Battling Financial Cybercrime in N.Y.

FBI, Police Join with Mass Transit Authorities in Effort
Battling Financial Cybercrime in N.Y.
A woman buys a MetroCard from a networked vending machine.

Joining the FBI and New York City police as a member of the newly formed financial cybercrimes task force is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A regional transit company battling financial cybercrime? Makes sense when you look at its computer network.

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The MTA, which provides commuter rail, subway and bus services for New York City, its northern suburbs and Long Island, operates a network of 2,700 machines that dispense MetroCards, the plastic transit tickets riders swipe to pay their fares.

And criminals have tampered with those machines. Just last month a Queens, N.Y., man received a 2-to-6-year prison sentence for stealing PIN numbers and other financial information by placing skimming devices and hidden cameras near Long Island Railroad ticket vending machines.

Lt. Michael Vicente of the MTA's police computer crime unit, says the transit authority joined the task force to learn from the FBI how to battle cybercrimes, including fraud.

"The biggest benefits for us is having a person embedded with the FBI to utilize their training and equipment ... something we don't have in our arsenal," Vicente says. "We want to make sure we have the added capability to protect our customers."

Local agencies joining the task force will have access to the FBI's cyber-investigations curriculum, composed of dozens of internally developed and industry-certified courses.

The task force, which operates out of the FBI's New York field office, focuses on cybercrime in the New York City region. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the three agencies earlier this month.

A Team Effort

"For the FBI and its federal partners, working with state and local law enforcement adds valuable resources to cybercrime enforcement, which otherwise is vastly underfunded and in constant need of more technically trained law enforcement officers," says Steve Chabinsky, former deputy assistant director of the FBI's cyber division.

Under the memorandum of understanding, each agency continues to control its own database of crimes, but the task force gives them a vehicle to share cybercrime data.

"For a number of practical, privacy and operational security reasons, allowing members to retain control of their own databases is preferable to having every law enforcement agency pool all of its sensitive investigative data into a single national database," says Chabinsky, now general counsel and chief risk officer for the cybersecurity technology firm CrowdStrike. "Also, task forces are taxpayer friendly. By working these cases jointly, the agencies get to share training resources and bundle common cases into a cohesive investigative strategy."

The New York-based task force is one of 45 that the FBI established in field offices nationwide as part of the 2-year-old Next Generation Cyber Initiative, which focuses on combating the growing threat of cybercrime. "Securing our networks demands cooperation, and cyber vulnerabilities are magnified when you consider the ever-connected, interdependent ecosystem of the cyber world," Joseph Demarest, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, told a congressional panel last year.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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