Secret Service targets e-crime

With technology advancing at Internet speed, staying ahead of the learning curve has become a major focus for the government's fastest-growing agency — the U.S. Secret Service.

The Secret Service, which splits its focus between protecting heads of state and conducting criminal investigations, is one of the government's biggest weapons against computer crime.

"This will be the crime of the future," says Leo Jackson, an assistant to the Special Agent in Charge with the Secret Service. "The reason why we're expanding the number of people we have and dedicating more manpower and training is because we see the future."

The Electronic Crimes Special Agent Program began with a handful of specially trained agents in 1987. Today, that number has grown to 155, and it's expected to exceed 200 by the end of the year.

The agency also is giving agents specific electronic crime training, recruiting new agents with high-tech skills, working with industry leaders and analyzing new technology and products before they hit the market.

Agents see technology as the basis for an increasing amount of crime, including corporate sabotage and credit card fraud. Computers and the Internet give criminals their chance to be borderless and anonymous.

"It's low-risk crime," the Secret Service's Ray Ventura said. "You're in your house, in the privacy of your own home.... This is the future. We're going to do whatever it takes to keep pace. "

The Secret Service also is focusing on analyzing new products and services, and it alerts the vendor to any security weaknesses they find.

"Recently, we have made a special effort to contact companies that we have found have systemic weaknesses in products they're offering, " Lugo said.

The new technology they're watching the closest is wireless.

"You have multiapplication devices going wireless, " Lugo said. "All that information is being transmitted out in the open."

The upshot of these efforts is that the Secret Service is changing the commonly held view that the average computer criminal can outsmart the average law enforcement official.

"People think, "I can do this and how can they ever trace it?' " Ventura said. "I don't think they comprehend the experts we're putting in the field."

For more information about enterprise networking, go to Network World Fusion. Story copyright 2000 Network World Inc. All rights reserved.

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