Category Archives: Cybercrime

News snippets for week ending 9 April 2006

Here are some other items that caught my eye this week:

Former US attorney general Janet Reno gave a lecture to the University of Pennsylvania last week, reports The Daily Pennsylvanian (3 April 06), in which she challenged academics to take a scientific approach to combating crime:

Society’s crime problem will only be solved with scientific evidence applied to a smart public policy, according to Janet Reno. […] Reno said that research institutions like Penn’s Jerry Lee Center for Criminology are crucial for finding what works to stop crime.

The Washington Post (4 April 06) has a profile of Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow has spent her career researching the effects of drugs on the brain and the article offers an insight to her efforts to bring together science and public policy.

Now, three years into a stint directing the government’s $1 billion anti-drug research program, Volkow is channeling new energy into determining exactly how the brains of addicts and those who never get hooked differ – so scientists can develop better ways to prevent and treat drug abuse.

Houston’s homicides are up nearly 25% this year. If the trend continues, 2006 will be the deadliest year in more than a decade. The Houston Chronicle (2 April) dispels the notion that it is simply a Hurricane Katrina effect. Various reasons are put forward in the article, including:

  • a staffing shortage
  • “outmoded tools for crime analysis” (according to Police Chief Harold Hurtt).
  • misdeployment of police officers, with the lowest presence of officers in the most violent police patrol districts
  • the September arrival of tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina[which] “amplified tensions and violence in the high-crime complexes”
  • an increase in gang activity

University of Chicago Chronicle (Vol 25 Issue 13, 30 March) reports that Chicago Law School Professor Bernard Harcourt is about to publish a provocative new study that finds no evidence to support the popular theory that “broken-windows” policing actually reduces crime. Broken Windows: New Evidence from New York City, and a Five-City Social Experiment by Bernard Harcourt and Jens Ludwig appears in the latest issue of University of Chicago Law Review. Access the full text (pdf) here.

Crime fight focuses on emergency room intervention, reports the Boston Globe (5 April), where officials “hope to interrupt cycles of violence by offering counseling, drug treatment, and other help to victims of gunshot wounds and stabbings”.

Via Bruce Schneier, news of an interesting paper on strategies used by phishers. Security Focus (31 Mar) gives an overview of the report, which can be downloaded as a PDF here. From the abstract:

This paper provides the first empirical evidence about which malicious strategies are successful at deceiving general users. We first analyzed a large set of captured phishing attacks and developed a set of hypotheses about why these strategies might work. We then assessed these hypotheses with a usability study in which 22 participants were shown 20 web sites and asked to determine which ones were fraudulent.

Fingerprints reveal clues to suspects’ habits, reports New Scientist (3 April):

Fingerprints from a crime scene are useless if the perpetrator’s prints are not on file. But new forensic techniques now mean they can be used to determine whether a person is a smoker, uses drugs, and even which aftershave they wear – information that could help narrow down suspects. Fingerprints contain a mixture of skin cells, sweat secretions and substances picked up from elsewhere. Careful analysis can show whether a person may have handled drugs or explosives, but the new tools make it possible to determine a person’s habits from the secretions in their prints as well.

Finally, if all this talk of phishing, brain fingerprinting and the neuroscience of drug addiction is just too much, here’s a site to take you back to the good old days.

The FBI has a long history of bringing criminals to justice, and their cases are often pulled straight from the headlines. Their work is evident in almost every stage in the last 100 years of American history., the largest newspaper database online, has provided a free archive on the history of the FBI.

You can find it at

News round up, week ending 18 March 2006

Experts say brutal deaths of 3 women in Union County case fits pattern of emboldened serial killer, reports the Charlotte Observer (15 March). The first expert is Paul Friday, a UNC Charlotte criminology professor, who is reported as saying that

[…] serial killers typically have “revenge fantasies” caused by a “significant shock in their life.” He said the fantasies get more violent over time and “at some point the opportunity and the fantasy come together” and the killing occurs.

The second expert is Lawson Bernstein, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Bernstein, a neuropsychiatrist, said the mutilation’s severity can progress because the killer “needs more mayhem to achieve psychological satisfaction.”

The New York Times (17 Mar) reports on police tactics during public demonstrations:

The reports provide a rare glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attack. The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: that the department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor behavior

Most-troubled kids languish in youth jails, reports the Baltimore Sun (14 March), highlighting how juvenile offenders with severe mental or emotional problems are waiting for a bed in a residential treatment program.

