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Cybercrime Presents Huge Threat to NYC, Prosecutor Says

FILE - Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., shown testifying at a hearing in New York in January 2014, says taking on cybercrime needs to be a worldwide endeavor.
FILE - Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., shown testifying at a hearing in New York in January 2014, says taking on cybercrime needs to be a worldwide endeavor.

After terrorism, cybercrime is New York's biggest security threat, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Thursday.

Vance said in a speech at the Bloomberg Big Law Business Summit in New York City — part of a series of events focused on major challenges and trends in large law practices — that while cybercrime is a world threat, it is particularly troublesome in New York.

“Nowhere is it more true in America than in Manhattan, which is the center of finance," he said. "We are the center of the legal profession. New York is the economic center of our lives.”

The 600 lawyers in Vance's office handle more than 100,000 cases of all kinds each year, including cybercrime, which is difficult to investigate. "Cybercrime is not just a case unto itself. All of our cases involve digital evidence, and so as a country we need to become digitally literate to investigate," he said.

Vance added that a single act of cybercrime can affect millions. He cited the cyber theft in 2014 and 2015 of the personal records of more than 20 million U.S. federal workers and other people in an attack on the Office of Personnel Management. Lives, Vance said, can be compromised by such events.

High cost of damage

According to Statista, a marketing statistics company, there were 288,000 complaints about internet crime in the United States in 2014. Almost 122,000 cybercrimes were referred to law enforcement. The total damage caused by reported cybercrime that year was worth over $1 billion. The total number of those prosecuted is not readily available.

Vance said that taking on cybercrime needs to be a worldwide endeavor.

“The pace of cybercrime expansion is enormously accelerating," he said. "Unless we take this on as a world community, like an outbreak of a disease [like] Ebola, we are not going to make enough progress.”

Unless the world takes unified action, Vance said, more institutions will be vulnerable, including financial institutions, law firms and municipal transportation systems.

Vance's office and prosecutors in London have begun a major initiative on cybercrime by organizing the Global Cyber Alliance. Almost 200 entities from government, law enforcement, business, technology and health care from several countries are now sharing information, in a manner similar to an early-warning system. “It is the only way to combat it — together as a world community,” Vance said.

Dispute with Apple

On another matter, Vance took aim at Apple Inc.'s refusal this year to help law enforcement evade security measures and extract information from an iPhone linked to last December’s terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California.

"I think their policy is wrong, and I explained to them why," he said. "I told them the consequences on our ability to protect our residents is very much compromised. This is only increasing.”

Apple, in its defense, told the U.S. government that “we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them, but now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

Subsequently, the government withdrew its complaint against Apple and found a way to crack the iPhone without its help.

Vance said he believes that “we are fast approaching a time where we can go to courts and obtain search warrants, cases can be solved, without compromising security.”