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Microsoft hosts LE Tech 2008 conference
Written by James Careless
This is why the company recently staged LE Tech 2008 from April 28-30, 2008, at its Redmond, WA campus. Short for Law Enforcement Technology 2008, LE Tech 2008 was a three-day intensive training session aimed at teaching police how to better combat cybercrime. According to Microsoft, nearly 400 law enforcement officials from more than 35 countries attended the event. Among the topics covered were how to investigate crime on personal computers, servers, mobile phones, and the Internet.
“LE Tech is part of a broader partnership strategy in which Microsoft offers tools, training and technical support to help law enforcement stay one step ahead of the criminals,” explained Tim Cranton, associate general counsel of Microsoft’s worldwide Internet Safety programs. “We offer what we do best—technology—to help law enforcement do what they do best—investigate and prosecute crimes.”
“We understand from our law enforcement partners that cybercriminals are technically sophisticated, leaving a ‘digital divide’ between the resources and manpower that the criminals use to perpetrate crimes versus the resources that law enforcement agencies have to defend against them,” Cranton continued. “Through training events like this week’s LE Tech, we hope to close that digital divide and help ensure that law enforcement keeps an edge over criminals. To date, we’ve provided training to over 6,000 officers representing 110 different countries.”
“The first principle [in fighting cybercrime] is the enormous importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors,” noted Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith during his address to LE Tech 2008. “We each have unique things that we do well, and what’s critical is that we find new ways to do what we each do well, and do them together in a way that makes each of us better as a result.”
This begs the question, “What is Microsoft doing to help in the fight against cybercrime?” The answer: Back in 2002 when the company was launching its Trustworthy Computing Initiative, “We recognized the importance of enforcement as a key component of a comprehensive security strategy designed to make the Internet safer and more secure for everyone,” said Smith “Thus the concept of the Internet safety team and the definition of our charter began.”
Today, the Internet Safety Enforcement Team is made up of about 35 professionals around the globe, including former prosecutors, investigators, software engineers and business professionals whose full-time job is to make the Internet a safer place...Our charter is to partner with governments and the technology industry on prevention, investigations and enforcement to help stop spam, phishing, malicious code, botnets, online child exploitation, spyware and other cybercrimes. LE Tech is a great example of how we do that.”
During his talk at LE Tech 2008, Smith gave the delegates a taste of COFEE. Short for Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor, COFEE is a portable investigative software tool that fits on a USB drive. When you obtain a perp’s PC, just plug in COFEE and start collecting the evidence! COFEE was invented by former Hong Kong policeman, turned Microsoft developer, Anthony Fung. “Anthony joined Microsoft four years ago and became part of our Internet safety enforcement team,” Smith said. “One of the things he recognized was the difficulty involved in extracting information from a computer, not just a computer hard drive, but also the connections between a computer and the Internet, live, in real time.”
“He recognized that using traditional tools, typically what someone needed to do was unplug the computer and take it back to the office,” Smith told the delegates. “Now, of course, immediately that led to the loss of whatever Internet connection was in place. And, as he concluded, it often took up to four hours for somebody to get the information they needed. So really taking his passion around this idea, he conceived of and designed this new program, a program that we like to think of as a Swiss Army knife, if you will, for law enforcement officers. It has 150 computer tools on it. It can be programmed to do all of the work automatically, in which case it can do what it needs to do in about 20 minutes, instead of four hours.”
Launched in June 2007, COFEE has already been picked up by 2,000 police officers in 15 countries; including Germany, the Philippines, Poland, New Zealand and the United States. “We provide it free of charge, because we believe in the value that it creates for all of us…value that was demonstrated recently in a case in New Zealand, a case where a forensic examiner was able to take this, plug it into a computer, decrypt the password, and get at other data, and get the evidence needed to lead to the arrest of an individual involved in the trading of child pornography.”
Beyond COFEE, Microsoft helps law enforcement agencies track down the bad guys where they work. For instance, the company worked with the city of New York to convict a Manhattan man for operating a sophisticated “phishing” operation, said Cranton. “The defendant targeted his victims by writing fake job descriptions and soliciting personal information from the applicants. Based in part on information provided by Microsoft investigators, the New York District Attorney’s Office obtained three guilty plea felony convictions for this attack.”
Smith said, “One of the most inspirational stories [of police / Microsoft cooperation] is in the so-called Operation Vico. It’s the story of a criminal who used the Internet in part to engage in the worst forms of child exploitation; he was a serial child abuser. He then proceeded to post images of himself with his face erased…so that he could continue to do what he was doing while remaining anonymous.
“Well, the police in Germany were able to use new technology to restore the image that he had erased, and they captured his face in a photo. Once they did that, they provided that photo to media outlets. And very quickly there were 350 tips that came forward, and that, in turn, led to the identification and the arrest, and the prosecution of that individual. More important, it meant that he could not do those things any more.”
Time and again the presentations at LE Tech 2008 proved that computer technology can actually help law enforcement crack down on cybercrime, especially when a knowledgeable firm such as Microsoft lends a hand. “We’ve done some great things together,” Smith said, “and those successes should inspire us to achieve even more.”
James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2008
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