Cyber Crime – Can Locard’s Exchange Principle Be Applied to Cyber Crime?

Cyber Crime is replacing drug trafficking. Recent government findings indicate that cyber crime has pushed aside the illicit drug trade as one of the top sources for hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains the world over. In its infancy, the Internet seemed like something that could develop into a useable tool for scientific research. If we had only known back then what potential it held, perhaps more thought would have gone into its protection.

Today the newswires are filled with reports of massive thefts of personal information as well as depleted bank accounts-all due to the criminal element that, for a small investment in a computer and an Internet connection, is changing the landscape of criminal investigation. One highly regarded research survey stated that 8.1 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2010. Losses were in the hundreds of millions.

The Locard Exchange Principle (LEP)

Dr. Edmond Locard (1877-1966), known to many as the French “Sherlock Holmes,” was a pioneer in forensic evidence investigation. Locard formulated the basic principle of forensic science, “Every contact leaves a trace,” Of course Locard’s theory dealt with the physical contact made by the perpetrator to items in the crime scene. But today’s crime scene may not involve a physical structure-more than likely the crime scene is located out there in cyberspace.

So the question evolves, “Does Locard’s Exchange Principle apply to an electromagnet passing over a spinning disk?” Some digital detectives believe that it does. For example, a hacker gains access to a computer system that may or may not be secure. Is any computer completely secure? Granted, security software is effective against many such invasions, but a secure system will only take the hacker a little longer to get into it. Now, the question is, does the exchange principle apply?

Cyber crimes leave no physical evidence

On the surface, the infiltrator would leave no physical trace of his having been there. But other electronic trace evidence may be present. If the computer’s file access logs were accessible, it’s possible that a record will be available showing that the file was, in fact, accessed, and even that a network transmission followed. Also a possibility is that a side-channel analysis of any activity on the hard drive will uncover network operations. As a last resort, the examiner may check the access logs of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to uncover surreptitious entry. This step will not necessarily divulge what specific data was removed, but it will indicate that data was, in fact, lifted from the line.

Industrial espionage is becoming commonplace

Personal information and cash are not the only targets of this spreading menace. Online industrial espionage is a growing threat to the U.S. economy as well as our national security. U.S. intelligence agencies recently warned elected officials that China and Russia are engaged in cyber-espionage. “Trade secrets developed over thousands of working hours by our brightest minds are stolen in a split second and transferred to our competitors,” said one counterintelligence executive. These foreign governments deny this claim.

The Cyber Exchange Principle

Perhaps when relating to cyber crime, the “Cyber Exchange Principle” applies. Forensic examination of a computer or server will uncover artifacts of invasion. The investigator is then, faced with a situation that the crime scene is not limited to a single computer and may involve another computer half the world away.

The hacker will not be leaving latent fingerprints, foot prints, or traces of physiological fluids in the wake of his intrusion. But electronic activity in this case can be far more valuable in the bits and bytes this activity leaves behind. The principle that Locard espoused so long ago must be forefront in the minds of our digital detectives as they seek what clues an invaded computer holds as well as what traces are awaiting discovery out there in cyberspace.

Cyber Stalking: The Digital Frontier

On the digital frontier, stalkers have updated their weaponry and they are gunning for the unprepared. Cyber stalking is a criminal behavior which occurs when an individual uses the Internet to harass, humiliate, damage, or threaten someone. Most states have included electronic forms of communication as part of stalking or harassment laws. Cyber stalking crimes are classified as misdemeanor or felony offenses depending on aggravating factors which may include: possession of a deadly weapon, violation of a court order or condition of probation or parole, victim under 16 years, or repeatedly victimizing the same person. Based on specific circumstances, these offenses are subject to punishment ranging from probation to ten years in prison.

Forms of Cyber Stalking

Cyber stalking takes on many forms which may include sending victims harassing or threatening emails and text messages and/or posting personal, false or humiliating information on social media. In some cases these perpetrators may send viruses, spam attacks, and harmful programs via e-mail to compromise or destroy the victim’s computer. Even more ominous are cyber stalkers who intend to locate and confront their victim by obtaining personal information such as home and work addresses and phone numbers.

Scope of the Problem

The Department of Justice reports that 6.6 million people are victims of stalking in the United States. More than 25% of stalking victims, report that they were harassed on the internet during their lifetime. Most of these victims experienced significant anxiety or fear and believed that they or someone close to them could be harmed or killed. Most victims know the person stalking them. However, some stalkers fantasize or harbor grudges against public figures or celebrities they have never personally met.

Types of Cyber Stalkers

Cyber stalkers present mental health problems that vary from irrational anger to psychosis. They range from people who are angry ex-partners who feel unfairly rejected to more seriously disturbed individuals who are compulsive, vengeful, or delusional. The motivation for these crimes is to control, intimidate or influence the victim. The harmful effects of cyber stalking most commonly include severe emotional distress and damage to one’s reputation. In serious cases physical, sexual, and fatal assaults have been reported.

Preventive Measures

The following security guidelines are designed to help you prevent cyber stalking by closely protecting your personal information.

  1. Keep antivirus software updated.
  2. Use strong passwords.
  3. Never put personal photos, account profiles or email addresses online.
  4. Do not download unknown e-mail attachments.
  5. Don’t sign into accounts when using public Wi-Fi networks.
  6. Never reveal your home address.
  7. Privatize any online calendars or itineraries.
  8. Delete or password the details of any events you plan to attend.

Managing Cyber Stalking

In the event you become a victim of cyber stalking, here are some initial recommendations to follow.

  • Inform the person that further contact unwanted will be reported to police.
  • After this first warning, stop all responding to that individual.
  • Record the time, place, and details of all unwanted contacts or incidents.
  • Scan and clean your computer thoroughly for malicious software.
  • Change all passwords.
  • Block unwanted calls/ internet contacts.
  • Change phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
  • Inform family, close friends, and employers.
  • File complaints with the stalker’s ISP and websites.
  • File a police report with documented details of the cyber stalking.

Summary

Cyber stalking is a criminal behavior which occurs when an individual uses the Internet to harass, humiliate, damage, or threaten someone. Preventing cyber stalking emphasizes online security and safeguarding your personal information. Managing incidents of cyber stalking includes severing all contact, recording all incidents, and making formal complaints to both internet providers and law enforcement.