Computer Crime Research Center


Former police officer to lead cybercrime initiative

Date: March 22, 2008
By: Natalie Alcoba

A former Toronto police officer renowned for his dogged pursuit of Internet pedophiles has been named director of a new cybercrime research centre focused on better protecting people online.

Paul Gillespie said the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) initiative will allow law enforcement to “get ahead” of cyber-criminals.

UOIT announced details this week about its Centre for Cybercrime Research, which will be based in Oshawa and draw on expertise from around the world.

The centre will help law enforcement crack down on cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying, on electronic embezzlement, e-fraud and phishing, which involves stealing personal information through misleading e-mails or Web pages. By working with major banks, experts will come up with ways to ward off identity theft and make it safer for people to conduct business online.

Researchers will also target child exploitation and pornography; Canadian police estimate there are more than 100,000 Web sites that contain thousands of child abuse images.

Work is already underway. Dr. Miguel Vargas Martin, for example, has been developing a computer system to identify criminal behaviour at the Internet’s most primary level, and monitor traffic. If successful, this means that police officers investigating pedophiles will be able to see where child abuse images originate, and where they are traded to, all in real time, Mr. Gillespie said. “That’s very exciting,” he said.

“We’re always reacting [in law enforcement], and we need to be proactive,” said Mr. Gillespie, who famously solicited help from Microsoft’s Bill Gates to develop the Child Exploitation Tracking System, software that includes an international database of pedophiles’ online nicknames and e-mail addresses.

Indeed, as a tool that is still new, and uncharted, the Internet poses a unique challenge to those trying to police it because the technology is constantly changing.

Just as investigators were getting a handle on MySpace, they discovered Facebook already had a solid foothold in the cyberworld.

And with the advent of the virtual Second Life, which mimics all aspects of the real world on the Internet — including, possibly, crime — police are straining to keep up. “We don’t have a handle on what is occurring down there,” Mr. Gillespie admitted.

UOIT president Ron Bordessa said the research centre will aim to combat increasing cyber-crime sophistication by bringing together “critical minds.”

Ideally, it will operate as an Internet problem-solving hub, where police agencies and businesses can work with researchers to produce tangible solutions in a
relatively short period of time.

When it comes to Internet safety, people do not want to see articles in journals, they want action, Mr. Bordessa argues.

“It’s billions of dollars that are at stake here and the lives of innocent people,” he said.

UOIT is a laptop-based university that garnered headlines last year for its CSI training facility. Mr. Gillespie has steadfastly promoted Internet safety since he retired from the the Toronto Police Service in 2006.

He is president and CEO of Kids Internet Safety Alliance, has taught cyber-crime courses at UOIT and travels from Brazil to Indonesia to train police departments in the Child Exploitation Tracking System.

The men and women who decide to go into this line of work do so with their eyes wide open, Mr. Gillespie said. They will have to look at horrific images of infants being raped and children being sexually tortured in order to catch the pedophiles.

“It is very satisfying to know you are making a difference, but it is ultimately soul-destroying and you will never be the same,” he said.
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