by Susan Clairmont
What would happen if you phone the police to report a break-in at your house and they didn't understand what you were talking about?
And what if they couldn't find your house? Or didn't know how to open your door? What if they didn't understand the value of the items that were stolen?
That's what it's like to talk to most cops about hacking and other Internet-related crimes, says Duncan Monkhouse, a cyber-crime specialist at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. The vast majority of Canadian police officers don't have the technical expertise to even recognize a cyber crime right now, never mind investigate one. Policing in this country is drowning in the techno-tidal wave that has brought street crimes online, Monkhouse says, and now police services are preparing to spend millions in a desperate attempt to catch up.
"Right now (the Internet) is like the Wild West: There's no rules and there's very few policement patrolling it", says Monkhouse, a civilian RCMP employee assigned since 1994 with training Canadian police officers in the art and science of online investigations.
"Most officers don't understand this stuff at all and in a few years, these investigative techniques are going to be vital."
Nearly any crime that can take place on the street can now be committed in cyberspace, says Monkhouse. There are high volumes of fraud, hate crimes, pornography, bookmaking, theft (of information), and copyright infringements (sharing software). And there are a few new crimes that are unique to the Internet, such as hacking (unauthorized access to a computer) and carding (getting credit card numbers and expiry dates off the Internet and using them in a fraudulent manner).
And then there's murder.
"It sounds like science fiction, but it's not inconceivable that someone could kill using computer technology", says Monkhouse. Let's say I hacked into a hospital's (intensive care unit) computer and crashed it and someone died because a machine stopped working or they didn't get the right medication."
But before a cop can start chasing a murderer on the Internet, there is a lot of basic technological training to be done. Monkhouse begins his course by spending two days dissecting the world's land line telephone systems. Understanding how the system works gives officers insight into the path of electronic information and the ways in which it can be intercepted. Another whole day is spent on cellular phones. All the telephone training prepares officers for the Internet, says Monkhouse. It "shows them the tools that are being used by the criminals" and teaches them how to collect evidence electronically and apply it to the Criminal Code of Canada."
"The method of collecting the evidence to go ahead with those charges is different", says Monkhouse, "but all Internet crimes can be related back somewhere to the Criminal Code. People talk about having to write new sections into the Criminal Code to handle Internet crimes, but that's not necessary. Theft is still theft whether someone steals money from your house or money from your electronic bank account. The computer is merely the tool."
Once officers are schooled in the mechanics of the Internet, they are ready to go undercover online.
An undercover cop investigating child porn on the Internet must assume the identity of a pedophile - or of a child - and go to one of thousands of chat lines where people from all over the world with similar interests can "talk" over their computers and send files to one another.
"It's like going to a party, only the door says "Teenage Sex", says Monkhouse. "You have no idea who's in the room when you come in. But if you call yourself, 'Amy13', you're - sadly - inundated with hits." Officers must learn how to talk the talk of a cyber pedophile so they won't seem suspicious to their online suspects. It's a process that takes time and practice. Once they've built up a rapport with someone in the chat room, and received files they've sent over the computer, they are ready to take their investigation back into a three-dimensional realm.
"You ask the person for their mailing address so you can exchange more material and then you take the computer logs of what you've done and you take the pictures you've been sent and you get a search warrant to go and search that address."
Problem is, though, a chat room is visited by people from all over the world and a cop can only lay charges in their jurisdiction. So co-operation amongst police services is crucial when it comes to making arrests. An officer in Hamilton may have evidence to arrest a person in California on pornography charges, but it will take a police officer there to actually bring it to fruition.
Once an arrest is made, officers will also seize the accused's personal computer and search it for downloaded pornography.
Right now, most Internet child porn investigations begin only after police have been tipped off, usually by someone who has seen the illegal images on someone's computer screen. Very little work is being done by police to patrol the Internet for such offences. Most municipal and regional police services in Ontario don't have the expertise or resources for this kind of investigation yet, says Monkhouse, and asking the OPP or RCMP for their help is "akin to admitting you don't know what you're doing".
The Ontario Provincial Police have already made inroads into the Internet porn racket with their Project P campaign and now have a special unit cracking down on illegal gambling online. The 35-officer unit expects to make a bust - the first in Canada - by the fall. An Ontario-based online casino is currently under investigation.
"It's not illegal to bet in Canada, but what is illegal is operating a cyber casino without a licence", says Detective Sergeant Steve Clegg of OPP headquarters in Orillia. A casino may be licensed in Antigua, but it would be illegal to accept bets from players in Hamilton unless it is licenced by the Ontario government to do so. Host Internet service providers can try to block out access to these sites from residents in certain locations, but it doesn't take long for players to realize all they need to do to become a cyber gambler is lie when the computer asks them where they live.
