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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Tor Primer for Probation and Parole Officers

October 11th, 2013

Probation and parole officers know about drug users and what to look for right? We test for drugs, we look for unexplained cash, and obviously for drugs. Well, recently, it was announced that the FBI had arrested the alleged leader of Silk Road,  a website on Tor, involved in the illicit drug trade. I am not talking about the sale of “fake pot” (“Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn”) which I mentioned way back in 2011.  I am talking about an open market for real marijuana, heroin, cocaine, literally any drug you can name it.

What are Tor and Silk Road,  what are their “urls” and how can I get there? Well, you can’t get there from here. Additionally, you also need to understand something about bitcoins, the digital currency used to buy and sell drugs and other contraband on the underground. Let me give you some information and some hints to help bring you up to speed. First, let talk about Tor, which stands for The Onion Router Network.   Tor was developed with funding from the U.S. Navy and allows users to surf the Internet anonymously. The user must download some free software to access Tor. If a used properly, Tor makes it very difficult to identify who a user is or what they are doing online. So difficult in fact, that the National Security Agency (NSA) considers it … “[s]till the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity” and that “[t]here are no contenders for the throne in waiting”. Well Tor also has an area, called “hidden services”, where users can set up websites. These websites can only be found while one is using Tor and have dominion ending in .onion.  So folks can set up hidden websites on a network where user’s activities can’t be traced. One final comment, Tor is not itself illegal to use or have. Yep, that is a perfect place to set up an illegal drug market.

Okay, now where do bitcoins come in? Well bitcoins are currently not regulated. They are in many ways untraceable and can be converted back and forth from regular currency. Additionally, bitcoins are maintained in an electronic wallet, which can be stored on a cell phone (there are apps for that after all). Finally, bitcoins have real value, trading in the area of $135 to $137 for one bitcoin. Are you following this? A hidden website for illegal markets, on a network where your activities can’t be traced, where you can buy things with an unregulated currency that is difficult to trace and very portable. It is a perfect environment for 21st criminal behavior!

In my previous drug-cyberspace related article, I provided some suggestions for probation and parole officers. Let me add a few to consider in light of the possibility of supervised offenders using Tor to get drugs, either for personal use or for sale:

  • Be aware of offenders with packing boxes/envelopes either an excessive amount for shipping or discarded packing containers.  Pay attention to where the packages are being set or received from. Out of country or out of state addresses might be a read flag, unless your offender is on E-Bay selling beanie babies. Consider having discarded packages tested for traces of drugs, such as with a canine drug detector.
  • Bitcoins are not illegal and can be used for legitimate purposes. Currently, monthly supervision reports ask for income, expenses, bank balances, etc. in dollars. So you are going to have to periodically make a separate inquiry about bitcoins. Start with tech savy and youthful offenders. Also ask those with anti-government views. Does your offender have any and how much? What are they doing with them and where are they getting them? These are valid supervision questions, particularly in light of their value and the potential to easily use them for illegal purposes.
  • Check their devices for electronic wallets that are used to handle bitcoin transactions. They can be stored on any computer, including smart phones. Be aware they can also be stored online.
  • If your are looking only at the browser history during your computer searches, be aware that Tor browsing history is not going to show up in the normal history. The Tor website can be accessed from a normal browser, that is how you get the software. Visiting the Tor website will show up in browser history, provided they haven’t cleaned their history.  However, accessing the Tor network is a different matter. Tor comes with bundled with a specific browser, currently Firefox, which connects to the network. This Tor configured browser could be anywhere on a device. There is even a portable application for using Tor from USB device. If you can do text searches, consider Tor (exact),  onion, and Vidalia (Tor creates a folder called Vidalia) . If you suspect your offender is using Tor for illegal purposes, also seek guidance from your local law enforcement computer unit. A computer forensic unit can help you find what they might be doing on Tor, provided you have a device for them to examine.
I don’t want to give you the idea that being aware of Tor, its hidden services, and bitcoins, is only a good idea for those who supervise drug cases. Weapons, explosives, false ids, hacking tools, etc, are also being bought and sold on this network and the hidden websites. Additionally, sex offenders are trading and distributing child porn via hidden Tor locations.  If you are supervising offenders in the 21st Century you are going to have to get up to speed with how the Internet and computers can be used inappropriately by criminals. Okay, that is my lecture for the day. Where did I put my cigar at? Be safe out there.


Thank you Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association!

