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Breaking Down Silos Doesn’t Come Easy

“We need to break down silos”, is a phrase often heard in national and international meetings around cyber security and enforcing cyber crime. So it is no coincidence that at the upcoming NLIGF (Netherlands Internet Governance Forum), the IGF, but also an EU driven event like ICT 2013 have “Breaking down silos” and “Building bridges” on the agenda. But what does it mean? And how to do so?

The internet and borders

People often refer to the internet as borderless and that there is a need to cooperate cross border between police agencies and other agencies regulating or enforcing the internet. This falls under the category “This needs a global solution” or the “this is cross border, we can not do anything!” type of comments.

Breaking down silos goes way beyond this. It is a national, organisational as well as international problem. Specific organisations work within their own remit and have, in some cases extreme, difficulty to reach out to other organisations. Others are not aware of each others capabilities. This discussion is about mental borders as well as legal, organisational and state ones.

The worst example

Usually the police is pointed to as a hard partner to work with. “We never hear anything back” or “We never receive information from them” are often heard comments. It is my impression that police organisations (and prosecutors) could have more understanding of what the capabilities of other enforcement agencies are, in order to coordinate actions in a better way. (What happens when two or three different organisations investigate the same botnet at the same time?!)

Law enforcement is more than enforcing the law from a penal code objective. Other agencies may be better equipped to solve a specific cyber crime than police on the basis of enforcing their “own” law. A “serious” crime could be dealt with through e.g. a Consumer Protection Act also. Or together there is a higher chance at success. These are important lessons. Break down your silos!

Cyber security

Cyber security organisations like Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and Computer Security Incident Response Services (Csirt) secure and monitor governmental and industry ICT systems, alert and respond to breaches, e.g. like ddos attacks or hacks. They have a lot of information and evidence that could actually assist enforcement agencies in doing their work. At the same time they can act on certain breaches in ways that law enforcement never could.

Cooperation between the two is not something which comes easily. For dozens of reasons. Hence the need to break down silos and create understanding.


And what about industry? What is the information it has on cyber crimes? If industry does not see the incentive to report all, let’s say relevant, breaches to the proper authority, enforcement and security will never get the priority it deserves. Hence another reason to break down silos.

Who needs to act?

In the report of De Natris Consult (click here to view) called “National cyber crime and online threats reporting centres. A study into national and international cooperation.” it is clearly shown that for an individual organisation it is nearly impossible to break a silo down. Simply because it’s to difficult and not a part of the organisations primary task. So despite the fact that it is in the direct interest of a single organisation to be able to cooperate, it is nearly impossible to break through on your own when no one hears you knocking. It is important however to report your impossibilities to those who can make a difference. How will people who can actually make a difference ever know otherwise? Start breaking down your own silo in the right places.

So who needs to act then?

There are a few options. (My apologies for non-EU readers. I’m a bit EU-centric here, but please allow your imagination to run to your corner of the world and the options it provides.)

1. National government
This would help at national level. E.g. in a national strategy on cyber security a national coordinating body is foreseen and instituted by the national government. E.g. The Netherlands created the National Cyber Security Centre. It is very interesting to see the developments going on. Embedded officers from different agencies, industry and vital infrastructure work part time within the centre.

Some questions could be asked that can make a difference over time. How does the centre change knowledge and perceptions with time? Does it make a solid inventory of skills, complementary powers and different possibilities that different laws supply to fight cyber crimes? Does it take a closer look at whether present laws supply the needed powers to fight the different forms of cyber crime?

2. International bodies
ENISA currently plays a role in bringing CERTs and police agencies together. Could it play that role in a broader sense? So for other LEAs and police and CERTS?

EC3 could open itself to more enforcement entities, e.g. by providing common trainings, coordinate cyber actions, etc. It does not so at present, but it would be a good thing if EC3 looked into this option in the very near future. Who invites them to break down their silo?

Fill in your option here .....

3. International projects
What will a project like ACDC (Advanced Cyber Defense Centre) do to international cooperation? In this case it is about fighting botnets. From disinfecting end users computers to gathering, analysing and sharing data on botnets, botnet traffic and command and control servers in and through the central clearing house. What will aggregated data do in the fight against cyber crime and more so, what will it do for cooperation and understanding between different entities both public and private?


Why are all these questions so relevant? Because my bet is that all these agencies, from the military to secret services and from police to consumer fraud, spam and privacy agencies are all looking for the same people who make the internet not a very safe place to do business and pleasure today. There is, well there should be, a strong need to cooperate and coordinate.

Breaking down silos will not come easy. For many a reason. Still, if people responsible for this task are to make serious business with it, it is important to start asking the right questions. Let’s do so at NLIGF this June, in Bali in October (I will do so here as moderator) and Vilnius in November and in all places where you think it is possible and necessary to do so. I’m always happy to discuss further or help out creating strategies or programs. The time seems right.

By Wout de Natris, Consultant internet governance

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