Linda Wilson Fuoco
Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co.
While most local police departments are dealing with reports of cyber crimes, the vast majority say they lack money and training needed to combat it, according to a newly released survey.
Cyber threats and crimes against children, identity theft and a variety of cyber attacks on businesses and individuals are on the rise nationwide. A survey conducted in 2005 by the FBI Pittsburgh Office and Duquesne University found that 77 percent of local police departments receive complaints about cyber crime and 89 percent of departments surveyed say they lack the money and necessary training to respond effectively. Only 13 percent of departments were able to spend more than $500 on cyber crime training in the last year.
The survey, released last week, was distributed to 697 federal, state and local law enforcement entities in West Virginia and in 25 Pennsylvania counties, including Allegheny and surrounding counties; 283 of them (40 percent) responded.
Given the need for training demonstrated by the survey, Duquesne and the FBI would like to get state and federal money to set up an online program to train local police departments to deal with cyber crime, said Kenneth Saban, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne, who helped draft the survey, analyze the results and develop the report.
While federal officials offer cyber training programs in the Washington, D.C., area, those programs can cost thousands of dollars and take officers away from their local jobs. An online cyber crime training program would be much cheaper for cash-strapped police departments, said Dr. Saban.
He estimated "maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars" would be needed to start the training program, which could be up and running in six months.
This survey was the first in the region to gauge how local law enforcement tracks and responds to cyber crimes, said William Shore, supervisory special agent in the FBI Pittsburgh office.
"Cyber crime is a growing threat and law enforcement agencies around the country are grappling with how they can change their investigative techniques and priorities to best address it," Mr. Shore said.
The FBI does investigate cyber crime and makes many arrests "but there is so much of it," Mr. Shore said. "You have to know the technology and you have to stay on top of it," because techniques used by cyber criminals all over the world keep changing and improving.
When a child or an adult gets a threatening e-mail with a fictional screen name, a trained investigator can go to the Internet server, identify the person making the threat and make an arrest, Mr. Shore said. Because many police departments lack investigators with that expertise, they are unable to pursue such crimes.
Cyber crimes represent what Dr. Saban calls "the dark side of the Internet." Cyber crimes cause problems for businesses as well as for individuals.
The most frequently reported and investigated computer crimes are Internet fraud, identity theft and threatening online communications, including e-mails, according to the FBI-Duquesne survey.
Businesses are most threatened by viruses, spyware and sabotage of their data or network, according to the 2005 FBI Cyber Crime Survey, which is referenced in the local survey.
Ultimately, Duquesne University and the local FBI office would like their survey findings to lead to formation of a special crime lab known as a Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory. Those kinds of labs exist in other parts of the country.
The forensic computer labs gather specialists to fight cyber crime, and information and techniques are shared by a number of law enforcement agencies.
Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at or 412-263-3064.
Local Pa. police struggle to deal with cyber crime