October 7th, 2013

Today I was notified by the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA) that I am the 2013 Recipient of the Great Lakes Region Thomas E. Gahl Line Officer of the Year. The award recognizes & honors Federal Probations/Pretrial Officers, who make a significant contribution and provide outstanding services to the field of corrections. The Great Lakes Region is comprised of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. This particular regional award is named after Thomas E. Gahl, a U.S. Probation Officer, who was killed in the line of duty. Thanks again, I am truly honored.


What the heck does Tor, Bitcoin, and Silk Road mean?

October 4th, 2013

I plan on answering that question as it relates to community corrections in a few days. For now, check out my thoughts on this topic at this article: Policing the Silk Road: Is Law Enforcement Ready?. You are not going to want to miss my thoughts on this topic!


Taking it on the Chin: Legislatively Imposed Internet Restrictions for Sex Offenders

August 28th, 2013

Clear back on February 4, 2013, I gave some predictions for the coming year. I never finished my thoughts, getting waylaid by co-writing a book on Internet investigations. Sorry about that.  One of my last comments was… “what about the remainder of my 2013 predictions, such as sex offender Internet restrictions?”  It would obviously be silly to continue on with my Nostradamus imitation this late in the year. But what about my ending comment concerning Internet restrictions? Where are they?  As luck would have it we had a lot movement on Internet restrictions that warrant mentioning.

Before I go into these recent developments let me play a bit of catch up here on some cases which did not get previously mentioned by me.  All of the cases deal with First Amendment concerns regarding sex offender Internet restrictions and/or requiring disclosure of Internet identifiers as part of sex offender registration.  The first case, Doe v. Nebraska, 898 F. Supp. 2d 1086 – Dist. Court, D. Nebraska 2012, also concerned a Fourth Amendment issue.  

Doe. V. Nebraska was decided October 17, 2012, and was a Federal district court decision which struck down various sections of Nebraska 2009 sex offender restriction law. The enacted law was very broad and had covered both sex offenders who had completed their entire sentence as well as those serving a sentence (probation, imprisonment, or parole).  The Court struck down the law’s requirement that sex offenders disclosure their Internet identifiers as part of registration, concluding it violated the First Amendment. Additionally, the Court struck provisions that banned sex offenders from social networking websites, instant messaging, or chat room service that could be used by minors, again finding this provision violated the First Amendment.  Finally, the Court struck down provisions requiring “consent” to search and/or monitoring for sex offenders who had completed their sentence, concluding it violated the Fourth Amendment. However, the Court did NOT strike down the search/monitor provisions for those on probation or parole.

The next case occurred on January 11, 2013. On that date a U.S. District Court Judge granted the plaintiff’s motion for an injunction, blocking enforcement of California’s Proposition 35, which required registered sex offenders turn over a list of their Internet identifiers and service providers to law enforcement. (Case 3:12-CV-05713-TEH, Doe v Harris) This matter is now before the 9th Circuit. 

On January 23, 2013, the 7th Circuit in Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana, 705 F. 3d 694 – Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2013, struck down an Indiana law that criminalized sex offenders using  social networking websites or  instant messaging or chatroom programs that they knew could be accessed by minors. However, POLITICO’s  Tal Kopan (2013) correctly noted “The court was careful to note that its opinion does not prohibit including Internet restrictions as part of terms of release from prison for other sex offenders.”  

Okay, that brings you up to speed for what happened during this month.  On August 20, 2013, a North Carolina Court of Appeals struck down a law that made it a new crime for sex offenders to access social networking sites.(State v. Packingham, NC: Court of Appeals 2013). This is no surprise considering what occurred in Nebraska and Indiana. (Hello, Louisiana, are you listening? See Internet Restrictions Still A Viable Option )

The last case I want to bring up is Bykov v. Rosen, Wash: Court of Appeals, 1st Div. 2013, Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One, which was decided August 12, 2013. By the way, this case did not involve a sex offender.  Bykov was convicted of one count of e-mail harassment and was sentenced to  21 days and placed on probation with the following restriction: “Do not use any device connected to the Internet, be subject to search by probation, and cooperate by providing access.”  Bykov appealled contending the Internet restriction was an unlawful restraint because it infringed on his rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom to receive information under the First Amendment. His appeal was rejected. The Appellate Court noted in part:

Restricting him from further access to the instrumentality of his crime during his supervisory period was reasonably related to his crime, and it was a reasonable means of discouraging repeat offenses.”

