A recent article in Congressional Quarterly’s Homeland Security edition looked into a very different aspect of our government’s cyber security efforts. More than anything else, the story shows how pervasive cyber issues have become. CQ visited the Cyber Crimes Center belonging to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is one of the many misunderstood and under-appreciated law enforcement organizations within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They labor long and hard to protect us from all sorts of crimes that make life difficult near our borders, and at times, a living hell just on the other side.

The article relayed that even DHS officials are surprised when they visit the center and discover that a cyber security organization in DHS is not involved with infrastructure protection, hackers and related issues. What does the center do? They provide operational and intelligence support to a multitude of ICE investigations concerning crimes that may be “old fashioned” but now rely on the internet to accomplish their criminal goals.

These crimes include money laundering, outright theft, fraud, production and sale of false IDs, illegal munitions, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, gang activity, and child exploitation (porn, prostitution and sexual tourism). All these endeavors are big money and are growing everyday. The same interconnectivity that aids our economy and makes are lives so much more efficient helps criminals as well. It is the job of the ICE Cyber Crimes Center and related organizations to turn the tables on the criminals. This is a tough job, as the criminals not only get smarter at hiding their activities and more sophisticated technologically, but also, their numbers are growing at an astronomical rate.

It would be a grave mistake to push this effort aside as a “lesser” part of cyber security. It is not glamorous, and it seldom makes headlines; however, every child abuser they help catch, every drug smuggling ring they break, every violent gang they cripple makes us safer. The effort has enough traction that is has a large international cooperation component that continues to grow. Their job is difficult due to the complexity of the international laws involved and the inadequacy of our laws overall to properly deal with the cyber aspects of crime.

A key lesson from all this is that criminals understand that cyber is the key to success, and even in legacy crimes, they have added cyber components to make themselves more profitable. If the criminals get it, and most of the cops do, what is taking the rest of us (lawmakers, policy leaders and the general public) so darned long? Kudos to ICE for all their efforts and successes. Stay at it guys, and keep thinking out of the box. Cyber security may be the broadest field we have to face. It has a multitude of facets and will require many solutions. Regardless, I am glad DHS and its subordinate parts are still hard at the task of securing the Nation.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More