FBI fights cybercrime rise
Source: Honolulu Advertiser.com
By Allison Schaefers
Date: May 29, 2003
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hawai'i office established its first cybercrime squad this year, responding to what investigators are calling "explosive growth" in computer-related crimes.
FBI Director Robert Mueller recently said that nationwide complaints increased 300 percent last year to 48,000. And Hawai'i had the second-highest per-capita number of computer-fraud complaints in the country in 2002.
"Whatever a criminal can think of doing in the flesh-and-blood world, he or she can more than likely do in cyberspace," said Honolulu Detective Chris Duque, lead cybercrime investigator for the white-collar crimes division at the Honolulu Police Department who has worked closely with FBI agents and other federal law enforcement agencies for more than a decade.
Mueller has pledged a robust cyber division at FBI headquarters and has created 60 specialized cyber squads around the country. The FBI's O'ahu-based squad was created in January.
Larry Futa, supervisory special agent of the Cybercrimes Squad at the FBI's Hawai'i field office, said protecting the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes is only behind fighting terrorism and espionage on the agency's list of priorities.
Cybercrimes include intellectual property theft, child pornography, cyberstalking, terroristic threats and acts, illegal copying and selling of music, movies, software or any other copyrighted or trademarked item, thefts of trade secrets, thefts of cable and satellite signals, and Internet fraud, he said.
Cybercrime numbers have tripled since 2001, according to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, an online resource co-managed by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The center referred 48,252 computer-fraud complaints to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies last year, up from 16,775 in 2001. The fraud resulted in losses of $54 million, up from $17 million in 2001.
The center also processed an additional 36,920 complaints in 2002 for other computer-related crimes such as computer intrusions, unsolicited e-mails and child pornography.
Cybercrime is also a state concern, investigators say. With about 400 computer fraud complaints reported to the fraud center in 2002, Hawai'i was the second highest per capita in the United States for Internet fraud complaints, second only to the District of Columbia.
Other state statistics are more difficult to compute because cybercrime numbers are often lumped under other crime categories. However, investigators say it's clear the numbers are rising.
To cope with the growth in cybercrime, Futa said he has "a full complement" of agents assigned to the Hawai'i-based cyber squad, but declined to give specific numbers for security reasons. They're reluctant to talk about their work out of fear of tipping off criminals, Futa said.
Futa's cyberagents work closely with the Honolulu Police Department, the attorney general's office, the Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and other federal, state and local agencies.
Cybercrimes can be difficult to solve because they frequently involve overseas connections and digital evidence easy for perpetrators to erase or falsify.
And there's a high degree of anonymity, Duque said.
"Technology is a tool that makes the job easier for law-abiding citizens, but it does the same thing for crooks, too," he said.
Cybercrime will never be contained because people grasp technology much faster than they grasp social, ethical or legal issues, Duque said.
"These issues can't keep up with technology," he said. "The gap is like the difference between a needle hole and the Grand Canyon and the criminals fall through this chasm."
Despite the challenges cyber investigators face, there have been widespread successes.
A collection of Justice Department investigations over the past five months targeted investment scams, sales of stolen software, online banking fraud and even a purported Russian marriage service. Officials estimated the collective losses across more than 90 investigations at $176 million, affecting 89,000 victims. And while Hawai'i law enforcement agencies weren't directly involved in "Operation E-Con," investigators in this state say they're doing similar things.
On O'ahu, cybercrime investigators say they've been successful, too.
In April, the Hawai'i-based FBI cybercrime squad arrested Jason Starr, 23, of Pennsylvania, on charges of hacking into 'Ohana Net. Starr's hack job cost the business $8,352, authorities said.
The squad also has netted some child pornography arrests and agents are working on several other investigations, Futa said.
Original article: http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/May/28/ln/ln11a.html
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