Did you get that last part, “a reasonable means of discouraging repeat offenses?”  Restricting Internet access has always been seen primarily as a risk management condition. Now many of you might argue that the U. S. v. Kevin Mitnick,  145 F.3d 1342, 9th Circuit, 1998, was an early example of imposition of Internet restrictions as deterrence. But in that decision there was broad statement by the 9th Circuit, which held that the restrictions were … “reasonably related to legitimate sentencing goals.”  Deterrence, although  one of many sentencing factors noted 18 USC § 3553, is not specifically cited as a rationale. I think an argument could be made that many of the conditions imposed in Mitnick’s case were really about community protection. He was after all considered a “dangerous” hacker. In Bykov,  the Washington Appellate Court singles out Internet restrictions as a “deterrent” sentence. Maybe it is just me but I thought that was very intriguing. 

As I have repeated said, legislatures would do well to allow courts and parole authorities the discretion, if they chose to impose such restrictions, without mandating wholesale prohibitions based solely on the status of “sex offender.” Internet conditions/restrictions on community corrections cases (probation, parole, supervised release), properly crafted have been repeatedly upheld. The Bykov case signifies that separate and apart from managing cyber-risk, an Internet restriction can be punishment that deters future Internet misconduct. The idea that someone could be punished by Internet restrictions, regardless of the risk they pose, is I think, a new sentencing wrinkle. It will be interesting to see how far it goes. For now, I have a cigar burning somewhere. (Again, sorry about my extended hiatus. But I am sure you will pardon my absence when you take a look at Todd Shipley’s and my efforts on Investigating Internet Crimes, 1st Edition: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace, due out in November 2013)

Uncategorized ,

Posts to Resume: Finished Cowriting New and Exciting Book Concerning Online Investigations!

August 19th, 2013

Dear Readers:

For the last six months I have been busy working and have neglected this blog. I am sorry for that but it was for something I feel strongly about. My attention has been devoted to writing another book, this one with Todd Shipley, a  retired Detective Sergeant with over 30 years of law enforcement and civilian experience performing and teaching Internet and digital forensic investigations. I believe our book titled Investigating Internet Crimes, 1st Edition: An Introduction to Solving Crimes in Cyberspace,will be extremely useful for not only law enforcement but those in community corrections. The text describes in detail how to not only locate online information but also how to capture, preserve it and document it in a manner so that it can be used for evidence. Both Todd and I are very pleased with our efforts and believe it will very useful resource for those who must investigate online malfeasance. We have established a blog for the book and have also created a Facebook page.  Please check the blog  for coming details and updates and of course “like” our book on Facebook. The book is set to be released by Elsevier in November 2013, only a few months away! As I have this important text wrapped up, look for my posts to this blog to start back up again. Thank you for your understanding and support.


Art Bowker


APPA Webinar : Managing the Risks Posed by Offender Computer Use

May 18th, 2013

APPA Webinar : Managing the Risks Posed by Offender Computer Use
Only $10. Date June 5, 2013, Time: 2:00pm-3:00pm (GMT-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)

This webinar will discuss the 2011 American Probation and Parole
Association issue paper on managing the risks posed by
probationer/parolee computer use. Topics covered will include issues
with computer and Internet use by probationers and parolees or those
on supervised release; computer management; distinctions between
computer monitoring and searches; and an overview of inexpensive
monitoring tools for community supervision officers.


Part 1: Cybercrime/Corrections 2012 Predictions Revisited

February 1st, 2013

Last year about this time I gave some predictions based upon some things that were happening in 2011. I discussed mobile phones in prison, online drug sales, gambling, victimization as possible trends in 2012. Well, how close I was to the mark on these issues a year later? I am going to tease you a bit in this first of a two part examination of how I did and my predictions for the coming year. Lets start with mobile phones being a problem in prisons. At the time I wrote my 2012 comments, the FCC was I believe about a year into discussing promising solutions for blocking mobile phones in prison. One such solution was technology based, called, “contraband cell phone capture.” Jamie Barnett of the FCC described it as: …

designed to capture cell phones calls inside the prison, analyze whether the calls are from legitimate devices or not, and prevent completion of calls from unauthorized cell phones, in effect making those cell phones useless to inmates.”

That was rolled out at the start of 2011, a full year before my comments were made about mobile phone problem in prison. So the question is what occurred in 2012?  Did these technology solutions take hold, eliminating the mobile phone prison problem as an issue in 2012? Well, I don’t recall any high profile inmates like Charlie Manson being caught with a phone in 2012, which is a good thing.  In October of 2012, CA unveiled its plan, which seems to be based on the technology approach noted above. Wow, CA implements its plan almost three years after FCC highlighted the technology. Interesting that the article that discusses the new CA plan referenced that the same technology was reportedly unsuccessful in MS.    If I had to guess I would say states are having trouble paying for this new solution.

