatory to continue with the investigation. Both of these factors have stopped justice from being carried out.

In this complex framework it is important to highlight the work undertaken by the Spanish Civil Guard and the National Police who have highly qualified specialised teams which investigate cyber crime.

Finally, in your day-to-day life, what precautionary measures does an expert such as yourself take in the face of cybercrime?

Although we can frequently verify that many cyber crimes take place on social media we shouldn’t demonise the platforms. In my opinion, social media continues to be an important tool for communication and social interaction.

It is important though to take some precautions. These precautions should be taught to the youngest in society. There are guidelines which can be taught so that people don’t become victims of crime.

In terms of phishing scams, I think it is important to delete without opening emails from unknown persons without any personal connection to the recipient.

 

Sometimes in scam emails a public institution or a reputable company appears as the sender and a link to a website is included with a data request. In these cases, it is important to check the url where we are being directed. If the url does not mention the name of the company or the institution, it is a clear indication that someone is trying to commit a crime.