By Theodora D'cruz
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Interpol, the world's largest police organization, is opening a center in Singapore focused on fighting cyber crime, which many countries, it says, are poorly equipped to contain.
Cyber crime is increasingly conducted by a highly specialized chain of software break-in experts, underground market-makers and fraudsters who convert stolen passwords and identities into financial gains. Criminals can keep data for months or even years before using it to defraud victims.
China and the United States regularly trade accusations over cyber espionage.
"Cyber crime is a truly transnational crime in nature," said Noboru Nakatani, executive director of Interpol's Global Complex for Innovation. "It is a huge challenge to law enforcement... Even the wealthy countries have limited resources to deal with cyber crime."
This week Japan Airlines Co Ltd became a victim, reporting up to 750,000 pieces of data about customers on its frequent flier service had been stolen as a result on malware attached to its computers.
Computer security experts say developed, technology-rich Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are particularly vulnerable to attacks.
A report by market research firm IDC and the National University of Singapore estimated that businesses in Asia-Pacific will spend $230 billion in 2014 to deal with malware attached to their software, the most of any region in the world.
"The awareness level (of cyber crime) is increasing across Asia, but it lags behind the United States," said Bryce Boland, the Asia Pacific vice president and chief technology officer at cyber security company FireEye.
"That's partly because organizations in Asia haven't to the same extent felt the impact of the crimes taking place or are simply unaware of them."
Interpol will employ around 200 people at the Singapore center and host a digital forensic laboratory to co-ordinate investigations.
Nakatani said one of the biggest problems in Asia was companies outsourcing data to cloud computing companies in other countries.
"When you decentralize the information, especially critical information like customer information, overseas, you start to lose control of the legal protections over your data," he said.
Singapore relies heavily on its reputation of being low-crime and politically stable to lure multinational companies to its shores but has struggled recently with cyber attacks.
Last November, hackers claiming links to international hacking group Anonymous defaced Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's official website.
Standard Chartered reported last December that statements of 647 of its private bank clients in Singapore had been stolen, taken from the server of Fuji Xerox which provides printing services to the bank.
Boeing Co said last week it was opening a cyber-security center in Singapore, its first such facility outside the United States, to tackle the "current and evolving cyber security challenges" in the region.
Nakatani said that Singapore was likely to remain a prime target for cyber attacks.
"Naturally, as long as a country is wealthy and in good shape, the criminals continue to look at you, at Singapore, because they see the opportunity to make money," he said.
(Reporting by Theodora D'cruz; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Nick Macfie)