As crime goes cyber, police follow

     Crime on the Internet is proliferating, forcing police to beef up
   their still-tiny e-crime staffs - and technical savvy.
   Daniel B. Wood 
   Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
                                                 PHOENIX AND LOS ANGELES 
   Underpaid, understaffed, and outgunned by computer criminals who have
   more sophisticated equipment, American law enforcement is beginning to
   fight back against the burgeoning underworld of cybercrime.
   From Dallas to Phoenix to Los Angeles, local police departments are
   setting up special units aimed at curbing crime over the Internet -
   everything from kiddie porn to trade-secret hackers to e-mail fraud.
   The main reason: Electronic crime is now estimated to be more than a
   $10-billion-per-year business. At the same time, more and more
   computer crimes are being reported directly to local cops rather than
   specialized corporate or bank security officials.
   Thus departments are trying to combine years of beat crime-fighting
   experience with knowledge of hard drives and hyperlinks. The result is
   the emergence of a new breed of cybercop who is far different from the
   lone rangers like Sgt. Joe Friday or Lieutenant Columbo. Call it the
   rise of the nerd cop.
   These officers are more likely to work in teams, piecing together
   crimes with other officers across state and national boundaries. Their
   desks, as evidenced by police barracks in these two Western cities on
   the cutting edge of the trend, are not stacked with mug shots and
   musty suspect files. Instead, they're piled high with disassembled
   computers, floppy disks, and CD-ROM drives.
   "The realization has finally come that cybercrime is something that is
   going to go way beyond corporate America and law enforcement is going
   to have to deal with it," says Col. Michael Robinson, president of the
   International Association of Chiefs of Police.
   The transition to the new world of crime fighting has been slow,
   analysts say, in part because the numbers and sophistication of new
   technology users is outstripping the supply of cops needed to keep
   watch. Every day, 50,000 new Internet users join the 100 million
   already existing, and perpetrators may attempt their crimes from
   across the street or across the globe.
   Through the US Department of Justice, state police agencies, and other
   regional collaborations, training is being offered for beat cops to
   fine-tune the computer know-how they have. But a shortage of trainers
   "With the growth of the Internet and the lowering costs of
   supercomputers, the technology of crime has been advancing at the
   speed of light while the ability of police to combat it has been
   advancing at the speed of government," says Allan Brill, managing
   director of Kroll Associates, which consults on computer security and
   Internet fraud.
   Mr. Brill estimates the number of law-enforcement agencies that have
   adequate computer crime units to be 20 to 25 percent, but growing.
   "Now there is a maturing of the whole field [of cybercrime] with the
   realization that those who fight it can't just slough it off to a
   bunch of techies," he says. "The potential of serious consequences is
   too high."
   Following years of grass-roots organizing, the US Justice Department
   last year formed the National Cybercrime Training Partnership, which
   coordinates efforts for state, local, and federal enforcement
   agencies. They are joined by state units such as Northern California's
   Sacramento Valley high-tech unit.
   "The key buzzwords for what we are trying to do are collaboration and
   coordination," says Wayne Williams, senior counsel for the US
   Department of Justice. The NCTP initiative includes a state-of-the-art
   training facility in Fairmont, W. Va., mobile training units,
   videotapes, and online learning. Courses include how to obtain and
   preserve computer evidence. Advanced work includes networking and
   At the Los Angeles Police Department, the computer crime unit
   currently has three members handling about 120 cases a year. All are
   former cops. In Phoenix, the State Department of Public Services has a
   four-man computer team, handling about 300 cases a year. The officers
   average about 20 years police work. Both teams handle cases for other
   agencies and departments.
   "People here are beginning to discover it's OK to be a nerd in this
   business," says Bob Hopper, head of the Phoenix unit. "You get a cop
   on the street who doesn't even know how to turn a computer on, and we
   put some nerd on it who gives him back the evidence to convict a guy.
   All of a sudden you're a great guy."
   Mr. Hopper's unit just helped in the state's first conviction of a
   cyberstalker. Randy Parsons of Phoenix had been charged with taking
   the identity of his ex-girlfriend and posting a personals ad, which
   included the victim's photograph, on the Internet. Police said Parsons
   then posed as the victim in e-mail messages containing graphic
   descriptions of her supposed sexual preferences. As a result, the
   victim received phone from men wanting to meet her.
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   Other crimes range from simple cell phone fraud - using another's
   numbers to make calls - to stealing vital information like trade
   secrets. If the bad news is that computers are far ranging in the
   damage they can cause, they are also sources of evidence. "Most
   criminals think they have deleted all the indictable material," says
   Det. Terry Willis, who heads the LAPD unit. "What we do is find where
   it still exists on the computer."
   Combatting cybercrime, though, requires is an expensive endeavor. "No
   single agency can deal with the cost of equipment and expertise needed
   to deal with this issue," says Fred Cotton, director of training. "We
   are up against Microsoft and other large companies creating operating
   systems that can write code faster than we can deal with criminals."
   Although the NCTP and others are trying to establish guidelines for
   police training, many programs are uneven. "It's a mixed bag right now
   because there is clearly not enough supply to meet the demand," says
   IACP's Robinson. "They are moving in the right direction, but are not
   their yet."
   Better training is likely to follow more spending on it. "Our whole
   society has to realize that we are moving into a whole new area of
   crime," says Scott Charney, a consultant on cybercrime for
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