Cybercops Class Under Cover http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/columns/0,4164,2588873,00.html By Lewis Z. Koch Special To Inter@ctive Week, Inter@ctive Week June 15, 2000 2:24 PM PT The claim was made at a March 21 news conference celebrating a gift of goods and services worth $250,000 from Microsoft and computer manufacturer Omni Tech to the College of DuPage's Suburban Law Enforcement Academy. Naperville, Ill., Police Detective Mike Sullivan waxed confident about how the gift - establishing a new Computer Crimes Lab - would aid in teaching Illinois police officers to catch cybercriminals, Internet con artists and pedophiles. As Kirk Heminger, marketing manager at Omni Tech, recalls, Sullivan said that in "every class they've ever held, they [police officer/students] actually catch someone in an act of perpetrating a crime and, so far, every class that they've had, one of the students has been able to catch a criminal doing what they're doing and convict them." Heminger enthused: "Where can you go to a class where you can get real hands-on experience like that? You're actually convicting criminals in a classroom!" He added that Sullivan and Randy James, the academy's director, "admit to you any time that if you're a supersmart hacker-type guy, they're probably not going to catch you. Randy told us: 'We just want to catch the dumb ones.' " Sullivan, who teaches the computer crime class, told those gathered at the celebration that his police officer/students would pose as children and log on to pornographic Web sites or chat rooms where Internet pedophiles prey on the young; once the predators reveal themselves, they can be investigated and arrested. Catching those who use the Internet to victimize children is a worthy cause. So, too, is protecting children from being tortured, even murdered, by their parents or caretakers. In a world of limited police resources, should cops be patrolling cyberspace for "dumb" pedophiles, or real space, stopping parents who, by the hundreds of thousands each year, maim and murder their own children? Show me I wanted to attend class and see what the students did, what they were taught - exactly - so that I could inform the public where its resources are going and to what ends. If the public wants to hunt down the "dumb ones," so be it. But the public should know a choice exists between catching the dumb ones and the more difficult task of catching the smart ones - the hackers capable of wreaking havoc on the Internet, using computers to steal millions, if not billions, of dollars. When Sullivan claimed that it was easy to track someone down - as easy as checking on a license plate - I wanted to see him do it, or see someone in class do it. And I had other questions: What was being taught about the legal concept of entrapment? What about maintaining the scientific validity of the computer forensic evidence to ensure its admissibility in court? So, can I attend school? No. No civilians allowed; only "sworn police officers." Finally, I was told I could come to class - for one hour on one day, and four hours on another. That wasn't satisfactory. If I was going to write fairly about the class, then I had to attend all the class sessions. I wouldn't review a book without reading it in its entirety, nor would I critique a class having only attended part of it. I changed my tack: I asked to see James' and Sullivan's curriculum vitae. Would anyone refuse to provide his or her educational and professional background on the grounds of competency or excellence? James and Sullivan refused. Student evaluations of previous classes? No. Oh, yeah, and those student-caught cybercriminals Sullivan had bragged about? Naperville's Chief of Police, David E. Dial, Sullivan's boss, didn't know of any such arrests, nor did Dial's second-in-command. According to Dial, Naperville's serious crime rates "are incredibly low when compared to the national average." Dial noted the department does receive complaints "about the way we handle parking enforcement." What's more, the DuPage County prosecutor's office couldn't cite any arrests or convictions stemming from the work of the Academy's cybercrime class, nor could the Illinois Attorney General's office. College President Michael Murphy listened to my requests for information for more than half an hour and said he would get back to me that day. He didn't. He hasn't. The entire Illinois education bureaucracy refused to answer any requests for information about the college or the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, all the way up to and including the governor's office. The College of DuPage Board of Trustees? Five of seven members failed to return a phone call; they still hadn't called a week later. One had an unlisted number. One returned the call, and said she would investigate and have Murphy call me back. Never happened. Who's overseeing the classroom teaching, the curriculum? No one at the college - no one in the state, it appears. This cybercrime course seems to be accountable to no one. Finally, one who gets it James L. Fisher is a world-class educator who writes about leadership and organization in higher education. His book, The Power of the Presidency, was nominated for a Pulitzer and his latest book, Presidential Leadership: Making a Difference, was hailed as a must-read for college presidents and boards of trustees. Fisher's writing is also published in The New York Times. Fisher and five others from across the country did a review of the College of DuPage, which, since its founding in 1967, has become the largest single-campus community college in the U.S. It has graduated more than 0.5 million students and has a budget of more than $124 million. The review was tough, but fair, and included both praise for and scathing denouncements of the college, which the authors felt had the potential to be first-rank, but was instead vacillating between excellence and mediocrity. I told Fisher that I had wanted to sit in on the cybercop class. There was absolutely no equivocation, no hesitation, when he said: "I think it's something worthy of investigation and reporting. I don't disagree at all with what you're doing. I think it's appropriate." When I recited the efforts the college and the bureaucracy had undertaken to stymie me, he had a one-word response: "Ludicrous!" Yes, that's exactly the word for it.