Saturday, February 07, 2009

To Catch a Thief…

There’s an old adage that says that it takes a thief to catch a thief, a saying that leads us to believe that every cop, detective or any other person in law enforcement who’s any good at their job must have a mind that has a little bit of a criminal bent. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true – every criminal who does not want to be caught, ultimately masters the art of covering his tracks and staying just out of reach of the long arm of the law.

Computer forensics is a not just a science, but an art as well – for those who have the innate skills to handle the tasks that go with this field, no technology is too complicated and no thief too difficult to catch. The real problems begin when the criminals begin to use forensics too, not to catch others of their kind, but to sweep away evidence of their crimes and leave nothing behind for the investigators who are sure to follow their tracks.

The age of the computer and the rapid advances we are making in the field of technology is something that would never have been thought possible a few decades ago. It’s this advancement that has made criminals out of some of us – the lure of easy money and the possibility of an almost certain escape is too good an opportunity to pass up for those who don’t have too many ethics or moral values; and this is why we have people breaking into networks and security systems to access credit card and other personal and sensitive information.

Today, while it’s true that the good guys have an arsenal of forensic tools at their disposal to help catch the bad guys, it’s also true that the bad guys are becoming really good at beating the good guys at their own game. They’re going back to school too, so that they can learn the tools of the computer forensic trade in the legitimate way, and then use these methods to prevent and avoid detection.

There are criminals who perpetrate crime when the opportunity presents itself; and there are those who religiously plan and execute their crimes. For the latter kind, nothing is too hard or too difficult. They’re often master strategists who are adept at hiding their tracks and moving from one operation to the other to avoid being caught. And this makes computer forensics a more challenging field – how do we prevent the knowledge that’s available from being misused?
Besides the legitimate forensic tools, there are those that straddle the thin line between legal and illegal; and when these are used in conjunction with those that are allowed to be used, they form the most lethal combination because they trick users into believing that the whole operation is legit.

If education is knowledge and knowledge is power, then we must ensure that this power does not fall into the wrong hands. For when it does, there’s nothing we can expect but disaster on a large scale.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of forensic science careers. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com

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