Cyber crime a unique challenge for law enforcement

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Internet users in the United States reached 65 million in 1998, more than 100 million in 1999, and were expected to exceed 200 million in 2001. Business-to-business e-commerce totaled more than $100 billion in 1999 and is expected to top $6.8 trillion in 2004.
   In June 2001, Thomas Kubic, deputy assistant director of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division, spoke to a House committee on the FBI's perspective on cyber crime. According to Kubic, cyber crime presents unique challenges for law enforcement, including difficulty in identifying and assessing what type of crime has been committed.
   "It could be a malicious hacking incident aimed at damaging or sabotaging the network, a possible terrorist attack, some form of espionage ... as well as any myriad form or combination of traditional crimes such as frauds or extortions," he said.
   In the real world, when a crime such as bank robbery has been committed, investigators usually develop physical evidence such as fingerprints, shoe impressions, surveillance video or witnesses. In the virtual world, "None of this is available ..." Kubic said. "What little evidence is available in an on-line crime will usually not exist for long. Without an immediate response by skilled cyber investigators, it will often be forever lost."
   Victims in the United States often are targeted by cyber criminals in foreign countries who are outside FBI jurisdiction, making prosecution difficult. According to Kubic, areas impacted by cyber crime include securities and commodities transactions, telemarketing schemes, online pharmacy schemes, auction frauds, identity theft, gambling, organized crime/drugs, terrorism, and child pornography, among others. The FBI has established a Web site ( where victims of Internet crime can submit their complaints.
   A February 2001 bulletin from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime states that children are particularly vulnerable to victimization. Approximately 77 million children are expected to be online by 2005.
   The Internet allows predators an anonymous way to seek out and groom children for criminal purposes such as producing and distributing child pornography, contacting and stalking children for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts, and exploiting children for sexual tourism (travel with the intent to engage in sexual behavior) for personal and commercial purposes, the bulletin states.
   Child predators traditionally found their victims in schoolyards, on playgrounds, or at shopping malls. Today they look for them in cyberspace.
   According to the bulletin, the predator may initiate an online friendship, sharing hobbies and interests. This initial introduction may lead to the exchange of gifts and pictures, aimed at building the child's trust. Older children, who often use the computer unsupervised, tend to be at greater risk, while those who participate in chat rooms, trade e-mail messages, or send pictures online often become unwitting victims. Troubled or rebellious teens also are susceptible.
   According to the bulletin, "Physical contact between the child and the perpetrator does not need to occur for a child to become a victim or for a crime to be committed. Innocent pictures or images of children can be digitally transformed into pornographic material and distributed across the Internet without the victims' knowledge."
   Dr. David Finkelhor, director of Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, conducted a research survey in 1999 on Internet victimization of youth. The survey found that in the past year:
   * One in five youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet;
   * One in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation;
   * One in four had an unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or people having sex;
   * One in 17 was threatened or harassed;
   * Only a fraction of all episodes was reported to authorities; and about 25 percent of those approached told a parent.
   The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs Service, and FBI, operates the CyberTipline, an online form for reporting suspected child sexual exploitation (, and the Child Pornography Tipline (1-800-843-5678).