[…] The youths languishing the longest in jail are those most in need of help, state juvenile service officials acknowledge. Many have been traumatized from years of abuse or neglect and the kinds of life experiences that can come with growing up poor: a parent jailed or lost to drugs; a friend or sibling killed on the streets; frequent moves to stay with different relatives or foster families.

Rwandan women who survived genocide, but suffered rape and abuse, are finding some solace in a neighborhood association of survivors, reports NPR (14 March), highlighting how some of these women have been relieved to share their stories, after long keeping silent.

The Guardian (15 Mar) reports on cyberbullying of youngsters, apparently affecting more than one in 10 teenagers.

Some suggest that lessons are not being learned because inquiries into violent crimes committed by mentally ill people are often held internally, reports The Guardian (15 Mar).

Small birthweight and premature births associated with higher risk of child abuse, according to a paper in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, highlighted by the BMJ, via Science Daily (15 March).

The findings are based on almost 120,000 children born between 1983 and 2001, who had been placed on the child protection register of one county in south east England. […] The results showed that whatever the type of abuse, the lower the birthweight, the more likely it was that the child be placed on the child protection register.


Cybercrime fighters past prime – at 16

Baltimore Sun 7 June 2005

For three years, two Howard County girls have taught teen culture to FBI agents hunting pedophiles online. But now, they’re just too old. […] According to the bureau, Karen and Mary needed to retire because they had become too old for their jobs – teaching FBI undercover agents how to impersonate young teens online to catch prowling pedophiles.

[…] It all started when one of the girls’ fathers, an FBI agent, saw his daughter at their home computer. When he looked at her screen, all of the instant-messaging windows quickly disappeared except for one. “POS” was the only word on the screen. […] “POS,” she explained, stands for “parent over shoulder.” Intrigued, the agent then asked one of his undercover agents working on tracking pedophiles on the Internet about the term. She didn’t know either. Then, the girl’s father said, he knew it was time to bring in reinforcements.

Computer crime boom costs UK billions

NewScientist.com05 April 2005

Computer crime is taking an increasing toll on UK companies, and is estimated to have cost more than ?2.4 billion over the past year. A major report issued by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) on Tuesday reveals that 89% of UK businesses with over 1000 staff experienced some form of computer crime during the last 12 months – a 6% increase compared to the same period in 2003 to 2004. The 2005 annual review indicates that 90% of UK companies targeted by cybercrime suffered a computerised break-in, while 89% were victims of data theft.

Cyber detective links up crimes

New Scientist.com01 December 04
Many more crimes might be solved if detectives were able to compare the records for cases with all the files on past crimes. Now an artificial intelligence system has been designed to do precisely that. Working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it could look for telltale similarities in crime records and alert detectives when it finds them. Developed by computer scientists Tom Muscarello and Kamal Dahbur at DePaul University in Chicago, the system uses pattern-recognition software to link related crimes that may have taken place in widely separated areas whose police forces may rarely be in close contact. Called the Classification System for Serial Criminal Patterns (CSSCP), the system sifts through all the case records available to it, assigning numerical values to different aspects of each crime, such as the kind of offence, the perpetrator??s sex, height and age, and the type of weapon or getaway vehicle used. From these figures it builds a crime description profile. A neural network program then uses this to seek out crimes with similar profiles.

Old scams pose the ‘greatest security risk’

Old scams pose the ‘greatest security risk’
CNET November 1, 2004

The greatest security risk facing large companies and individual Internet
users over the next 10 years will be the increasingly sophisticated use of
social engineering to bypass IT security defenses, according to Gartner. In
an announcement Sunday, the research company defined social engineering as
“the manipulation of people, rather than machines, to successfully breach
the security systems of an enterprise or a consumer.” This involves
criminals persuading a user to click on a link or open an attachment that
they probably know they shouldn’t. Rich Mogull, research director for
information security and risk at Gartner, said in the announcement that
social engineering is more of a problem than hacking. “People, by nature,
are unpredictable and susceptible to manipulation and persuasion. Studies
show that humans have certain behavioral tendencies that can be exploited
with careful manipulation,” he said. “Many of the most damaging security
penetrations are, and will continue to be, due to social engineering, not
electronic hacking or cracking.”

When staff can be more dangerous than hackers,4386,275155,00.html
SEPT 29, 2004

COMPANIES, more concerned with preventing computer viruses from attacking them, are neglecting their biggest information security threats – their employees and business partners. Mr John Ho Chi, principal of Ernst & Young’s security and technology risk service, said insiders are dangerous because they ‘know where your most valuable information is, already have trusted access to your system, and may even know how to get away with it or cover their tracks’. […] What local companies don’t realise is, ‘when it comes to employees and business partners, the only thing standing between the company and fraud is… trust’.