There are currently 70 to 80 cyber casinos around the world, and the number is doubling every year, says Clegg. The casinos offer everything from slot machines and roulette tables to black jack.
Sending your credit card number into cyberspace is unwise in any situation since hackers can steal that information, warns Clegg. But to use your credit card to bet at a cyber casino is as good as throwing your money away.
"It takes a unique individual to just sit in front of a computer and gamble. there isn't the atmosphere of a real casino", says Clegg. "It appeals to the addicted gambler. It's just a screen. Are the games fixed? Almost certainly."
Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police have been so ill-prepared for Internet investigations that they have had to rent computer equipment to print out downloaded photos to determine if the images are breaking pornography laws.
Some of the Internet issues that have arisen in the Hamilton-Wentworth-Burlington area include: an online slander case involving Philip Services Corp.; mafia money laundering through the Internet banking system; credit card frauds over the Internet; an online abortion terrorist manual that teaches pro-lifers to victimize doctors such as those targeted in Ancaster and Hamilton; staff at Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre had their Internet access taken away because there was a province-wide problem with porn-surfing; a 15-year-old Flamborough boy downloaded kiddie porn; a 13-year-old Burlington boy hacked into a top secret American military computer.
"Everybody in the whole police service should know the Internet", says Hamilton-Wentworth Inspector Dave Bowen. "We see that as an important step in our evolution to meet the changing needs around the Internet. It should be very similar to every day policing. We need to do Internet patrol."
Chief Robertson says his officers must form an alliance with other police services in the area as well as with civilian computer experts. For years, police have called in civilian forensic accountants to assist with fraud cases. Following that precedent, Robertson wants to call upon computer experts from the community to help with Internet investigations.
While new police recruits come to their jobs with a great deal of Internet knowledge learned in their everyday lives, they still need to learn how to apply it to policing, says Deputy Chief Bruce Elwood.
In the future, police services will expect officers to be able to use the Internet, just as they are expected to know how to drive a car. The onus will be on the officer to have those skills before he or she apply for the job.
"But for now we've been faced with the question, 'Do we train officers to be computer experts or do we train civilian computer experts to be investigators?'" says Elwood.
"The answer is, it's easier to train police investigators to use computers."
More people than ever before are using the Internet and that includes criminals, says Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police Chief Ken Robertson. Child pornography, fraud, mischief, and extortion are now commonplace crimes on the Net, but Hamilton-Wentworth police along with most area law enforcement officers don't know how to investigate them.
In a better-late-than-never move, the Shared Resources Committee, made up of chiefs and deputy chiefs of all Golden Horseshoe police services, is considering the creation of a multi-service specialized unit to investigate all Internet crime in The Horseshoe.
Several officers from each police service would be part of the unit and would be trained by experts from other agencies that already have cyber crime specialists, such as the RCMP, OPP, and FBI.
Costs for the team's computer and telecommunications equipment would be shared by all the member police services, which include Hamilton-Wentworth, Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, Brantford, Halton, Waterloo, the RCMP, and OPP. The unit would also be responsible for educating the public to protect itself against online crime.
The proposal was brought to the Shared Resources Committee by Robertson, who made Internet crime one of his top two priorities - along with youth crime - when he was named the new police chief earlier this year.
"We're going to see a huge explosion in the use of the Internet and crime on the Internet in the next few years", says Robertson. "It's a naive person who thinks it can't affect them."
From stealing credit card numbers to hacking into personal computers, online criminals can reach into the home of any computer owner.
"We have a problem and we need to start preparing", Robertson says "We're behind."
Hamilton-Wentworth is prepared to dedicate two full-time detectives to an Internet crime unit. The cost to the region would include the detectives' salaries, which range from $70,000 to $80,000 each, along with a portion of the training and equipment spending.
Peel Regional Police has recently approved its own four-officer Internet crime team to start next year. The service has budgeted $576,000 to operate the team for one year.
The issue is to be brought before the Hamilton-Wentworth police services board this fall for budget approval and Robertson hopes to start training early next year. The other police services represented by the Shared Resources Committee are also taking he matter back to their boards and will report back at the committee's September meeting.
Haldimand-Norfolk Deputy Chief Warren Burger says he will support a joint Internet crime unit.
Niagara Regional Police Chief Grant Waddell says he will wait until he knows more before deciding if he will support a joint task force.