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Law Enforcement Agencies

Last updated May 23, 2003.

Internet-related crime, like any other crime, should be reported to appropriate law enforcement investigative authorities at the local, state, federal, or international levels, depending on the scope of the crime. Certain law enforcement agencies focus on particular kinds of crime. Citizens who are aware of federal crimes should report them to local offices of federal law enforcement.

Law enforcement authorities are tasked with the collection of physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and preparing reports that are presented to prosecutors, magistrates, judges, and juries. In effect, this means that it serves their purposes to conduct themselves as professionally as possible. In their case preparation, interviews are conducted by officers, prosecutors, and, at times, magistrates, and are subsequently compiled into reports that eventually find their way into the hands of litigating attorneys and the courts.

Computer forensics is a relatively new field that requires different skills and has different challenges from traditional forensics. In many jurisdictions, there is a shortage of trained computer forensics experts, and the forensics labs, which analyze the information, often have a significant backlog of work, lengthening the investigation process.

Military Law Enforcement Agencies

Military law enforcement agencies have the longest history of involvement with computer crime. They have been addressing the issues of attacks against military (.mil) computer systems and networks from the very beginning of the ARPANET. Generally, they focus on investigating attacks that either originate from or target military computer systems, involve military personnel, or encompass confidential military information.

Each branch of the military has a criminal investigation and law enforcement organization that leads the investigation. The Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID) and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) are made up predominantly of military members, whereas the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Department of Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) are not. All of the branches have a counterintelligence mission that is coordinated with the criminal investigation activities.

U.S. Federal Law Enforcement

Some federal law enforcement agencies that investigate domestic crime on the Internet include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Customs Service; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Each law enforcement agency has headquarters in Washington, D.C., and regional offices. In general, federal crime can be reported to the local office of an appropriate law enforcement agency. Federal law enforcement officers may be called in to track a hacker if the hacker gains unauthorized access to a federal government computer or to a computer system protected by federal law. Other federal agencies with investigative authority are the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) generally investigates violations of federal criminal law. The FBI uses a number of federal statutes to investigate computer crimes. The FBI is sensitive to the victim's concerns about public exposure, so any decision to investigate is jointly made between the FBI and the United States Attorney and takes the victim's needs into account. The focus is on national matters such as terrorism, espionage, attacks on the nation's critical infrastructures (such as communications, banking systems, and transportation systems); interstate crimes (such as organized crime, drug trafficking, bank fraud, environmental crimes, telemarketing fraud, kidnapping, sexual exploitation of children, and consumer product tampering); crimes against federal organizations (such as bank robbery, postal fraud, and threats against federal officials); and crimes committed on Indian reservations.

    Investigations are conducted within the attorney general's guidelines. The guidelines afford centralized direction, which allows for greater uniformity and control of national and international law enforcement efforts. These investigations provide evidence for the Department of Justice, which determines the viability of prosecuting the case.

  • The U.S. Secret Service investigates threats against the U.S. president and vice president, and crimes associated with financial institutions (such as bank fraud, telecommunications and computer crimes, securities fraud, and electronic funds transfer fraud); counterfeiting; and other currency fraud.

    Computers are being used extensively in financial crimes, not only as an instrument of the crime, but to hack into databases to retrieve account information; store account information; clone microchips for cellular telephones; and scan corporate checks, bonds, and negotiable instruments that are later counterfeited using desktop publishing methods.

State and Local Law Enforcement

Many state and local entities also investigate and prosecute computer-related crimes under the direction of the state's attorney general's office. The amount of resources put into the computer crime investigations varies from state to state. Resources are usually allocated in response to need, so until there are a number of computer crimes needing investigation the state may not be willing to fund the organization.

Local law enforcement is also constrained by its jurisdiction. Many computer crimes occur over the Internet and rapidly go beyond the boundaries of local law enforcement.

To report a crime, or to seek assistance relating to the investigation or prosecution of a computer crime, contact the law enforcement department within the county, state, or other jurisdiction where the criminal activity is occurring.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are responsible for the investigation of all computer crime offenses within RCMP jurisdiction. The RCMP also investigates such crimes where the government of Canada is the victim, regardless of primary jurisdiction. In addition, the RCMP can investigate offenses involving organized crime or offenses related to the national interests of Canada.

There are RCMP Commercial Crime Sections in every major city in Canada. Each of these units has at least one investigator who has received specialized training in the investigation of computer crimes. These investigators are supported by the RCMP High Tech Crime Forensics Unit (HTCFU), located at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa. HTCFU can provide technical guidance and expertise to all Canadian police departments and federal government agencies in relation to computer and telecommunication crime investigation.