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To supervise a predator
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 02/04/2008

Cyber Many of us may have already skipped out on our New Year’s resolutions, but the United States Congress is hoping to stick to at least one of its own: create tougher penalties for cyber crime offenses. The Department of Defense just held its sixth annual Cyber Crime Conference this January, which examined everything from digital forensics training to cyber crime law.

While more and more resources are being devoted to catching the hackers, online sexual predators, and spammers of the world, not nearly enough attention has been given to what happens once they’re caught. In the community supervision field, pretrial and probation officers in particular have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to managing cyber offenders.

Corrections.com spoke with Roger Pimentel, a senior U.S. pretrial services officer for the Central District of California and sex offender program specialist about the ever expanding cyber crime landscape. Pimentel is coordinating the first ever National Symposium on Cyber Crime and Expo geared towards corrections professionals, to be held February 11 to 14 in Long Beach, California.

CC: The Internet is becoming a pretty big place, so how exactly is cyber crime defined today?

RP: Cyber crime is the use of a computer or technology to commit criminal offenses. My being in the sex offender business, I see it with the possession of online child pornography and offenders trying to lure children online, but cyber crime goes beyond that. You’ve got guys out there committing major white collar crimes, fishing scams on eBay, even the digital scanning of fraudulent checks. Terrorist organizations are using online, white collar types of rings to support their mission. Cyber crime spans from sexual predators to terror groups to your everyday computer hacker who wants to infiltrate government systems and perhaps commit espionage. The potential of cyber crime and the criminally oriented is borderless.

CC:What skills do pretrial and probation officers need to manage these offenders?

RP: To be a forensic expert or certified forensic examiner you need thousands of hours of training and certification classes, and that’s kind of atypical for probation and parole officers. Those are not the typical kinds of skill sets that people who got into this field have. But different types of crimes have evolved to the point where the offender is using new technology, so the skill sets needed to monitor them have gone in a different direction.

We don’t all have to be technical geniuses, but we’re hoping to enhance the knowledge most of us have at the moment. There are a lot of federal offices working on this issue. They want to put something together in terms of new training, but have no idea where to start. Offenders have been using technology a long time to commit offenses. As a profession, corrections needs to catch up.

CC: What technology do you use to monitor sex offenders’ computer use? How could you tell if, say, they went to a library to use the computers there?

RP: There is an array of monitoring software programs that we use in our district. We use something called “Impulse Control.” That allows us to monitor every website that they visit, even every keystroke. It’s almost like remote monitoring. A lot of times, for example with the sex offender, we’re not necessarily monitoring their activity, but monitoring their patterns.

So say they’re using the computer on a regular routine, say three hours a day. If all of a sudden we don’t see any computer use at all, that could mean maybe they’re not using the monitored computer, which is usually the home computer. It could mean they’re using it elsewhere. Then the supervision strategy for that individual might go in a different direction. You might conduct a search to see if there is a hidden laptop. So that’s how monitoring works.

Now, when it comes to actually searching a computer, that requires the probation or parole officer to dismantle hard drives and search them. That type of search requires very specialized skills, which again goes back to the fact that the skill sets are changing.

CC: The upcoming National Symposium on Cyber Crime & Expo is the first ever of its kind. How did such a huge undertaking come about?

RP: In a lot of ways, it started with the fact that different officers in the federal system were doing different things. There was no uniform consensus on how to mange and supervise the cyber offender. We thought let’s put together a national conference and bring together the leading experts in the field and try to identify some of the better supervision practices out there. It’s the first type of cyber crime conference actually geared towards corrections, probation, parole, and pretrial. It’s an indication of the times that we need to look at the traditional skill sets to manage this type of offender.

CC:What do you have planned?

RP: We’re going to have Kevin Mitnick speak, who is perhaps the most famous computer hacker ever. He was a criminal who hacked into many government programs and computers, and now he’s a security consultant.

We’re going to have a representative from the Department of Justice talk about the legal issues surrounding cyber crime. We’re also going to have Dr. David Delmonico of Duquesne University talk about the motivations and behaviors of sexual predators online. He actually does a real time presentation online in a chat room.

The whole conference could actually go for three and a half weeks if we wanted to. We have sponsorship from the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association, and a huge exposition with vendors and exhibitors of computer forensics software. Practitioners can come in and see what tools are out there if an agency or district wanted to invest in more resources.

CC: Why is it important for probation or pretrial officers to learn these new technologies and skills? Can’t the forensic specialists take care of those offenders that require them?

RP: I think as the criminally oriented continue to use technology to commit crimes there will be a growing need for the individuals who supervise them, whether pretrial or supervised release, to have those skills. The reality is the technology is not going anywhere and the bad guys are out there using it for their benefit. Now we have to use it to manage them.

Related Resources:

Information on the Cyber Crime Symposium

Learn more about the monitoring software

In the news: Ten indicted in international spamming scheme


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