Some reports, like child pornography, are easy. Internet Crimes Against Children task forces exist in every state — some states have multiple task forces — and even if your agency isn’t affiliated, there’s always the nearest FBI field office.
But what about identity theft? Cyberstalking? Phone service abuse? Do you have officers or detectives trained to identify and investigate these issues? If you rely on state or regional resources like computer forensics labs, how soon can you expect to hear from them? Do you even take a report?
This New York Times article details some of the threats that exist today — not threats that are coming in a year or two, but things that are happening right now. No, your cops don’t have to be malware experts; far from it.
But they do need to understand the fallout from malware infections. They do need to understand social engineering (hint: it’s not limited to high tech) and it would be helpful for them to know all the different ways credit card numbers can be stolen.
When I wrote an article in 2009 about cyberstalking, it was astonishing to me that many police departments don’t take reports. Not knowing how to deal with certain high tech crimes, they may even turn victims away, or worse, assume keylogging or other forms of “spyware” can’t possibly exist.
Well, they do, and far beyond. So even if an agency cannot respond in full, they owe it to their citizens at least to react: to ask the right questions when taking a report, to assess the extent of a cyber threat (read the above article to see information about a rural sheriff’s office doing just that), and to refer the victim to a resource that can help when necessary.
True: departments’ resources have dwindled. It can be hard to tell the difference between legitimate victims, and individuals with a mental illness or those who seek attention. Cyber threats may also not seem as serious as physical threats. It may not be worth the time to file a report when you don’t have the resources to respond, and have no way to forward the report to an agency that can.
Still: resources exist. At the very least, an agency should be prepared to direct a victim to the Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3). But because even those resources are not ideally staffed, and because (as the Times points out) high tech crime will only become more ubiquitious over time, every agency should be prepared to educate itself.
Next week we’ll talk about some of the resources that can help you do that, and investigate the crimes too. Best of all? The tools are free. Stay tuned: subscribe (that’s free too)!