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Where are the men in black?

Where are the men in black?

How quaint computer security was in the old days. As recently as two or three years ago, security was seen as a dull backwater.

Complex, high-impact computer crime was mostly hypothesis: what "might" happen. There was plenty of cybercrime, but it was (we can now see) relatively experimental in nature and its effects were, bar the odd attention-grabbing event, mostly a technological nuisance.

It's become a truism to say that the arrival of organized crime has changed this, a metamorphosis that probably has its roots as far back as the mid-1990s.

What's interesting but less remarked on, is the way that the sudden and entirely predictable arrival of the professional cybercriminal has started to change not only the laws of the land but the shape and nature of the authorities tasked with holding them at bay.

The cybercop is not someone most of us have met, but this is a new breed of policeman it's safe to predict we will be hearing more and more of in the next decade. A few of us - or our children - may even end up being one.

By late 2001 the FBI had its own dedicated, cybercrime division and the private sector is starting to supplement this.

An FBI swoop on the alleged writers of the Zotob worm turns out to have got its leads from the cybercrime division of Microsoft. The worm affected Windows 2000, so it's not surprising that the company should become involved. But it's interesting that the world's largest company now pays people to perform this function at all.

Isn't Microsoft supposed to be a software company? Like any major 21st Century software company, it now has its own police force as well.

Today, computer crime is still seen in many countries as prankish, perhaps because the public can't point to that many victims or unpleasant effects. Because so few frontline policemen in most countries have little idea of what digital crime is about, reporting it is also likely to be considered a waste of time. Traffic policing was probably like this in the days before the average citizen could drive.

Digital crime can originate anywhere on the globe, be directed at anyone, and occur 24 hours a day, every day. This isn't what the proponents of globalization imagined when they saw in the Internet a new medium for worldwide commerce.

The virtual police station can't be far away.


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