Typologies demystified – what are they and why are they important?

What are typologies and what role do they perform?

The term ‘typology’ is used in the sciences and social sciences and can be defined as “a system for dividing things into different types”. According to Solomon (1977) “a criminal typology offers a means of developing general summary statements concerning observed facts about a particular class of criminals who are sufficiently homogenous to be treated as a type“. Use of the term ‘typology’ in this way apparently dates back to italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909).

As we see the increasing convergence of financial crime, cybersecurity and physical threat detection in domains such as insider threats or fraud, it becomes increasingly important to have an end-to-end understanding of the path and actions that ‘bad actors’ must take to realise their objective, as well as other factors such as offender attributes / characteristics, motive, and overall threat posed. Amongst other things, constructing a fraud or insider threat typology requires a good understanding of how and where an organisation’s normal business processes can be exploited, including an understanding of the systems and data needed by offenders to be successful.

How do typologies, modus operandi and TTP’s differ?

The disciplines of fraud, cybersecurity, intelligence analysis, security risk analysis and others have largely evolved in isolation from each other as this is the way we design organisations (by functional specialisation which align to employee positions, not threats which align to the criminals targeting the organisation). This has given rise to a variety of different terms and approaches to doing effectively the same thing.

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As disciplines converge, driven by the need for an end-to-end view of a threat in order to facilitate timely detection, professionals across these domains need to understand the practices and lexicon used by peers. In my experience and from research, a typology provides a broad overview of the threat and will comprise multiple data points, including but not limited to Modus Operandi / TTP’s:

Modus Operandi (MO) and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) are effectively the same thing in practice and refer to the way a crime (or attack) is executed, the one difference being that MO has its roots in criminal law and TTPs in the military but today is heavily referenced in cybersecurity:

  • Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) – “The behavior of an actor. A tactic is the highest-level description of this behavior, while techniques give a more detailed description of behavior in the context of a tactic, and procedures an even lower-level, highly detailed description in the context of a technique.” (NIST SP 800-150)
  • Modus Operandi (MO) – Latin meaning “mode of operating.” “In criminal law, modus operandi refers to a method of operation or pattern of criminal behavior so distinctive that separate crimes or wrongful conduct are recognised as the work of the same person” (Cornell Law School). For example, “it was argued that these features were sufficiently similar such that it was improbable that robberies with those features were committed by persons other than the respondents” (NSW Judicial Commission).

Everything we do leaves a trail, including in the digital world (often referred to as ‘digital exhaust‘). Detecting a potential ‘bad actors’ trail to prevent insider threats, financial crime and cybercrime requires both (a) understanding what to look for (which can comprise very subtle, highly nuanced signs amongst a sea of data), as well as (b) having tools sensitive and fast enough to collect, process and analyse these signs so as to prompt a response.

My favourite analogy for a typology is a recipe: If I am going to bake a cake, the typology is to a data scientist (who designs and runs the analytics models for detection) what the recipe is to the baker. In contrast, intelligence analysts are the recipe writers – they understand all the ingredients and how they need to come together. The skills of data scientists and intelligence professionals are complementary.

How do they relate to risks?

Should you choose to perform more research into the concept of typologies in criminology, you will find they can be developed for just about anything. But in the case of insider threats, financial crime and cybercrime, we are only interested in those threats which directly impact our respective organisation, customers, products, systems or assets. This means we need to link them to risks: Whilst we can develop other typologies, if the materialisation of the threat does not result in a risk to the organisation, then the exercise may be pointless.

To develop a typology that is capable of being used in an advanced analytics-based detection system, the typology needs to be as specific as possible. This means a typology should be developed for a specific, or highly detailed risk (i.e. 4th level risk). It is common to find there are one or more typologies associated for each 4th level risk. The following figure illustrates the relationship between risks, typologies and analytics-based detection models which generate ‘alerts’ (cases) for disposition and potential investigation:

Author: Paul Curwell (2022) (c) – how typologies bridge the gap between risks and analytics-based detection

Throughout my career I have worked with many typologies, and one of my early learnings was that typologies are highly contextualised. For example, an employee who has resigned and works in sales whose job involves sending out brochures to a prospective customer’s email address is not a problem, whilst an employee who has access to sensitive trade secrets and sends emails with attachments to a personal email address may well be.

