Cyber Unit takes a ‘Byte’ out of crime

In a day and age of a society surrounded and dependent on technology, criminals have been able to take on a new look. In fact, they are able to take on any identity they would like and prey on those who don’t know any better. But, as these criminals take on a new look so does law enforcement.

The St. Charles Cyber Crime Unit has been a fully active unit since August 2001 and serves several counties throughout the state, including Lincoln County. Their one mission, stop cyber crimes through forensic analysis of media suspected to contain evidence of criminal activity and to protect families and children from the hunt of sexual offenders by assisting such groups as Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

“When we began the Cyber Crime Unit in 2001 we were getting a lot of crimes, in general, that had significant amount of technological components involved, whether it was computers and various other things,” explained Christopher Mateja, supervisor for the St. Charles County Cyber Crime Unit. “At the time, to get those things analyzed you would have to send them off to the Highway Patrol because they were only one of the few places that had some sort of group together to do computer forensics.”

Mateja went on to explain how that led to St. Charles Law Enforcement creating their own forensics lab, in conjunction with St. Louis City and help from the Illinois State Attorney Generals Office.

“They had a program already set up, so they were able to give us some of our initial training,” said Mateja. “In the beginning of all this we had two or three officers who were really committed and involved. There was a lot of free training, Federally available back then, which allowed us to get as much training as we could thanks to grants and what not.”

Since then the St. Charles Cyber Crime Unit has grown immensely. Agencies whom now participate in this program include Lake Saint Louis Police Department, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, O’Fallon Police Department, Palmyra Police Department, Pike County Police Department, Saint Charles City Police Department and the Wentzville Police Department.

“Our first four or five months we had maybe 10 cases, in computer forensics. Since then we have grown to not just doing the computer forensics part but also Online Investigation, which geared towards child exploitation.”

In 2012, the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force were able to help in the investigation of 309 individuals involved in child prostitution, 1,570 in possession of child pornography, 119 cases involving the manufacturing of child pornography and much more. They were also able to provide 423 presentations, which reached approximately 46,000 individuals, including schools, businesses, law enforcement agencies and the general public.

“We do computer forensics on any type of crime that’s out there,” explained Mateja. “Doesn’t matter if it’s homicide or whatever, we will look at the components that way at the computer forensics lab, but most of our own online activity is geared towards crimes against children.”

One of the biggest surprises Mateja said he has seen was the lack around the state of other organizations and agencies becoming involved in this kind of program. However, that was at the beginning stages. Now, there are several agencies involved and officers throughout the state who represent the Cyber Crime Unit and a lot more inquiries from other agencies that may not have a unit yet.

“Another big surprise to me was just the blatant acts of some people when we’re talking about child crimes,” said Mateja. “They think their talking to a child and just don’t care.”

What Mateja is referring to is similar to “How to Catch a Predator,” a show that airs on MSNBC. The Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force will hold sting operations in cooperation with law enforcement agencies to catch child predators, sexual offenders and even as of late, cyber crimes that result in death by acts such as bullying.

“We do get a lot of calls with people talking about, ‘this person said this and that person said that and they are bullying,’ but that is freedom of speech,” said Mateja. “You can go online and tell someone you don’t like them but when you start doing certain activities and start being repetitive towards a particular person it becomes bullying.”

Mateja said the Cyber Crime Unit is starting to take less cases pertaining to cyber bullying because more law enforcement agencies are able to handle it theirselves, they have been fully trained to do so. However, for the agencies that don’t have the training, the Cyber Crime Unit will.

“We put a lot of training out there to show these agencies what to do and how to do it,” said Mateja. “But if they do seize a computer or something electronic is involved, generally we will still get it and process it at our lab.”

One of the biggest advantages the Cyber Crime Unit has is it’s regional task force, which covers seven counties, but they also run the state grant program for the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which allows them to coordinate their efforts with an additional 13 other regional task forces around the state.

“Each regional task force generally covers several counties,” explained Mateja. “When looking at the some of the numbers I mentioned earlier, it’s staggering to see. I mean in comparison to other areas in say Florida, Texas, California or what not, they are small, but it’s still unsettling to see what happens right here at home.”

Each county agency has their own unit leader. For the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department it is Detective Chris Bosley, a veteran of the United States Marine Corp and a 13-year veteran in law enforcement. Bosley has trained in undercover and online investigations. He is a member of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force and the Secret Service Gateway Electronic Task Force.

“We have a great group throughout the state,” said Mateja. “Everyone shares the same level of commitment and passion to keep our children safe; to keep our families safe.”

Some examples of what these units have done can be seen just in their numbers. But other cases just leave a bad taste in a person’s mouth. According to Mateja, one case, which was possibly the worst he has ever been a part of included the sexual assault of three young girls by a woman and two males while babysitting. The victims were seven-months-old, three-years-old and five-years-old and were not related to the any of the people charged. The abuse took place in early 2012 and it was believed the offenders were recording the abuse digitally. The Cyber Crime Unit was alerted after a hotline call was placed to a state agency. Since this case, one offender has received a 15-year sentence, another was sentenced to 10-years and the third is scheduled for sentencing sometime this year.

“It’s hard sometimes to separate yourself from work,” explained Mateja. “But I think it’s hard for anyone who has been doing this as long as some of these officers have. I mean you have to teach yourself to be trusting and know not everyone is like this, but when you see cases like this one, it can be a challenge.

In light of crimes like this, Senator Roy Blunt is co-sponsoring a bill to create Cyber National Guard Units.

“As cyber-attacks are something we’re increasingly more and more concerned about, having people in the Guard who are also out there every day in the IT community would be an incredible way to increase access to skilled employees that the uniform forces may not be able to afford,” said Blunt. “I believe Missouri could certainly be a proto-type for what these units should look like nationwide. When I asked General Alexander, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, during a SASC hearing about the irreplaceable talent our citizen soldiers and airmen bring to the fight, he wholeheartedly agreed.”

The Cyber Warriors Act of 2013 is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (Del.), David Vitter (La.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Patty Murray (Wash.).

Currently, there is a shortfall of both capability and capacity at both federal and state and local government levels for cyber security. According to experts on the federal-level, the Pentagon alone is short by approximately 10,000 cyber experts with only 2,000 currently in place. The Cyber Warrior Act of 2013 would ensure there is a trained presence available to respond to domestic or military emergencies, provide training to State and local law enforcement and support cyber event detection.

Specifically, the bill would establish Cyber Guard units in each state and territory, which can be activated by the Governor or Secretary of Defense, depending on the response needed. These cyber teams would combine active guard and traditional Guard members, leveraging members’ private sector IT experience. The use of the Guard would also support the goal of retaining the cyber-trained military personnel who would otherwise leave the service.

“We are a technological society and as it continues to grow we have to be ready,” said Mateja. “We have to be educated and diligent and most importantly we have to protect those who otherwise may not be able to protect themselves.”

For more information on the Cyber Crime Unit or the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force visit http://preventcybercrime.org, http://moicac.org or call 636-949-3020 ext. 4447.

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Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 9:42 am