NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2009
Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales from the Trenches
Reviewed by Steven M. Breitbart, Director,
NOCCC (North Orange County Computer Club, California) Orange Bytes, July 2009

sbreitbart (at) socal.rr.com (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

I have never wanted one of my book reviews to be on Page 1 of the Orange Bytes before now. The Internet has become an entity where all of the old evils are amplified and expanded, and new evils have been created. As the book says “Once again, computer technology and the Internet is a double edged sword, providing tools both for those involved in illegal drug activity as well as for those seeking justice.” You can just as easily plug in identity theft, child pornography or any other crime that can be committed using the Internet.

This book explores many, if not most of the crimes committed using the Internet. The authors, Felicia Donovan and Kristyn Bernier have “over 25 years of combined law enforcement experience.” They discuss cyber stalking, identity theft, online dating, child pornography, social networks, illegal drugs and peer-to-peer network crimes. The crimes range from bullying, stalking or stealing the victims’ identity all the way to murder.

The book is written for the ordinary person who is not an IT professional. They describe an honest, if pessimistic view of the Internet. It appears that someone illegally exchanging songs using a peer-to-peer network is more likely to be sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for music piracy than people who acquire child pornography are to be arrested by law enforcement.

One thing I have learned from this book is that if you have a business with any sort of network and access to the Internet, you must either have an IT person or be the IT person yourself. You must have policies clearly defining acceptable uses of business computers and make sure every employee understand the risks involved of visiting risky web sites. You must have procedures, hardware and software in place to make sure nothing sensitive gets out or nothing dangerous, such as spyware and viruses, get in.

Another thing is that you should initiate all actions and not respond to web sites or emails offering any type of get-rich quick scheme or warning. If you get an email asking you to send money, promising that you’ll get back more, it’s probably one of many types of scams. If the scam isn’t asking to you to send money, it’s asking for enough information so they can steal it directly out of your bank accounts - having acquired your name, user identification and password. The authors describe how pedophiles have posed as children and get information from real children, who give out all sorts of information on Facebook, MySpace or other social networking web sites.

Sometimes they get the children to do things in front of their webcams. Once recorded, these videos are circulated among the community of pedophiles. If the pedophiles can get the children to meet them in person, they are often molested or worse.

A great thing about the book is that they include a lot of information on how to protect yourself, your family and your business, but it is scattered all over the book. What we all need is a pamphlet summarizing all the recommended procedures and different web sites we can go to for help.

The whole thing reminds me of an episode of the television show Criminal Minds. The victim asks FBI Agent Hotchner “How many of these people are out there?” He replies, “More than you want to know.” While the characters were not talking about Cyber Crime, the result is the same. As long as I mentioned a television show, I would like to thank the authors for Appendix B, which describes the incredible differences between television’s version of law enforcement and the real thing. It seems to me that animated cartoons resemble reality more.

There are seventeen chapters in the book, plus two appendices. Sixteen of the chapters are chock full of case after case of criminal activities committed using the Internet. While it seems repetitive and tedious, one must remember that this is a small sample of what law enforcement and other agencies find. The book usually describes what happened to the victims and whether the criminals were caught. As one would expect, it doesn’t usually cover the techniques that law enforcement uses too much. Law enforcement is apparently at such a disadvantage in terms of funding, personnel and legal requirements that they cannot afford to give away any information.

Law enforcement is fighting an uphill battle. A lot of the “evil” is coming in from other countries, the criminals are able to remain anonymous on the Internet, and law enforcement is constantly crippled by a lack of budget or personnel for specialized squads. Add to this the fact that the laws applying to cyber crime vary from state to state, technical challenges and other factors; you get a very pessimistic picture. The Internet is an almost lawless place and it is up to the user to be vigilant.

There are a few small issues I have with the book. The title did not excite me; the word “trenches” is used to mean everything from real world experiences to military operations to undercover investigations; how about “online front line” instead. They repeat various agency names and their acronyms over and over. Either use the full name once along with the acronym, then use just the acronym for, say, the rest of the chapter. The photographs they used for the Internet address line that says “https” and the padlock icon weren’t clear enough to see. Also, in the chapter where they describe botnets, they begin with a clear description. Two pages later, they say they will define botnets “later” - but they already have.

The last chapter is “How We Would Combat Cyber Crime.” They have many good ideas and I hope the new Cybersecurity Czar will at least listen to the advice of these authors. I highly recommend this book for anyone who uses the Internet.

It will certainly be too simple for people already involved in computer security. However, the rest of us need to understand what can happen if we are unaware of the pitfalls of using the Internet.

Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales from the Trenches, by Felecia Donovan and Kristyn Bernier; ©2009 Pearson Education, Inc. (part of Addison-Wesley Professional) Boston, MA. ISBN-13: 978-0-7897-3922-3; ISBN-10: 0-7897-3922-4 List price is $21.99, but is available for $17.15 at Amazon.com. If your group is a member of the Pearson User Group program, members will receive a 35% discount. Purchase of the book includes a free 45-day online edition through Safari Bookshelf.

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