When Henry Ford brought affordable automobiles to the average U.S. citizen in 1908, he also improved the fortunes of criminals by ushering in Crime 1.0 - technology-assisted crime.
Suddenly bank robbers and other undesirables were harder to catch, speeding away from the horse-mounted posse in their Model Ts.
It wasn't long, however, before the law caught on and equipped itself accordingly: police cars - and lots of them - which they learned to drive as well if not better than any crook.
Fast forward a century: Enter the computer and with it, Crime 2.0 - high technology- assisted crime.
The computer is the 21st-century equivalent of last century's car.
Computers and the Internet have made the criminal a better criminal, and while the law, again, is catching up, police don't have nearly enough resources and expertise to catch crooks to any meaningful extent.
According to the 2007 Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) report, 206,884 complaints were filed online for an estimated $239 million loss. However, keep in mind that experts (for once) agree that only 1 in 7 cyber-crimes are reported to the authorities or to sites such as IC3. The accurate cyber-crime figures, then, are roughly seven times higher.
Taking into account the broader impact as reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), various studies and expert opinions estimate the direct economic impact from cyber-crime to be billions of dollars annually. In fact, according to a 2005 FBI survey, the annual loss due to computer crime was estimated at $67 billion for U.S. organizations alone.
Yet cyber-crime is an offense that most experts agree has just begun stirring - criminals are getting smarter and better equipped, which forecasts even gloomier days to come.
The Cyber-Crime Challenge
How do you prepare for computer crime? How do you face this challenge?
The GAO cyber-crime report GAO-07-075 identified four major challenges in combating this epidemic:
- ensuring cyber-crime is reported;
- ensuring adequate analytical and technical capabilities for law enforcement;
- working in a borderless environment with laws of multiple jurisdictions; and
- implementing information security practices and raising awareness.
Of these four challenges, the most urgent is ensuring adequate analytical and technical capabilities for law enforcement. The other three areas are being addressed, but even if their progress lagged, they could be remedied. But without technical resources and expertise for law enforcement - without the Crime 2.0 car and skilled drivers - the remaining points scarcely matter.
Law Enforcement Resources
To investigate and prosecute cyber-crime, law enforcement agencies need skilled investigators, up-to-date computer forensic examiners and prosecutors with cyber-crime familiarity.
According to federal and state law enforcement officials, the pool of qualified candidates is limited because those investigating or examining cyber-crime must be highly trained specialists, requiring detective and technical skills, including knowledge of various IT hardware and software, and forensic tools.
The problem assumes its true proportion with another factor added in: Once an investigator or examiner decides to specialize in cyber-crime, it can take up to 12 months for him or her to become proficient enough to fully manage investigations, as reported by Defense Cyber Crime Center officials.
Robert Moore, author of Cybercrime: Investigating High-Technology Computer Crime, echoes this theme in his introduction: "Unfortunately while those who would abuse this new technology have been honing their techniques and improving their knowledge of how computers operate, many in the criminal justice community have been unable to keep pace.
"Few departments are staffed with individuals who are either capable of or willing to handle investigations that involve computers and highly advanced forms of technology. Even departments that are able to