Typologies need to address this level of specificity, which is part of the reason for aligning them to 4th level risks. Good typologies also include indicators specific to the parties involved in the activity, the context of the activity, and the associated threat.

What are the components of a typology and why?

Writing good typologies is hard (I refer to them as ‘deceptively simple’). Some typologies are quite generic, written so as to be implemented by any reader with any detection system (examples include those written for Anti-Money Laundering or Counter-Terrorist Financing by bodies such as FATF, FINCEN and AUSTRAC). Substantial work can be required to take these more generic typologies and implement them – sometimes this even requires complete rewriting.

Irrespective, there are a number of fundamental components of any typology. Note however, that some required fields will be specific to the detection system used (i.e. they may be required as inputs to design or build the models):

  • Typology name
  • Threat actor details (perpetrator, group affiliation, threat type etc)
  • Target(s)
  • Description of how the attack is perpetrated
  • Illustration (e.g. process map) for how the attack is perpetrated
  • Indicators (contextual, threat and party specific)
  • Data sources for each indicator
  • Description of the steps required for investigation and any associated analytical techniques

In my opinion, a typology is ‘finished’ when it can be readily understood and converted to analytics-based detection model by a data scientist with minimal rework or clarification being required. Often intelligence professionals (who are the experts in a particular threat) write typologies and hand them over to a data scientist, who then needs to become another expert in the threat to implement them! This is not a valuable use of resources and should be avoided. There will always be gaps in intelligence and threat actors keep changing to advoid detection – so a typology may never be 100% complete – but they should be written in a manner that addresses the information and design needs of its intended audience (i.e. data scientists, investigators and risk managers).

When building your typology library, it is good practice to map these to your 4th level risks to identify potential detection gaps. Steps involved in writing a typology will be explored in future posts.

Further reading

DISCLAIMER: All information presented on ForewarnedBlog is intended for general information purposes only. The content of ForewarnedBlog should not be considered legal or any other form of advice or opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Readers should consult their own advisers experts or lawyers on any specific questions they may have. Any reliance placed upon ForewarnedBlog is strictly at the reader’s own risk. The views expressed by the authors are entirely their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, their respective employers. Refer here for full disclaimer.

Theft of fuel from HMS Bulwark – a diversion case study

What happened?

This story broke in the media on 7 April 2022, with multiple articles claiming the theft of fuel from a high security Royal Navy base in the United Kingdom. According to Sky News, “the diesel was siphoned from a tanker in a heist that reportedly “ran for weeks” with most of it having been “flogged on the black market”. Some articles claim the fuel was being used to run diesel generators on HMS Bulkwark whilst it is alongside and undergoing refit.

HMS Bulkwark, Albion-class assault ship, Royal Navy, United Kindgom

Further details on the case are limited, other than the fact that the case is under invetistigation by the UK Ministry of Defence and that the alarm was drawn when a guard at the base became suspicious. Unfortunately the theft of fuel is a common occurance – as a perisable commodity which retains its value in the market, fuel is in high demand and can be readily converted to cash when diverted even in small quantities, or alternately consumed for personal use.

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A case of diversion or shrinkage? Motive is key

The fact that fuel was stolen means this is an offence of theft, or potentially fraud depending on whether deception was used to perpetrate the crime. Given events took place on a secure military base where it is reasonable to assume you cannot simply walk in or out, it is reasonable to assume an element of deception (i.e. fraud).

Either way, whilst details are limited in the public domain it is possible to develop further insights into the crime for the purposes of building this case study. For example, we know this scam went on for weeks. According to Wikipedia, the capacity of a fuel tanker truck ranges from 20,800 to 43,900 litres. Google reveals that the average capacity of an SUV on the road is up to 70 litres.

To provide an order of magnitude, 2% of 43,900 litres is 878 litres, which equates to around 12.5 full SUV tanks. If this scam was perpetrated once a day for 7 days, we are talking about over 6,000 litres of diesel being stolen each week. With current Australian diesel costs averaging $1.95 per litre as at 14 April 2022, this equates to illicit earnings of just under AUD$12,000 per week (AUD$624,00 per annum). To be clear, there is no indication of quantum or order of magnitude in the media, so this is hypothetical and indicative only.