It sounds like Georgia doesn’t have such a system. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on January 1, 2013, that in one Georgia facility mobile phones were being used to export money of inmates family members. Basically, it worked like this. The inmate’s family would get a text message, plus picture of their family member from inside the facility from other inmates. The message was pay up or your loved one is going to get beat up or killed. This reportedly happened to three different families. GA prison officials could not substantiate these cases, but noted that cell phones were a continuing problem in their facility.  Sounds like for some reason (maybe financial), this issue seems to be getting addressed at the speed of a glacier. (And yes I saw the report of Brazilian prisoners using a cat try to smuggle, cell phones,  saws/drills, a headset, a memory card, cell phone batteries and a mobile phone charger into the facility. Interesting world we live in ain’t it!)

One thing that was interesting about prisoner communications, legitimate that is, was the FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making, dated December 28, 2012. The FCC is looking at reducing the cost for prison telephone calls. Basically, they are asking for comment about eliminating the per call charge and capping the per minute charge at between $.20 to $.25. One concern is this will negatively effect the telephone money maker for some prisons, who are suffering through trying financial times. We can only wonder if reducing the cost for these calls might make some contraband mobile phones less appealing. Clearly, this issue is not resolved and is a continuing problem for prisons.

Last year I discussed the illegal or questionable trends of online drugs and guns sales with an observation about the easy of purchasing both online. I specifically noted the number of gun sales online was increasing and doubted there would be any real legislative movement to curb or stop this as it was an election year.  Well at least on the drug front there was some good needs. On October 4, 2012, Reuters reported the FDA, working with international regulatory and law enforcement agencies shutdown over 18,000 illegal pharmacy websites and seized 3.7 million doses of counterfeit medicines worth an estimated $10.5 million.” So there clearly is an enforcement action, at least regarding online illegal drug sales. What about guns? Well, unfortunately, one of the all to0 many mass murder cases (Colorado movie theater massacre) involved the suspected killer’s online purchase of over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. Seems like it should be a lot harder to purchase guns and drugs online than it is. We will see if next year I can report a new law or two on this disturbing trend.

Okay, what about online gambling, how were my predictions? Anyone up for a bet? Well, I was in a word, WRONG. There I said it. I was WRONG. I noted last year that states would, “rush ahead,  without a lot of study on the possible negative effects of online gambling.” To date, only two states, Nevada and Delaware passed online gambling bills, with New Jersey posed to be the third state. In retrospect that is not a “rush”. We will see what happens in 2013.
What about the remainder of my 2012 predictions, such as sex offender Internet restrictions? How did I do on reading my cigar smoke in the future’s mist? What do I see in the future of my cigar cloud?  Stay tuned and I will fill you in in my next post. Speaking of cigars, where is that one I just lit?


Thank You American Probation and Parole Association!

December 18th, 2012

I got notified today that the American Probation and Parole Association is giving me the 2013 Sam Houston University Award. This award is presented to an individual who has published an article concerning probation, parole or community corrections, which provides new information and insight into the operation, effectiveness or future of the community corrections profession. They noted… “Not only have you published an article, you have been prolific in the number of articles you have published.” Most if not all of the stuff I have written this year has been on cybercrime. It has been a good day!

Uncategorized , , , Looking to Help Job Seekers and Agencies

September 13th, 2012

Finding employment, even an entry level corrections position, can be a trying task even in the best of economic times. You might be surprised to hear that correctional agencies also having a difficult time filling positions. Recruiting and retaining qualified talent is one of the toughest challenges facing corrections agencies today. Bringing together job seekers and correctional agencies is the idea behind is a collaborative effort of The Council of State Governments/American Probation and Parole Association (CSG/APPA), the American Correctional Association (ACA), American Jail Association (AJA) and the Center for Innovative Public Policies (CIPP), with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). provides in-depth comprehensive information about entry level and advanced careers in corrections. Employers are able to share relevant job posting information making it possible for job-seekers to locate job opportunities nationwide. also offers a practical and concise overview of corrections for those who are interested in the field. In addition, provides strategies to improve the effectiveness and retention of valuable correctional employees.
As the premier national website dedicated to promoting corrections careers, provides students or experienced professionals who are interested in working in corrections a valuable career tool because it:
  1. Identifies key advantages to a career in corrections;
  2. Presents an accurate and up-to-date description about the role and functions of various aspects of corrections (community corrections, jails and detention, prisons and institutions, and more);
  3. Describes the wide range of jobs and career choices for potential employees (traditional and non-traditional jobs in the corrections field);
  4. Summarizes the general requirements needed by applicants to join the profession;
  5. Highlights professionals who work in the field; and
  6. Enables job seekers to search open jobs on a full-featured, corrections-specific job board
For agencies provides the ability to:
  1. Reach a local and national audience of informed, interested and qualified candidates;
  2. Present them with detailed information about your agency;
  3. Post your jobs to the jobs board; and
  4. Search resumes of registered job seekers.
And what does this cost recruits and agencies you might ask? NOTHING. It is absolutely FREE! How cool is that? But don’t take my word for it. Check out the site at There is story on the website regarding the experience of a twenty plus year correctional professional from Maricopa County Adult Probation posted. Additionally, there is a really neat feature under “Career Resources” that allows recruits to hone in on a specific geographic area.
So my advice is go there now.Register yourself if you are a “job seeker” or your agency as an “Employer” on the site. If you are not the hiring person for your organization forward it to you Human Resources Department. One additional comment. also has a Facebook page, at . Friend them today. The more Friends the more folks hear about this, the larger the network, the better for those looking for corrections careers as well as those trying to fill the positions.


