"Hardening the Target" in Cyberspace: Assessing Technology, Methods, and Information for Committing and Combating Cyber rime

Donald J. Rebovich, Utica College of Syracuse University
Gary Gordon, Utica College of Syracuse University

Computer technology has dramatically altered the criminal justice terrain such that enterprising and opportunistic criminals have consciously turned to the computer to commit their illegal acts in situations in which the computer serves as the instrument of the crime, the means by which the crime is committed, as well as in cases in which the victim's computer, or computer system, is the target, or objective, of the act. The presence of new computer technology aids cybercriminals from hackers to cyberterrorists, offenders who, to a great degree, depend upon the lack of technological skills of law enforcement to successfully commit the offenses and escape undetected. The goal of this paper is to provide insights into how to enhance abilities to effectively control computer crimes. Drawing from lessons learned from routine activities theory, the paper stresses the importance of reducing the "skill distance" between what computer criminals have learned to successfully commit their crimes and what law enforcers need to know to successfully bring these offenders to justice. The paper explains the role of "target hardening" to close the gap between offender capabilities and those of law enforcement to counteract the criminal acts and help dissuade decisions leading to future criminal acts. The authors present information generated through the NIJ Law Enforcement Needs Assessment Study, the Air Force Forensic Information Warfare Study and through the authors' survey of law enforcement practitioners familiar with computer forensic tools. This survey was designed to determine what computer forensic tools law enforcement practitioners use most frequently, what are the perceived strengths of the tools and what are the perceived weaknesses. The authors have relied upon empirical data from these three studies for guidance in identifying those needs considered most critical for improving computer crime investigative skills and most essential for reclaiming the technological advantage over cybercriminals.

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Updated 05/20/2006