Amid heightened awareness of terrorism and computer attacks, computer crime professionals gathered at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut this week to hone their cybersleuthing skills at the third annual Cybercrime conference.
The three-day conference and exhibition tackled a wide range of security-related issues from hackers and worms to intellectual property theft, computer forensics and organised crime.
Unlike other security-focused IT trade shows that tend to focus only on how to prevent crimes, Cybercrime also addressed ways to investigate and prosecute computer crimes.
The audience comprised crime professionals from law enforcement, government and the private sector in equal parts, said James Doyle, president of Internet Crimes, a high technology training company that hosted the conference.
As in past years, the purpose of the show was to call attention to the growing sophistication of computer criminals and to raise the level of sophistication of those charged with investigating computer crimes.
"Law enforcement must be aware that technology is continually advancing and that the criminal element will adopt new technology as it comes along," Doyle said. "It's not like fingerprints, where you can train someone once and they can lift prints for the next 20 years."
To tackle the problem, Cybercrime attempted to combine technology with education and awareness training for those who confronted or investigated computer crimes, Doyle said.
Unlike past years, however, the looming possibility of both war and terrorist attacks were on the minds of both attendees and show organisers.
Despite the high visibility of domestic security on the show's agenda, most law enforcement personnel interviewed said the threat of cyberterrorism was remote compared to the day-to-day challenge of fighting crimes such as identity and intellectual property theft or child exploitation.
But for Doyle, the lack of a major, documented act of cyberterrorism doesn't make the threat less real.
"People say that the cyberterrorism threat isn't real, but three years ago, who imagined that the World Trade Center would be brought down by hijacked airplanes?" he said.
Law enforcement needed to be more aware of how computer crimes could be used by terrorists to achieve their goals, Doyle said.
The US government's decision to increase the national threat level and the Columbia space shuttle disaster combined to pull away two of the conference's scheduled speakers, but Doyle counted the three-day event a success.
The threat of terrorism aside, wireless and biometric technology got a lot of attention from show-goers, Doyle said.
Attending his first-ever Cybercrime show, an investigator at the Office of the District Attorney in Colorado Springs, Jack Wegert, said he benefitted from a session on conducting investigations of international economic fraud and a discussion on working with law enforcement by Joseph Sullivan, senior counsel for rules, trust and safety at eBay.
Although he was asked to cover a wide range of criminal cases, Wegert said that, more and more, he was investigating economic crimes involving the Internet.
Though not a "techie" by his own admission, Wegert said that he benefitted from the educational sessions, from learning about the tools available to law enforcement and from meeting other law enforcement and technology professionals in the field.
"I wish I had this six months ago," Wegert said.
Although fewer in number than at other security related shows, technology vendors exhibiting at Cybercrime 2003 reported a good turnout this year compared with pregious years.
"It's grown considerably," a senior account executive for Enterasys Networks. James Donahue, said.
Donahue, who has attended all three Cybercrime shows, estimated attendance at this year's show at about800, up from about 200 when it began three years ago.