A group dedicated to fighting phishing scams has developed a way for police and other organisations to report e-crimes in a common data format readable by a web browser or other application.
The challenge facing law enforcement and security organisations is a lack of a coherent reporting system, said Peter Cassidy, secretary general of the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), a consortium that tracks Internet fraud and scams.
Until now, there was no standard way to file an e-crime report. That makes it hard to coordinate the vast amount of data that is collected on cybercrime, Cassidy said.
APWG decided to develop a terminal file format for e-crime incidents. APWG wanted reports to have unambiguous time stamps, support for different languages, support for attaching malware and the ability to classify the kind of fraud and the company brand that was being attacked, Cassidy said.
APWG couldn't find an existing data model that was perfect. But the group did see potential for the XML-based Instant Object Description Exchange Format (IODEF), which was already being used by computer incident response teams to report adverse network events.
"It had a lot of the things we needed," Cassidy said.
APWG has created some extensions to IODEF to cover its other needs.
Once the data is in a common file format, it's easy to coordinate and sort through vast amounts of it, Cassidy said. It also means humans have to do less manual sorting and opens the potential to use data-mining tools, he said.
"We can start making machines do a lot of the work for us," Cassidy said.
For example, if a law enforcement agency wants all the reports for a phishing scam attacking a certain brand, another agency can just do a search in their database and quickly share the data, enabling faster response to e-crime.
"The whole idea of the exercise in having a common file format is that we could share information in an automated way," Cassidy said.
APWG is also creating tools to let people convert existing reports in a different format to the new format without having to do their own programming.
The project, which was started by APWG in 2003, has now been submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force, which will likely approve the format as a non-proprietary standard usable by anyone, Cassidy said. The IETF could make a decision within two to six weeks.
If the format doesn't become widely used, collecting e-crime reports is going to continue to be "a long, grinding process," Cassidy said.