Problems at the Core of Local-Level Cyber Crime

Mike O'Brien

The U.S. government has declared that cyber attacks now pose a greater threat to national security than terrorism, and that greater resources are being dedicated to counter the growing threat.

The burgeoning cyber security industry has been focusing on protecting government and corporate networks, but what is the situation on the local level?

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The answer, it appears, is there’s too much uncertainty and more training and education are needed for local police forces, individuals and small businesses.

Unlike physical crimes, individuals and small businesses may not necessarily know which agency to contact. If they call the local police, the first responding officer may not know how to proceed.

Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major City Chiefs Association, told the Associated Press that people who have fallen victim to cyber crime should contact their local police, but he admitted: "What they can do after that gets very complicated."

Police departments operate within jurisdictions, but cyber crime can be from anywhere in the world. Because banks and credit card companies usually reimburse the account holder's stolen funds, it begs the question of whether the individual or the bank is in fact the victim of the theft.

Mr. Stevens added: "Police will need to become more equipped to deal with cybercrime in the future. Most major cities have a limited capability, but more will be required."

Since the Secret Service began its cyber crime education program in 2008, it has trained 1,400 state and local law enforcement officers about the issue, but the demand for training is far greater than the agency can handle.

While some local police officers may have worked on task forces with the FBI, Secret Service and other federal agencies, those cases typically usually involved millions of dollars and had an international aspect to them.

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Several current task forces coordinate with local law enforcement on cyber issues, but figuring out which federal agency to turn to can be daunting.

The Justice Department says if your computer is hacked you can call your local FBI office or the Secret Service or the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is run by the FBI. Or you can call the nonprofit National White Collar Crime Center.

Other options include filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. There are also Secret Service-led Electronic Crimes Task Forces in 29 cities that regularly work with state and local law enforcement. For most people, however, the number one point of contact remains the local police.