(WASHINGTON) -- At a time when law enforcement agencies are winning the war against violent crime, they seem to be losing the war against cybercrime. The problem: Law enforcement groups from the FBI down to local police forces are lagging in the training and ability to combat this new form of criminal activity. And the bad guys know it.
"Willie Sutton said that he robbed banks because that's where the money was," says Richard Hunter of Gartner, which recently conducted a study of cybercrime. "Today's Internet criminals don't have to rob banks. With currently available technology, they can just as easily rob tens of thousands of individuals, with less chance of being caught."
According to Gartner, only $10 million of the federal government's estimated law enforcement budget of $17 billion is allocated to computer-crime-related training, staffing and support.
"The amount of money being spent is low," Hunter says. "And it's not increasing at the same rate that cybercrime is increasing. Identity theft alone is increasing by more than 40% per year."
Most frustrating, Hunter says, is that there's not even enough money being spent to help law enforcement determine where to concentrate its efforts.
That situation could change.
While Congress is back in session last week to reach a budget accord with President Clinton, prospects look good for approval of a program of $25 million in grants to state and local law enforcement to deter, investigate and prosecute computer crimes.
"There's a strong likelihood this will pass," says Mike Paranzino, special assistant to U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. Salmon and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are sponsoring similar versions of this bill in each chamber. If a final version is approved, Clinton is expected to sign it into law.
Meanwhile, given the lack of funds dedicated to computer crime, law enforcement groups are trying to provide as much help as possible to one another.
The National White Collar Crime Center just finished producing two computer-based training courses, available on CD-ROM, to instruct state and local law enforcement personnel in the use of the Internet as an investigative tool. They are also designed to help local officials understand the nature of computer-related crime and its toll.
Gartner's Hunter thinks more money and effort, however, will be required. On a recent visit to Boston, police arrested two men involved in a fight that spilled onto the hood of Hunter's car. When one of the police officers asked Hunter to send him some information pertaining to the incident, Hunter offered to e-mail it to him.
"The officer told me, 'We don't have e-mail,' " Hunter says. "In fact, the vast majority of police officers probably don't have e-mail."
Because of the lack of research into this new realm of crime, Hunter and other Internet security specialists caution individuals and companies that for the time being, they will have to shoulder most of the responsibility for their safety.
"One of the most pernicious aspects of this is that one could be victimized and not find out for months," Hunter says. "Individuals and small enterprises have to take responsibility, because there's not going to be a lot of after-the-fact law enforcement."
Police have few weapons against cyber-criminals Problem stems from lack of funds, training Greg Farrell December 6, 2000, Wednesday, First Edition Copyright 2000 Gannett Company, Inc. USA Today December 6, 2000, Wednesday, First Edition Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.