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From the new encrypted applications to the rise of cryptocurrencies: How prepared is Bosnia and Herzegovina for the challenges posed by cybercrime?
March 05, 2024

Unhamonised and lacking legislation, as well as a lack of resources and experts, are just some of the challenges preventing the judiciary and investigative authorities from adequately responding to criminal activities in the digital space. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made recently, and we can soon expect the first verdicts in cases where evidence obtained through Sky ECC and ANOM encrypted applications has been used, it was concluded at the expert seminar concerning “Cybercrime and Electronic Evidence”, held in Sarajevo. The AIRE Center and the Center for Education of Judges and Prosecutors of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom, gathered over 50 representatives from key institutions of the judicial chain, including courts, prosecution offices, police, and experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Encrypted applications are available to everyone—and they greatly facilitate the exchange of information and trade in illegal products, such as narcotics and weapons, warned Vahidin Đaltur, digital forensics expert. In judicial proceedings, information obtained through encrypted applications SKY ECC and ANOM is already being used, but in the meantime, new ones have emerged, such as Cyphr and Cyber Dust.

“The first obstacle encountered during examination in cases of cybercrime is the protection of the electronic device by the password set by the user, without which it is very difficult or almost impossible to access the necessary electronic evidence. The second obstacle is the new encryption methods used in the exchange and storage of electronic data on devices, especially if they are deleted. Renowned commercial programs used by law enforcement agencies for examining electronic devices and data on them are very limited when it comes to recovering and reconstructing deleted data”, explained Đaltur.

Due to the growing importance of digital finances in the daily lives of citizens, cryptocurrencies are increasingly associated with criminal activities. However, on the path to effective and coordinated measures for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of criminal activities involving cryptocurrencies, Bosnia and Herzegovina still faces a number of challenges: the lack of regulation and harmonisation of relevant legislation, technical barriers, and an insufficient number of trained and equipped investigative bodies, warned Mladen Hrstić, Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office in Široki Brijeg. With the adoption of the state Law on Preventing Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, an important step has been taken towards harmonising with European Union standards.

“ThIs Law will significantly impact the prevention of money laundering and terrorist activities, however, it is a preventive law, which is not a procedural law that could be directly applied in criminal proceeding, but it can provide guidance on necessary amendments and changes to criminal legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina regarding the definition of virtual and crypto currencies, that need to be adopted”, explained Hrstić.

In recent years, electronically obtained evidence through international legal assistance has been increasingly used in criminal proceedings, explained Darko Soldat, a prosecutor at the Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office of the Sarajevo Canton. He pointed out that some courts have already accepted this evidence as admissible.

“In this way, certain false claims that these are illegal evidence have been disputed, because Sky ECC communications were obtained in France based on the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the French Republic, and ANOM messages in the United States based on the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. It is expected that the first substantive judgments with this evidence will be made by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo”, said Soldat.

Computer crimes have significant security as well as economic implications. Everyone is affected—from private companies and government institutions to citizens themselves, warned Srđan Mičić, an investigator for combating computer crime at the Federal Police Administration.

“DDoS attacks (Denial of Service attacks), BEC scams (Business Email Compromise), and Phishing (attempts to obtain confidential data) mostly affect private companies, while Ransomware attacks (cryptovirological malware that permanently blocks access to the victim’s personal data unless a ransom is paid), sometimes affect not only private companies but also government institutions. Abuse of data from bank cards and other internet frauds affect all individuals, including citizens”, explained Mičić.

Research by the AIRE Center has shown that digitization affects all aspects of modern life, which also implies organised crime, as an increasing number of criminals use technology to plan and commit criminal acts.

“While, on one hand, digital development brings new challenges for the judiciary, on the other hand, the increasing prevalence of technology also opens up new opportunities for using electronic evidence and information. The AIRE Center will continue to support the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region on this path,” said Martina Raguž, project manager at the AIRE Center.

An indispensable segment of progress lies in the education of judicial actors, in order to improve every link in the chain of justice and enhance interinstitutional cooperation, which is crucial to ensure timely reaction and ultimately deter such crimes in the future.

“Computer crime is one of the greatest challenges of the modern world. Facing this challenge requires special knowledge that must be constantly improved. That is why this topic has a special place in our program, and we are grateful for the support of the AIRE Center, one of our key partners,” concluded Dr. Arben Murtezić, Director of the Center for Education of Judges and Prosecutors of FBiH.

As part of the event, the publication “Special Investigative Actions as an Integral Part of Financial Investigations of Crimes of Corruption and Organized Crime” was presented, containing recommendations for the effective conduct of financial investigations, in order to identify money flows and uncover illegally acquired assets, all aimed at proactive combating corruption, organised crime, and other serious forms of crime.

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