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FIU Fulbright Specialist tapped to help Iceland tackle cybercrime

FIU Fulbright Specialist tapped to help Iceland tackle cybercrime

Criminology professor Rob Guerette will analyze Iceland's cybercrime, fast-growing Bitcoin mining industry

June 4, 2021 at 3:33pm

Rob Guerette’s experience in crime prevention and transnational crime is an exact fit to address Iceland’s most pressing problem—cybercrime.

Guerette was invited by the University of Akureyri and the National Police Commissioner of Iceland’s Center for Police Training and Professional Development to review the country's approach to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure and help create the university’s continuing education courses on cybercrime recognition and prevention. As a Fulbright Specialist, Guerrette will share his international expertise as a crime preventionist and scientist with police authorities and university staff. In 2016, Iceland eliminated the police academy and assigned training of all officer recruits to the university.

“Even within the study of crime, cybercrime is the newest frontier, and this project allows for real-time learning to develop situational crime prevention [methods] and problem-oriented policing approach," said Guerette, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs. "The Icelandic police and I will explore ways of applying evidenced-based knowledge as they combat cybercrime."

Although the country experiences a low rate of conventional crime, recently it has grappled with increased cyber-based offenses. 

Iceland’s geographic isolation and harsh winters have created a citizenry dependent on cyber systems with high levels of online engagement. More than a decade ago—as a very cyber-oriented, innovative and progressive country—the island nation gained notoriety when it became a stronghold for WikiLeaks, an international organization that publishes online news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. Its website was initiated in Iceland.

Because of its cheap energy costs and cold climate, the country is also now a highly desirable location for the rapidly growing Bitcoin mining industry. When outside entrepreneurs bought Iceland’s surplus of huge vacant warehouses to set up Bitcoin mining an increase in the country’s energy consumption was notable; their tax revenue doubled. Since Bitcoin mining requires a huge amount of energy consumption, Iceland’s cold temperatures offset the heat generated – making its geography ideal for the industry’s concentration.

As the Bitcoin mining industry grew, cybercrimes increased.

“Often, government and industry develop new systems without understanding how they might create new opportunities for crime. Then, as offenders become aware of these new vulnerabilities a crime harvest begins. Then the government and private security begin working to identify and close the gaps, so crimes are less likely to be committed,” Guerette said. “This sequence of industrial/technical innovation – crime harvest – retrofitted security, is also part of our history, from the creation of motor vehicles to ATM machines, to cell phones. Applying established crime prevention approaches, rooted in science and supported by evidence, allows for a more effective response to these crime harvests.”

Utilizing these crime prevention approaches assists police to develop a better understanding of the opportunity structures in the physical and virtual spaces where cyber-crimes take place, so they can alter those physical and virtual environments to be less desirable to offenders. “This will be achieved through a collaborative effort made up of government and private industry, crime scientists and computer scientists, and good old-fashioned police work,” Guerette added.

Throughout his career, Guerette has developed practical approaches to preventing and reducing crime. “I’ve worked with other scholars to apply prevention approaches in several studies, interacted with police agencies and facilitated reviews on crime prevention evaluations while serving on the U.S. DOJ’s CrimeSolutions panel. While the crime activities might vary, the underlying theories and approach to responding to crime are remarkably universal,” he said.

Guerette's Fulbright Specialist award provides support to continue studying international crime phenomena and this time, he can stay in a country longer than a few days. He is scheduled to leave for Iceland in September.