Tsunami of criminality is swamping us online

Ahead of a major online security conference in Dublin, Barry Egan tracks down Dr Mary Aiken to see how the Irishwoman, dubbed the world's foremost cyberpsychologist, got on during a tour in the US

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Cybercrime-fighter: Dublin-based cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken Photo: Gerry Mooney
Cybercrime-fighter: Dublin-based cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken Photo: Gerry Mooney

As far back as June, Dr Mary Aiken was calling it like it is. She described the race for the presidency in America as the Troll Election with Donald Trump as The King under the bridge. Albeit a poisonous potentate with bad hair denigrating and vituperating fellow candidates with, as Mary pointed out, name-calling - "Crooked Hillary" and "Crazy Bernie" and "Lying Ted". This was coupled with, Dr Aiken added, The King's deep-seated love of women: "dogs," "pigs" and "disgusting".

Factor in that special agent Avery Ryan in hit American television drama CSI: Cyber, played by Patricia Arquette, is based on our very own Dr Aiken and it was no surprise when Mary went to America last week that the Irishwoman went down a storm. Even allowing for exaggeration, she was almost as much the talk of Washington on Tuesday as another blonde-haired woman by the name of Clinton.

Mary - who has been dubbed the world's foremost cyberpsychologist and Mary, Queen of Cyberspace - was ostensibly in America all week to talk up her new best-selling new book, The Cyber Effect.

She will be back here next month when she is one of the keynote speakers at Dublin InfoSec 2016, the highly anticipated cyber security conference in the RDS. It is attracting many of Ireland's so-called "C-Suite" - that is executives with a 'C' at the beginning of their job title, like Chief Executive. There is also huge interest from the senior ranks of the public sector.

Last Tuesday evening, Dr Aiken spoke at her book launch party in Washington DC held at Morton's The Steakhouse on Connecticut Avenue, close to the White House.

The smart party was attended by the main movers and shakers of the capital - some doubtless Trump fans, most possibly Hillary devotees - still they were politicos who were particularly interested in her views on the impact of technology on the developing child. They would have read in their local paper, The Washington Post's review of The Cyber Effect how Mary's job is to be armed with facts, evidence and insights about potential risks. That morning, Mary had delivered a guest keynote lecture to 1,000 cyber-midshipmen at the Naval Academy at Annapolis DC, the undergraduate college of the US naval service.

Speaking to the bright young naval students about the issues that modern society is facing online, Dr Aiken, who is based in Dublin, said: "As a society we are facing a tsunami of criminality coming down the line... online, from hacking to malware production, identity theft, online fraud, child abuse material/solicitation, cyberstalking, IP theft/software piracy, data breaches, organised cybercrime, ransomware, extortion and cyber attacks - therefore it is critical that we understand the dynamic nature of cyberspace as an environment - and ongoing criminal behavioural evolution in this domain." Mary also pointed out that earlier this year, in June, NATO officially recognised cyberspace as a new frontier in defence.

''That is, NATO formally acknowledged that modern battles could be waged not only on land, sea and air, but also on computer networks - this new recognition of cyberspace as a potential conflict zone presents important challenges to society in terms of international jurisdictional issues and cyber ethics."

In terms of future threats, Dr Aiken pointed out: "At the Europol Cybercrime Centre we are very concerned about the evolution of 'Crime-as-a-Service' online - that is procurement services for criminal activity from rental of botnets, to denial-of-service attacks, malware development, data theft, and password cracking.

"Additionally, future increasing human immersion in cyber physical systems, smart houses, cars and cities and the Internet of things, will present an increasing number of attack surfaces for cyber criminal behaviour," Dr Aiken said, adding: ''It's an honour to be invited to address these young men and women who will go on to become leaders in US industry and politics, I was particularly pleased to see that 30pc of the cyber midshipmen were in fact young women.

"It is so important to get more women involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), I spoke to the group about future cyber threats, resilience, cyber safety, security, and ethics - I am looking forward to continuing the discussion of these topics at Info Sec 2016 in Dublin next month," she said.

After her gruelling trip Stateside, Mary flies home to Dublin today. Tomorrow morning she flies out again - this time to London, to present the results of a Europol research project which explored youth pathways into cybercrime, such as hacking.

Mary will be presenting the research findings and recommendations to UK government stakeholders and policy makers.

Mary Aiken will be speaking at Dublin Info Sec 2016, Ireland's leading cyber security conference in the RDS on November 15. See independent.ie/infosec2016 for ticket details