Secret Service announces the creation of the Cyber Fraud Task Force
In March 2020, in recognition of the growing convergence of cyber and traditional financial crimes, the U.S. Secret Service began the process of merging its Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTFs) and Financial Crimes Task Forces (FCTFs) into a single unified network, what is now known as the Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF). This consolidation was the culmination of more than two years of planning, multiple pilot programs, and input from key partners and stakeholders. Today, the Secret Service has operationalized CFTFs in 42 domestic offices and in 2 international locations, London and Rome. In the coming years, the Secret Service plans to further extend the network CFTFs through it’s over 160 offices across the country and around the globe.
Building a Task Force for the Future
The rationale for the CFTF consolidation was simple. The investigations of cyber and traditional financial crimes have historically required a distinct and divergent set of expertise, equipment, and institutional partners. Cybercrime investigators needed to be able to analyze a computer network, trace IP addresses, and work collaboratively with Internet service providers; while traditional financial crimes investigators needed to be able to identify counterfeit U.S. currency, track fraudulent wire transfers, and partner with financial institutions.
However, in recent years, the line between cyber and financial crimes has steadily blurred, to the point today where the two – cyber and financial crimes – cannot be effectively disentangled. Online payments and banking are now globally pervasive, credit card numbers and personal information are illegally sold on the Internet and darkweb, and cryptocurrencies have become one of the primary means by which criminals launder their illicit profits. No longer can investigators effectively pursue a financial or cybercrime investigation without understanding both the financial and Internet sectors, as well as the technologies and institutions that power each industry.
Accordingly, through the creation of the CFTFs, the Secret Service aims to improve the coordination, sharing of expertise and resources, and dissemination of best practices for all its core investigations of financially-motivated cybercrime. The CFTFs will leverage the combined resources and expertise of both the ECTFs and FCTFs to collaboratively investigative the range of cyber-enabled financial crimes, from business email compromise (BECs) scams to ransomware attacks, from data breaches to the sale of stolen credit cards and personal information on the Internet.
A Legacy of Success and Innovation
The CFTF is an evolution, not a revolution. It builds on the more than 25 years of success of the Secret Service’s FCTFs and the more than 20 years of ECTFs. Created in New York City in 1995, the first ECTF instituted a novel approach towards countering the rising wave of credit card fraud and other incipient digital crimes. The premise at the time was, as it still is, that this new type of “electronic” crime – which spanned industries, technologies, and jurisdictions – required a new kind of collaborative effort between diverse stakeholders. Through the ECTF, a partnership was formed between law enforcement, the private sector, state and local government, and academia, with each group contributing to investigations based on their respective expertise and jurisdiction.
Over the subsequent decades, both the FCTFs and the ECTFs (ECTFs were based on the FCTF model) have been extraordinarily successful at mitigating the risks of both cyber and financial crimes, and at protecting American businesses and individuals from criminal actors, on and offline. In FY 2019, alone, the two networks exceeded all investigative performance targets and prevented over $7.1 billion in potential fraud losses, a near 1000x return on taxpayer investment.
A Critical National Security Challenge for the Nation
The United States faces a growing threat of transnational cybercrime, particularly against the U.S. financial system. The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimates that malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016 alone. The White House National Security Strategy, the White House Cybersecurity Strategy, the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity Strategy, and the National Threat Assessment of the Office of Director of National Intelligence, among many other U.S. government strategies and assessments, have all identified the fight against cybercrime as a top national security risk and a key U.S. government priority. The U.S. Secret Service, through our CFTFs, stands ready to lead the collective effort in this important fight.
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