“Everyone leaves a digital footprint,” said Barry Matson, deputy director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, who recently spoke about Internet safety and cyber crime to members of Leadership St. Clair County.
Matson said people begin to leave a digital footprint when they get up in the morning.
“How many people use an alarm clock or use their phone as an alarm clock?” he said. “I use my iPhone as my alarm clock.”
Matson said a preset coffee pot or disarming the house alarm also leave a digital trail.
“And how many people check Facebook or text or tweet or check their e-mail first thing in the morning?” he asked.
Matson said these digital footprints are things that can aid law enforcement in investigating crimes.
“Bad guys leave digital footprints, too — it’s part of what they do every day,” he said. “Getting law enforcement to recognize that it’s in every case is a challenge.”
Matson said there is a real need to train local law enforcement officers in those areas.
“The good guys need to stay up with the changing technology, too,” he said. “That way juries can get all the information.”
Matson said the National Computer Forensic Institute in Hoover trains law enforcement across the nation on a variety of Internet and cyber issues.
He said computer crime is a crime in which a computer plays an essential part.
According to the Alabama Computer Crime Act, Code of Alabama Section 13a-8-101, a computer is defined as “an electronic magnetic, optical or other high speed data processing device or system which performs logical, arithmetic, and memory functions by manipulations of electronic magnetic or optical impulses, and includes all input, output, processing, storage, computer software, or communication facilities which are connected or related to the computer in a computer system or computer network.”
“Cell phones with Internet access and applications are the computers of the future,” he said. “So many things can be done with these smart devices.”
Matson said law enforcement officials have dealt with laptops and desktop computers for a long time, but technology is moving to smart phones or clouds in cyberspace.
“It’s a new, daunting world for law enforcement,” he said.
Matson said according to the World Bank, identity theft and computer related crimes have surpassed the international drug trade in revenue.
Tips to combat identity theft include:
• Never give your personal information unless you initiated the contact.
• When purchasing online, make sure the site is secure (look for the lock).
• Password protect all your accounts and use numbers and letters.
• Drop your mail off at the local post office and use a post office box to secure incoming mail.
• Have mail held at the post office while you are out of town.
• Invest in a shredder.
• Do not carry your passport, Social Security card or birth certificate on you unless you are going to need them that day.
Matson said individuals should also take precautions to protect their computer networks. Even smart phones with Internet capabilities can act as open networks.
He said open networks allow individuals to send unsolicited e-mail, known as junk e-mail or spam.
“Most spam is relayed via ‘bots,’ a term used to describe personal computers that online criminals have taken control of surreptitiously with ‘computer viruses,’ ‘Trojans’ or ‘worms,’” he said. “They link these ‘bot-nets’ through networks. The larger the network, the greater the volume of spam and the more computers infected.”
Matson said spam e-mail causes a loss of job productivity and a huge expense for consumers to repair. Three to four million compromised computers are active at any given time on the Internet. Millions of other computers can be used to launch “disrupted denial of services” attacks or “shakedowns.” Online shakedowns occur when attackers overwhelm websites with useless data and demand payment to stop — cyber extortion.
“Phishing scams are also common,” he said.
Matson said phishing involves e-mails or pop-up messages that claim to be from a legitimate business. Once at the site, they ask for personal information, which you should not give.
He said individuals should be especially wary if asked for their credit card number, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords or other personal information.
“Don’t open e-mails or attachments you don’t recognize,” he said.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.