Untraceable Links: Technology Tricks Used by Crooks to Cover Their Tracks

"I think we need a change in investigations. We need to evolve because of technology," said Walt Manning, CFE, president of Investigations MD, in his session, "Untraceable Links: Technology Tricks Used by Crooks to Cover Their Tracks," at the 26th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference. "We have to change the way we think about technology because [our methods] are not working anymore," he continued.

Manning began his session with these thoughts and by explaining that this change is based on more sophisticated technologies such as mesh networks and anonymous and encrypted email services that are under development (or have been created) to evade government surveillance. And awareness is key: fraud examiners that are aware of these tools stand a better chance of learning and understanding how they could be used to hide possible evidence of fraud.

From the Tor network to the Invisible Internet Project (I2P), Blackphone to Tox, cybercriminals are finding new ways to get into victims' data. According to Manning, the visible web is only 1 percent of the entire content on the Internet. Criminals lurk on the Dark Web and even though illegal service providers, like Silk Road, are being caught and prosecuted, a new operation will pop up shortly after. For example, as the Tor network receives more attention from law enforcement, a growing number of networks are moving to I2P. Yet another thing to monitor.

Manning also emphasized the importance of not connecting to insecure, public Wi-Fi without VPN. Crooks are using services like Blackphone to keep their anonymity. "Silent Phone allows criminals to make encrypted texts, calls, video messages to anywhere in the world," said Manning.

Manning finished the session with an overview of mesh networks. Mesh networking makes use of special hardware or software to allow devices to directly connect to each other without the use of the cellular network or the Internet. According to Manning, from an investigative perspective, mesh networks make it more difficult to track investigative targets and to trace their communications. Users of a mesh network may never “touch” their cell network or the Internet, and there are no logs to trace messages through this decentralized network.

These developments seem especially threatening, but Manning called fraud examiners to act to thwart the nefarious schemes. "I need your help. Our profession needs your help. It’s only going to get worse," said Manning. "We have to take action, and we can only do it if you’re willing to get involved in the effort."