As state and local police struggle to investigate cybercrime, official describes 'helpless feeling'

Despite an explosion of cybercrime in recent years, many state and local law enforcement officers aren’t equipped to deal with it. As a result, conduct that results in significant financial losses and could create major security risks goes uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

For example, the state of Utah was able to track down and recover most of $2.5 million stolen from it in 2009 by freezing the money in a Texas bank account to which it had been wired by cyberthieves, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. But when it came to identifying the culprits, law enforcement was stymied, officials said, because they could never figured out who hacked a state agency or how.

“It was just, for us, kind of a helpless feeling,” Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Squires told the newspaper.

In addition to the loss of substantial and growing amounts of funds online because of uncontrolled hacking, a lack of law enforcement on the Internet also creates national security concerns because of the vulnerability of utility systems, among other government-run operations.

Yet lax enforcement remains a serious problem, for two reasons, the WSJ article says: First, unlike the FBI and Secret Service, state and local law enforcement agencies lack training and staff expertise in the information technology skills that are needed to solve cybercrimes. Second, even if the perpetrators are identified, they often are located overseas, where state and local agencies lack jurisdiction.

The FBI has been working with state police in multiple states, giving some troopers top-secret security clearances in order to teach them how to track hackers. That, of course, only addresses one of the two cybercrime enforcement issues.

“Legally, I’m not going to Romania,” Lt. Mark Brown of the New York State Police told the newspaper. “That’s where a lot of these cases are coming from.”

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Organized crime leaders and terrorists cross paths in cyberspace”

ABA Journal: “Threat of cyberattacks must be recognized and responded to, ABA president urges lawyers”

ABAJournal.com: “Cyberattacks need to be fought with laws at federal and state levels, ABA House resolves”

ABAJournal.com: “As Hackers Steal Up to $1B Annually from Biz Bank Accounts, Victims May Have No Recourse”

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