AA van with Jeep SUV broken down in Kensington Gardens by David Hawgood is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

So does this activity equate to shrinkage or diversion?

  • Shrinkage is an accounting term used to describe when a store has fewer items in stock than in its recorded book inventory (Shopify). Shrinkage can be the result of process or quality issues, as well as theft and fraud.
  • Product Diversion refers to goods that are redirected from the manufacturer’s intended area of sale or destination to a different geography or distribution channel (Curwell)

In practice, I tend to view shrinkage as being less organised and not ‘commercial’ in scale, whereas diversion is typically more organised and more commercial in nature. Given this has been going on for weeks as well as the volume and illicit revenue estimates outlined above, I would suggest this is clearly a case of product diversion. Further, in my taxonomy of product diversion risks, this is defined as “Product stolen from distribution or supply chain“.

How can these types of product diversion events be detected generally?

Product diversion shares similarities with other frauds. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) Occupational Fraud 2022: Report to the Nations study:

  • 42% of business frauds globally are detected via tip offs,
  • 16% through internal audit, and,
  • 12% through management review.

Interestingly, 5% of cases were detected by accident – exactly how the Royal Navy guard discovered this diversion incident.

When you know what you are looking for, the application of fraud analytics techniques means product diversion can be detected provided you have the right data and you assemble and analyse this data in a manner that will allow you to identify potential indicators of diversionary activity.

Photo by Lou00efc Manegarium on Pexels.com

From my understanding of the situation, there are at least four primary records that, when ‘joined‘ together, could be used to identify similar product diversion cases pertaining to oil and fuel:

  • Order records – invoices and purchase orders should state the quantity of fuel ordered and the delivery dates. Given this is a military base, there are likely to be some sort of movement records to register in advance the potential delivery.
  • Tanker truck records – records of how many tanker trucks entered the base and their capacity (this might be captured at the front security gate for emergency management reasons in case of fire).
  • Fuel transfer records – these should record how much fuel was actually delivered from the tanker to HMS Bulwark, and would likely be maintained by the driver or the fuel tanker company’s order delivery system (most likely a smart phone app). Requirements to supply these to the customer could be mandated in the contract of sale.
  • Fuel receipt records – these would be maintained by the crew of HMS Bulwark, recording all details of the delivery including fuel quality records through onsite Quality Assurance testing performed by the ship’s engineers as well as the quantity of fuel recieved.

These four datasets could be collected by customers and monitored on a proactive, ongoing basis to identify discrepancies indicative of potential product diversion using data visualisation tools such as Tableau or even Microsoft Excel. Alternately product diversion schemes such as this may also be identified during distributor audits or compliance investigations.

What other preventative and detective controls might be relevant in this scenario?

In addition to the data points outlined above, a range of other preventative and detective controls could be used to identify potential diversion. These measures may be more expensive than the ‘books and records’ approach outlined above, hence their application should be risk-based. Relevant examples include:

  • Accurate calibration of measures to calculate the volume of fuel delivered – just like petrol stations, fuel delivery measures need regular re-calibration, and in some instances may be tampered with to under- or over- deliver. There may be two such devices in this example – (1) the tanker truck and (2) HMS Bulwark.
  • Quality checks should be performed by the customer to ensure the diesel is appropriate quality and that product substitution has not occured (e.g. fuel diluted with another substance, fuel sitting on top of a heavier substance to give the appearance of conformance).
  • GPS monitoring on the tanker truck allows both the vendor and customer to monitor for unscheduled stops, which could be indicative of an accident or unscheduled delay, cargo theft (e.g. hijacking), or collusion with organised crime elements. These systems typically generate an alarm or alert in an operations centre.
  • IOT sensors may also be attached to fuel lines or guages, to confirm quality and volume of product in real-time as it is decanted from the tanker to the fuel storage tank.
  • High-value or sensitive facilities should be subject to a range of physical security measures.
  • Third parties loitering in a secure area, either pre- or post-fuel delivery, are also indicative of suspicious activity that would warrant further investigation (as allegedly occured in this case)

As you can see, the Internet of Things (IOT) and the proliferation of sensors in daily life provide excellent opportunities for detecting product diversion in near real-time.

