Investigating cybercrime at INTERPOL

21 January 2016

Shaun Stricot0Tarboton

Waikato masters student Shaun Stricot-Tarboton is completing an internship at INTERPOL in Singapore.

Waikato Master of Cyber Security (MCS) student Shaun Stricot-Tarboton is in Singapore working for INTERPOL, investigating cyber attacks.

Shaun was awarded a 2015 Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia and is spending three months in Singapore on an internship with INTERPOL’s Global Complex for Innovation (GCI) in its cybercrime division.

The PM’s Scholarships for Asia provide a special opportunity for young New Zealanders to research, study, or take up internships in countries in Asia that are important to New Zealand.

Shaun was encouraged to apply by Dr Ryan Ko at the University’s Cyber Security Lab, also known as CROW (Cybersecurity Researchers of Waikato).

“This internship was the fruit of a year of planning and discussions with the INTERPOL staff. Our lab is aiming to address pressing cyber security issues, and an INTERPOL internship will add real-life validation and truly global experience to the students involved,” Dr Ko says.

Shaun is carrying out extended research into attack classification, which slots in nicely with his Waikato masters research.

Billions of computers attacked

“The most interesting aspect of my research so far is the sheer quantity of attacks that have occurred in the past year,” Shaun says.  Over the past year 34.2% of 3.2 billion internet users’ computers were subject to at least one web attack. “Kaspersky* reportedly blocked 798,113,087 attacks from online sources (roughly 25% of the users if each one was attacked once). This leaves approximately 10% or 320,000,000 known successful attacks, and an even larger number of unreported or undetected attacks.

“I would say as a society, myself included, we are of the notion that we are single person among billions, and that cyber-criminals would not possibly target us as we have nothing of exceptional value stored online,” Shaun says.

“But anyone who pays attention to cyber-crime and cyber security will come to the scary realization that unless you are prepared to lose everything, from your precious holiday photos to your identity, you are not prepared.”

No one is completely safe

He says that as a society we can choose to carry on in “blissful ignorance” of the capabilities of those who mean to do us harm, or do everything in our power to stay informed and protect our information. “It helps to remember a general rule when it comes to cyber security - that once information is online its public knowledge, and once it’s digital it can be stolen with two commands Ctrl+C (Copy) Ctrl+V (Paste).”

Shaun says his internship at INTERPOL will allow him to verify and validate his masters degree taxonomy (classification) of man-in-the-middle attacks on HTTPS, e.g. where an attacker intercepts communication between a client (your browser) and a server (your online bank). Once he’s completed his masters, Shaun would like to continue doing research at INTERPOL.

Life in Singapore

He’s currently living in a youth hostel in the city and adapting to the rich and diverse nature of the place. “Singapore is a lot greener than I expected. The hardest thing is getting used to the culture of buying hawker food for all my meals – it’s so much cheaper than cooking for myself,” Shaun says.

His temporary home is a far cry from Ohope, which has been home to the American-born student for the past nine years. He attended Trident High School at Whakatane before coming to Waikato University in 2011.

*Internet User statistics:

Kaspersky's Annual Security Bulletin:

Find out more about studying cyber security at the University of Waikato

Find out more about research carried out by the University of Waikato’s Cyber Researchers of Waikato (CROW).