Oct 13 2014

The Way Ahead for Utah’s Cyber Unit

The new unit will address a range of cyber-related crimes, including network intrusions and high-level Internet fraud.

The Utah Department of Public Safety is undergoing a multiyear effort to develop its cyber crimes unit and bolster capabilities for investigating electronic data theft, unauthorized wire transfers, distributed denial-of-service attacks and other computer-related crimes.

In a white paper released last month, the department detailed the challenges and its vision for creating a state cyber crimes unit. One issue the department addressed early is the need to effectively deal with cyber criminals outside the United States. A partnership with the FBI is helping to fill that gap.

“Both entities recognized a partnership would leverage finite resources so citizens, businesses and government agencies affected by cyber crime would have redress,” the document states.

The partnership falls under Operation Well Spring, which launched in July 2013 to create a national platform for investigating Internet crime. It has provided a channel for the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to work with the department “to develop better investigative leads for direct dissemination to state and local agencies,” Richard Quinn, national security assistant special agent in charge at the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office, stated in written testimony before a House subcommittee in April.

State agents in the FBI's Salt Lake City division received about 25 cases involving more than 900 victims and $2.5 million in losses. Utah’s cyber unit works closely with the FBI Cyber Task Force and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov), said Keith Squires, commissioner of Utah’s Department of Public Safety. The FBI’s IC3 database contains more than 3 million complaints from victims of Internet fraud, computer intrusion and other cyber crimes.

While Utah has identified IC3.gov as the best place for citizens and local law enforcement to report cyber crime, the challenge is to create and fund a public awareness campaign to drive people to the website.

Training Cyber Prosecutors

Utah wants to establish training for state prosecutors and eventually embed an official in its cyber unit to address technical aspects of prosecuting cyber crime. “A tremendous amount of pre-case work is needed simply to determine whether or not a crime and/or suspect can be identified,” the white paper noted. “The importance of training prosecutors and understanding the difficulty of placing a suspect behind the computer or intrusion can be a challenge.”

So far, Utah has accomplished these things, among others:

  • Given personnel specialized training
  • Coordinated scarce resources at all levels
  • Created a formalized structure to address cyber crime
  • Made international arrests through the Cyber Task Force