Lessons learned – what to do about it?

Performing a thorough anti-diversion risk assessment, and then implementing appropriate detective measures to identify potential diversion incidents early, before any substantial loss is the foundation of a proactive approach to managing diverison risk. The data required for detecting this type of diversion is likely to be readily collected in most organisations, and simple tools such as a spreadsheet can help identify anomalies. Detecting diversion in your data can be easy and cost-effective when you know what to look for.

Further Reading

DISCLAIMER: All information presented on ForewarnedBlog is intended for general information purposes only. The content of ForewarnedBlog should not be considered legal or any other form of advice or opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Readers should consult their own advisers experts or lawyers on any specific questions they may have. Any reliance placed upon ForewarnedBlog is strictly at the reader’s own risk. The views expressed by the authors are entirely their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, their respective employers. Refer here for full disclaimer.

Vendor Fraud: what is it?

Are there fraud risks associated with vendors?

Every public and private sector organisation today has a requirement to outsource some or all aspects of their operations, whether it be purchasing supplies or equipment, engaging a managed (outsourced) service provider to run its IT helpdesk or security operations centre, our purchasing tangible products or raw materials for its operations. Managing these capabilities takes a lot of effort and typically requires a specialist team aside from the procurement function to manage key relationships day to day.

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

We all know that relationships are difficult by their nature, and business relationships are no different to those in our personal lives. Sometimes, however, relationships deteriorate substantially to the point of potential litigation or where those relationships may be severed. Common triggers for this includes upstream supply or quality control issues, breaches of confidentiality, and fraud.

What is fraud?

The Commonwealth Fraud Control Policy defines fraud as ‘dishonestly obtaining a benefit, or causing a loss, by deception or other means’. As defined here, a benefit can be non-material or material benefit, tangible or intangible. Benefits may also be obtained by a third party. Examples of fraud relating to vendors include:

  • theft
  • accounting fraud (e.g. false invoices, misappropriation)
  • causing a loss, or avoiding and/or creating a liability
  • providing false or misleading information
  • failing to provide information when there is an obligation to do so
  • misuse of assets, equipment or facilities
  • making, or using, false, forged or falsified documents
  • wrongfully using confidential information or intellectual property.

Business to business fraud is a problem which remains largely off the radar – many businsess have problems with their vendors or business partners, but these rarely end up in court or in the media. Frequently, even when a business relationship goes wrong, the parties to the relationship still need each other and will work to rebuild trust that has been lost where an alternate supplier or partner is not available.

One important note on vendors is that they form part of your organisation’s inner circle: they are trusted insiders who, by virtue of this status, have privileged access to your organisation, its products, information, services, systems, facilities and people beyond that of the ordinary public. It is critical that vendors be considered as part of your Insider Threat Management Program, as well as in your Supply Chain Security, Integrity and Fraud Program. Where there are overlaps in coverage in these programs, this should be harmonised.

Associations with irreputable vendors can also damage your organisation’s reputation, and potentially introduce the risks of civil or criminal action as well as shareholder activism. One example here is where a vendor is involved in modern slavery, and your organisation’s due diligence program has not detected this in advance.

Photo by Rolled Alloys Specialty Metal Supplier on Pexels.com

What is the vendor fraud landscape?

Vendor fraud can be defined as fraud involving a vendor that occurs at any point in the supplier process, which is:

  • Supplier selection
  • Contracting
  • Operations
  • Termination

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) notes that vendor fraud can occur in anything from billing to delivery of supplies, and can be broadly grouped in two categories. Vendor frauds involving trusted insiders, such as employees and contractors, can occur indepedent of the vendor or in collusion with them. There are also various types of vendor frauds perpetrated without the involvement of insiders. These range from what we might call ‘soft frauds’, such as subtly charging the wrong hourly rate or claiming travel expenses when not applicable, through to more serious problems like product substitution. A high level taxonomy of vendor fraud is shown below:

Vendor frauds involving insidersExternal vendor frauds
Billing schemes (invoicing)Labour fraud schemes (for outsourced services)
Corruption schemes (e.g. kickbacks, bribery, conflicts of interest)Travel fraud schemes
Fraud schemes involving materials
Shell companies and pass through schemes
Hidden subcontractor schemes
ACFE – high level vendor fraud taxonomy

As you can see, there is a wide spectrum of vendor frauds – the ACFE’s training course on vendor fraud, referenced below, is a great starting point for someone new to this area. Some are specific to particular types of work – such as labour and travel fraud schemes more prominent with the outsourcing of services.

