Police taking steps to fight cyber crime
Source: Boston.Com News
By Denise Dube
Date: December 23, 2003
In a cramped, second-floor room at the Medford Police Academy, police are taking early steps toward getting a grip on the Internet.
The Main Street facility has become the state's computer law-enforcement hub. This month, Burlington Police Officer Robert Aloisi Jr. is participating in the 12-week Computer Crime Unit program. When he completes the course, Aloisi will be the Burlington Police Department's first computer expert and the go-to cyber guy when residents think fraud, harassment, pornography, or other unwanted things hit their computer e-ddress.
"We rotate detectives from each city and town," said Medford Detective Lawrence James, who is also a federal marshal. Since the computer forensics lab opened in 2001, 16 police officers have gone through the course, paid for by each department and the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC, a 41-community consortium of detectives from the northeast part of the state.
"Police are not technically or tactically prepared for cyber crime incidents," said Medford Police Lieutenant John McLean, who heads the department's Computer Crime Unit. "The trends and all indications are that computer crime in general is on the increase, especially in identity fraud, hacking, Internet-based scams, and child pornography."
To fight the trend, McLean said, "the police need to be prepared by having structured training programs and centralized lab access."
This month, it's Aloisi's turn to learn. When he went to Medford, he brought along a computer-harassment case from Burlington. He and McLean, who is also a federal marshal, have narrowed down the source of the e-mail.
Aloisi took e-mails of other communications that McLean examined at the computer forensics lab, which preserves, collects, and analyzes computer-related evidence. Computer experts can extract information hidden or deleted from hard drives, and with e-mails and other Internet data, McLean traced the Internet protocol, or IP, numbers on the e-mails, he said. After analyzing the IP numbers, they traced messages to an internet service provider. If warranted, they may or may not ask the district attorney's office to send to subpoenas to the offenders.
With the training, "I hope to be able to learn enough so that I can handle as much of this on my own as possible," Aloisi said. "If it's something more serious, then I'll contact the [computer forensic] unit in Medford."
McLean and James said Medford's computer unit and forensics lab work with the State Police, a satellite lab at the district attorney's and attorney general's offices, NEMLEC, other Massachusetts investigative consortiums, the New England Electronic Crimes task force, and local police departments.
James said he has been working with computers since 1987. McLean has various degrees in criminal justice, lectures at colleges, was past president of the New England Chapter of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association, and is a forensic investigator and a member of the federal task force on Internet crime.
According to James, Internet fraud generally starts with something as simple as an e-mail asking for information, and can lead to such things as identity theft, child pornography, and harassment. Almost two-thirds of the 375 cases the computer lab has responded to since June 2001 involve child exploitation.
"It may involve the luring of a child, possession or dissemination of child pornography, posing a minor in a state of nudity, and any other physical or sexual abuse of a child," said McLean.
Another area of concern, McLean said, is bombardment by e-mails asking for Social Security numbers, birth dates, credit card or checking account numbers, and other personal information.
Out of the millions of messages sent, "one or two people click on it," said James. The criminals get the information and use it to deplete the person's credit or to assume the person's identity.
"Data investigation has been going on since computers have been out," said James. But legal procedures have been evolving. McLean, James, and other state and federal computer experts have helped change the law and set up a protocol by solving computer-related cases.
James explained that when a crime is suspected, the team gets and executes a search warrant for the computer at the alleged crime scene. The next step is to seize the computer. "The bulk of our time is doing examinations of seized computers," James said.
A secondary search warrant is obtained to search the computer's innards. The Medford forensics lab then makes a duplicate of whatever is inside and on the computer.
"We go in, look for evidence of the crime," said James. "[If] we find a document, we present it in court."
Because of the work done in Medford and other computer crime units in the state, laws have been changed.
McLean worked on the stalking and murder case of 32-year-old Sandra Berfield in Everett last year. By examining suspect Stephen Caruso's computer, McLean found enough evidence to show that Caruso was stalking Berfield. McLean testified against Caruso, who was found guilty of her death and is in prison.
The case prompted the Legislature to pass "Sandra's Law," which strengthened the anti-stalking statutes to include such things as mail, telephone calls, Internet communications, and faxes.
Within a few years, Burlington Police Chief Fran Hart, McLean, and James hope to see every department with a computer-trained officer or detective handling some issues and working with Medford on the more exceptional cases.
For now, "it's unique here in Medford, to have people like myself and the lieutenant with our skill set," James said. But he notes that "we're finding now, as time goes on, guys coming on now had computers as kids. [Officers] have good computer skills."
"We don't expect the crimes involving the use of computers to do anything but increase," said Hart. "I don't think you can have a police department in the 21st century without having people on staff without the familiarity of how a computer is used to facilitate crime."
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