Employment, Computers, and Sex Offender Registration: Whats the Connection?

August 4th, 2012

Technology restrictions in corrections are really never far from my mind. So when an article or study comes out that touches, even remotely on the issue, I light up a cigar and commence reading. There were three recently that caught my attention.

Two articles appeared in the June 2012 issue of Federal Probation, which on first blush appear unrelated to one another.  The first article by Christopher E. Kelly and Jamie J. Fader noted that  nearly 1/3 of the employers in their study… “had moved to exclusively computer-based application methods, accessible via either a personal computer with an Internet connection or in-store computer kiosk.” The study further notes increasing these computer based methods require more time to complete, often include requests for details about  criminal history, self-reports of criminal behavior, self-reported drug use, drug tests, and credit history, and include personality assessments. Additionally, the study suggests that many offenders may have greater difficulty correctly navigating these technology based applications or at least getting pass their screening efforts, to get an interview. The study did not specifically address the impact of technology conditions for those offenders restricted from using computers or the Internet. However, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if employers are increasing using online applications than offenders who are prohibited from accessing computers are going to be at a distinct disadvantage. The second article did not touch on employment issues . It was by Daniel B. Freedman and discussed a study exploring the long-term risk of recidivism and registration failures among sexual offenders. (I just can’t seem to get away from the topic of sex offender registration. It is like gum you happen to step in on a 100 degree day.) Briefly the study found registration failure increases the likelihood of recidivism by 64%.  Freedman notes:
Evidence is accumulating that registration failures are linked to recidivism. The substantive trends are clear, even in research that does not find a statistical association (Duwe & Donnay, 2010). What is not apparent is whether registration failures truly approximate or predict criminal behaviors, or whether instead they represent other characteristics such as intelligence, poor communication skills, or systemic differences among criminal justice jurisdictions. In addition, to postulate a link between recidivism and registration failures, on its face, is rather simplistic. Instead, the association will most likely be convoluted by multiple mediating and moderating influences (Duwe & Donnay, 2010; Losel & Schmucker, 2005). For instance, this research finds that child offenders have more registration failures.”
For those few sex offenders that read my blog, neither Freedman nor I are saying there is a cause and effect relationship here. Freedman goes on to note that this link may also be impacted by race as well as adult vs. child offenders. He concludes further research is needed.
Okay you say. Interesting but I can’t see through all the cigar smoke to see the connection between the two articles. Well, the connection comes into play with the third article written by Nina Terrero which concerned a recent study which found one in six sex offenders were using techniques created by identify thieves to avoid their legally mandated registration requirements. She notes:
According to a study conducted by Utica College and funded by the U.S. Justice Department, an estimated 92,000 of the 570,000 registered sex offenders nationwide are using the internet to live freely and undetected while seemingly abiding by “court-imposed or statutory restrictions.”
Wow. Interesting huh. I got a lot of questions. What are the implications? What is the link between registration failure and recidivism? If sex offenders increasing need computer access to get employment, which is a good thing, what about those who appear to be using the Internet to bypass registration?  What do we do, hope for the best? There are pros to allowing computer access clearly. But there now seems to be additional concern with allowing access that was not thought of before. Now we have to consider that access may be used to “fly under the radar”, which has some kind of recidivism link. Obviously, we need more research to sort this stuff out.  But for now my suggestion is for supervised sex offenders, allow access but manage that access. I know I have said this before, but check out the American Probation and Parole Association’s issue paper on this topic,  “Managing the Risk Posed by Offender Computer Use” You might also check out this recent article in Law Technology News called, “How to Impose Technological Restraints on Criminal Offender?” , written by your favorite cigar smoker. What you thought I all I was doing was eating hamburgers and working on my tan lines?  Fooled you! But speaking of cigars, I have a lit one somewhere. Be safe out there!