the ghosts of digital crime

The Register posted an article about Max Butler being busted again by authorities. Two things about this article.

1) As if we don’t need more awareness of wireless insecurity…oh wait, obviously we do. Max would go to hotels and intercept wireless communications. Hello there, ripe opportunities!

2) In the bootnote, I see, “Some kids think they can’t get into trouble for hacking computer systems…” Now, let’s look at crime in general, let alone digital crime. I’d be willing to say that people are not so much caught breaking into something as they are caught bragging about it or trying to sell any goods they stole from said breaking or hacking. If I intercept and break into your wireless network from a hotel room, unless I’m stupid and visited my gmail account on your network, you likely aren’t going to have anything on me. If I steal your wallet, I’m a ghost. Until I show up at the grocery store and attempt to use that credit card or cash that paycheck you received….

However, I would say an exception would be when you discover a break-in while it is in progress. A guard seeing someone climb a fence could stop a theft and arrest the intruder. The same might be said about a digital break-in, possibly. But still, a breakin where I actually get away means I’m a ghost.

I want to brainstorm a moment. The steps of a theft?

a) Someone decides to commit a crime. Often, crime occurs in a moment of opportunity or desparation. I don’t plan to steal someone’s wallet, but when I see it just lying there, or that accountant computer sitting unlocked… Or I can’t pay my bills and absolutely need money or go homeless… Otherwise, commiting a crime typically means overcoming some internal moral compass and disregarding external moral judgements. Many people don’t run red lights because that’s Just Bad or because other people are watching. Same with many crimes. They don’t occur because they are Just Bad. Which is why the first time is the hardest, and repeating offenses are so important to watch. Other than maintaining cultural morals, you can’t do much about this. The digital age has largely removed the “people are watching” barrier (the external moral judgements), especially on the Internet. Just ask any child predator.

b) Someone is breaking in. You have a great chance to catch someone here, or thwart their attempts. Guards, alarms, dilligence, logging, monitoring, razorwire, locks.

c) Someone has broken in and left. This is the ghost stage. Unless they left behind some solid evidence, they’re a ghost. Take inventory and try to determine motive or start cleaning up.

d) Profiting from the crime. This is the next chance to really catch someone when they attempt to sell the goods or do something with their ill-gotten gains. Whether it is bragging or selling credit cards, this is the next tripwire where you can catch someone. Of course, if the goods are not trackable, such as common cash, then you’re still out of luck. If I steal your wallet, grab the cash, then burn the rest, you’re still out of luck when I buy some 40s with the cash.