Vendor fraud versus supply chain integrity: what’s the difference?

As the focus of @forewarnedblog is on protection and integrity of critical technologies, supply chains, IP, products, brands and marketplaces, I would be remiss if I did not cover vendor fraud schemes involving materials and ‘supply chain integrity’ in more detail.

The term ‘supply chain integrity’ is being used increasingly in common language to reflect whether business (as opposed to retail consumers) buyers have ‘got what they paid for’ in relation to materials (products). As consumers, when we buy a product (the material) we expect it to meet certain quality or provinance (origin) standards, such as those advertised by the seller or manufacturer. In countries like Australia, many of these requirements are also enshrined in consumer law. If a product breaks or fails, or if it is poor quality such as paint peeling off, then we feel disappointed and probably worse. It is business’ responsibility to make sure this outcome doesn’t happen for its consumers, which is where a Supply Chain Integrity program comes in.

A Supply Chain Integrity program aims to “mitigate the risk end-user’s exposure to adulterated, economically motivated adulteration, counterfeit, falsified, or misbranded products or materials, or those which have been stolen or diverted” (The United States Pharmacopeial Convention, 2016). These programs apply to both buyers and sellers, but the focus differs depending on where you sit in a supply chain.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The overlap with vendor fraud lies with what ACFE refers to as “fraud schemes involving materials“, where risks such as product substitution (a buyer pays for a product meeting one set of specifications, but it is substituted for a cheaper, lower quality, alternate or less functional model which might be less reliable or functional for the user). Typically, the trust a consumer places in a product or service is also wrapped up in the seller’s brand – if we see a product for sale from a brand we trust, we might buy it without question. Commonly, Supply Chain Integrity is bundled with Supply Chain Security into a consolidated ‘Supply Chain Integrity and Security’ program (SCIS), as seen in the global pharmaceutical industry.

Typically, an SCIS program focuses on both upstream supply (i.e. ensuring substandard products or raw materials do not infiltrate your supply chain as an input to say manufacturing), and downstream to ensure that counterfeits and diverted products do not enter a supply chain through nodes such as authorised distributors. In contrast, vendor fraud programs are typically narrower in scope.

What does this mean in practice?

In my opinion, if you are in an industry with serious life, safety or reputational (‘brand’) risks attached to the quality of materials provided by your suppliers, using a vendor fraud program to manage product substitution fraud risks may not be sufficiently robust or rigorous. Typically these programs focus on whether the vendor supplied a substandard product (i.e. may have defrauded you in terms of your sourcing, purchasing or procurement process) rather than a more holistic program aimed at improving the security and integrity of your supply chain overall (i.e. all products across all vendors). For these industries, a holistic Supply Chain Integrity and Security program (that also addresses the vendor fraud risk of product substitition) is more appropriate.

We already see this situation emerging in high reliability industries (e.g. mass transport, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, automotive and aerospace). In Australia, this area is becoming increasingly regulated with amendments to Australia’s Security of Critical Infrastructure (SOCI) Act which covers eleven critical infrastructure sectors and introduces new rules for managing supply chain integrity and security hazards. There’s a lot to unpack in this topic – I will cover some types of vendor fraud, particularly product substitution (sometimes called ‘product fraud’) in future posts.

Further Reading

DISCLAIMER: All information presented on ForewarnedBlog is intended for general information purposes only. The content of ForewarnedBlog should not be considered legal or any other form of advice or opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Readers should consult their own advisers experts or lawyers on any specific questions they may have. Any reliance placed upon ForewarnedBlog is strictly at the reader’s own risk. The views expressed by the authors are entirely their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, their respective employers. Refer here for full disclaimer.