3rd Annual White Hat Conference Puts Combating Crypto Crimes in Focus

The third annual International White Hat Conference was held June 1–2, hosted once again by Boston University Metropolitan College and the Center for Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity.

Bringing together stakeholders from government, the private sector, and academia, the events were emceed by one of the first-ever graduates of MET’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice with concentration in Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity program, Chris Kayser (MET’16), president and CEO of Cybercrime Analytics Inc., who also earned his Graduate Certificate in Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity at MET.

“The Evolution of Illicit Crypto Use” was the focus of this year’s proceedings, as panelists examined, from governmental and private sector perspectives, the developing challenges posed by cryptocurrency use in criminal activities including sex and drug trafficking and ransomware attacks.

“The growing use of dark web forums has offered cybercriminals substantial opportunities for expanding their network and forming clandestine marketplaces, using crypto-payment systems without governmental authority intervening,” said Professor of the Practice Kyung-shick Choi, founder of the White Hat Conference and director of MET’s programs in Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity. The conference, he explained, was “an effort to bring disruptive change to cyber-investigation; exploring innovative techniques and global measures to bring about effective criminal justice policies and establish preventative measures, leading to more efficient investigations and successful prosecutions.”

The White Hat Conference is sponsored by the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of a research grant dedicated to advancing the nation’s professional competency in combating cybercrime. Other event sponsors included the American Society of Criminology’s Division of Cybercrime, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the US Security and Exchange Commission, the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative, Utica College, and a wide array of international partners.

Providing the private sector keynote address was former prosecutor with DLA Piper Global Law Firm Ron Plesco, an internationally recognized specialist in information security and privacy, with more than 20 years of experience in cyber-investigations, identity management, cyberthreats and cyber-related fraud, and AI. With a long history of leading investigations pertaining to cryptocurrency, Plesco provided case study insights into state-of-the-art approaches to successful money-laundering investigations.

After flourishing as an active trading market, and potential money-laundering outlet, for the last 3–5 years, Plesco explained, crypto exchange has begun to normalize, with law enforcement and regulatory bodies beginning to catch up and keep pace. It’s a dynamic, he explained, that has brought substantial and increased opportunity for practitioners qualified to combat cybercrime.

“For those of you in the investigative field, or you’re going into law enforcement, there’s definitely work for you out there,” he said. “You can get a job anywhere if you’ve got a cybercrime/crypto investigation background.

Providing the second keynote address, from the governmental perspective, was FBI Supervisory Special Agent Eric Yingling. Yingling discussed the work of his team, the Virtual Assets Unit (VAU), whose mission is to protect the public from threats posed by the illicit crypto market. Virtual assets, he explained, can be used for everything from profiting from ransomware, to soliciting murders-for-hire, to fundraising for terrorist organizations.

Presenting findings from the 2021 IC3 report, Yingling shared that the year saw $8.6 billion in cryptocurrency laundered, $7.8 billion in cryptocurrency stolen, and $2.8 billion stolen from victims in fraudulent cryptocurrency “rug pull” scams. He highlighted a series of leading examples of cybercrimes, like investment scams, business email compromise, and critical infrastructure hacks.

Forecasting the future of crypto use, Agent Yingling predicted that criminals would likely continue using the virtual currency. “The worldwide nature of it, the low cost, the irreversible transactions, the ability to handle large dollar amounts instantly, are all going to continue to be attractive,” he said, adding that thanks to the rising mainstream popularity of crypto, and the ease by which it can now be exchanged for traditional currency, criminals will likely be even more drawn to it.

To combat it, he said, would require mass scale, international collaboration, the likes of which was on display at the White Hat Conference, which gathered leaders from 18 countries. “It takes a worldwide solution to these problems, because of the way these virtual assets are used,” Yingling said.

Visit the White Hat Conference website to watch a video recording of the 2022 proceedings.