Cybercrime Makes Techno Cops a Commodity

Cybercrime Makes Techno Cops a Commodity

By Stephen Owsinski

Recently, telecommunications giant AT&T announced that their database had been hacked, resulting in roughly 73 million current and previous customers’ personal information winding up in the hands of cyber criminals deftly skilled in electronic breaches, leveraging consumers’ stolen account information over the heads of corporate bigwigs, the aggregate data parked on the dark web.

Nowadays, ID theft is a devastating ordeal with widespread ramifications that are difficult to mitigate, with banks and creditors requiring an official report when you claim to be the victim of a stolen identity crisis.

Who are you gonna call?

This makes for sharp-skilled IT cops sleuthing bytes to take a bite out of cybercrime and the nefarious individuals who spend their days illegally tapping into databases and siphoning personal information. These geeky phantoms either sell it on the dark web or hold CEOs of gargantuan companies accountable for seemingly weak security protections, demanding millions in ransom.

Last year, cybercriminals hacked MGM Grand and Caesar’s Entertainment (Caesar’s Palace) in Las Vegas, Nevada, showing how illicit-minded techno geeks can breach impenetrable databases and ultimately extort gobs of cash.

Associated Press reporters covered the cyberattacks in September 2023, saying, “As the security break-ins left some Las Vegas casino floors deserted this week, a hacker group emerged online, claiming responsibility for the attack on Caesars Entertainment’s systems and saying it had asked the company to pay a $30 million ransom fee.”

Agents with the FBI assumed the investigation, deploying highly skilled agents assigned to their Cyber Task Force:

“The FBI is the lead federal agency for investigating cyber attacks and intrusions,” whose agents “collect and share intelligence and engage with victims while working to unmask those committing malicious cyber activities, wherever they are.”

That statement alludes to the jurisdictional scope and pooled information with state and local law enforcement entities, whose officers and deputies take reports of cybercrime victimizing citizens in their domains.

FBI agents combat cybercrime by employing their “unique mix of authorities, capabilities, and partnerships to impose consequences against our cyber adversaries.”

Local law enforcement agencies learn how to combat cybercrime via federal institutions that are keen on the epidemic.

National Computer Forensics Significant Case Award

New York State Police Investigators were awarded the National Computer Forensics Significant Case award for their savvy in solving separate instances by using IT-based knowledge to unearth details solidifying criminal charges against bad actors, one involving murder and the weapon used, the other involving the sexual deviancy of several perpetrators who victimized children.

(Photo courtesy of the New York State Police.)

As described above, IT-trained investigators aiding various law enforcement partners sharing intelligence to help root out evildoers conducting crimes in the cybersphere forensically get to the bottom of these difficult electronic modes of lawbreakers hiding behind keyboards.

“In September of 2022, the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting death of a victim on State Route 96 in the Town of Waterloo. Their investigation discovered the vehicle driven by the suspects, however, the gun used in the murder was not recovered. The Seneca County Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant for the suspect vehicle’s infotainment system and requested New York State Police assistance in downloading the information.

“Troop E Computer Crime Unit Investigator Derek Merritt responded to assist the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office. Inv Merritt was able to download information from the vehicle’s infotainment system and provide a GPS track of the vehicle the night of the murder. With this information, the sheriff’s office was able to quickly locate the murder weapon.

“The gun would not have been found without the information provided by Inv Merritt utilizing his training and equipment from Vehicle Forensics at National Computer Forensic Institute.”

In July 2021, an “Internet Crimes Against Children Cybertip investigation conducted by New York State Police – Troop E led to the arrest and eventual prosecution of three suspects and the identification of three live child victims.

“Utilizing forensic tools and techniques,” state police Investigator Michael Leggio “confirmed the validity of [an] initial Cybertip in addition to determining the initial suspect had utilized his phone to photograph and record the sexual abuse and exploitation of numerous children under the age of 5.

“In reviewing the recovered media files and chat data across multiple social media platforms acquired from an Apple iPhone and two MacBook laptops, Inv. Leggio uncovered GPS, phone numbers, email addresses, and social media identifiers to aid in locating additional victims and suspects across New York State.”

These two cases alone exemplify today’s topic and the commodities of cops versed in cyber sleuthing and constructing cases for successful prosecution. But they weren’t necessarily born with the software that made them hard-driving police officers sifting for evidence.

National Computer Forensics Institute

Located in Hoover, Alabama, the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI), a federal government entity, is a large-scale “premier law enforcement training facility in cyber and electronic crime forensics” whose staff “educate state, local, tribal, territorial law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges in the continually evolving cyber and electronic crime-related threats, and educate, train, and equip them with the tools necessary for forensic examinations to combat those crimes.”

(Photo courtesy of the National Computer Forensics Institute.)

All that sounds good. It is. Until police budgets are slashed due to the lunacy of defund-the-police ideologies, shortchanging cops from all over, seeking to harvest skills and savvy to solve complex cases, being denied advanced training and increased knowledge to thwart bad actors and hackers. That means victims of online crimes, etc., are also deprived.

As I often reiterate, cops are a resourceful lot. Despite police defunders and/or cleaved law enforcement agency budgets due to general political whims that sometimes posit the incorrect belief that public safety operations can function on a shoestring purse’s meager offerings, LEOs do not sit around with ho-hum attitudes.

On the contrary, cops find ways to garner training material for investigations in any given subject matter. In my department, writing grants was the go-to alternative until the pot of gold (fiscal budget allocations every October) gave gleam to likely approvals for courses desired by cops, enabling optimized policing for citizens.

Although not necessarily setting a good precedent, I’ve witnessed cops suggest paying out-of-pocket for training classes (well before the defund-the-police movement was a thing).

Acquiring public safety knowledge on their own dole underscores how deeply serious and altruistic cops can be, bettering themselves to effectively deliver professional police services.

In that context, other police personnel can be trained in-house, to include policy compliance.

Among my department’s police force were a few former NYPD cops who availed their knowledge base gleaned from that agency’s cybercrimes unit, sharing nuances and legalities so that our cases involving crimes carried out via electronic means were duly investigated and cemented for prosecution.

Guided by state statutes, our cops became adept in complicated information technology matters, one of whom became known as “Poindexter” for his meticulous studies of hard drives believed to be used in “electronic felonies” committed by online miscreants.

It is shamefully all too common that the exploitation of children via electronic means continues. However, these sleazes are rooted out by cops whose agencies formed networks of investigators and decoys to abate the scourge.

(Photo courtesy of the Kentucky State Police.)

The Kentucky State Police formed its Electronic Crime Branch to combat grotesque acts performed by perverts against children and other cybercrimes.

A Kentucky State Police revelation indicated the following stats: “In honor of ‘Safer Internet Day,’ we are highlighting the KSP Electronic Crime Branch. In 2020, the Electronic Crimes Branch, along with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, responded to over 3,000 cybercrime tips leading to 707 completed investigations resulting in 114 arrests.”

That’s plenty of credibility for cops whose mission is based on sifting through electronics, producing evidence, arresting exploiters masked by keyboards, and garnering convictions.

These and many more just like them make law enforcement organizations’ IT cops a commodity in technological investigatory prowess.