Cybercrime creates new legal quandaries

by Lauren Kingsley | 10/11/00 5:00am

Experts in the fields of law and cybercrimes agreed that computer crime and cyberterrorism raise unique questions for law enforcement at a panel held yesterday in the Thayer School of Engineering.

Panelists included Michael Vatis, director of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, Ruth Wedgewood, a professor at Yale Law School and Richard Wiebusch '68, a litigation senior partner at the Boston law firm Hale and Dorr.

George Cybenko, a professor at the Thayer School served as moderator during the program.

The program was coordinated in response to attacks during the past year against American computer and network systems that violated U.S. law, but originated outside the United States. These included attacks against the eBay and CNN websites and the ILOVEYOU virus distributed earlier this year through e-mail.

The panelists addressed the challenges that cases of international cybercrime and cyberterrorism such as these pose for investigators, prosecutors and legislators.

Vatis said cybercrimes create a unique problem because "with cybercrime, you never know what you're dealing with until after you investigate." Vatis said a traditional bombing is identifiable, even if the perpetrator remains at large.

According to Vatis, cybercrime cases can be misleading.

What might seem like a minor case can stretch across international borders while conversely, a case which may seem like a threat to national security turns out to be teenage hackers having fun, he said.

Among the many concerns addressed by the panelists was "looping" -- when people who commit cybercrimes attempt to hide their trail by routing through foreign countries' computers -- and how this should be prosecuted.

Much of Wiebusch's work centers around internal corporate investigations. He said a question he faces in this field is how much authority the government should have in dealing with cybercrimes, and how much should be left to the private sector.

"How much can we rely on the government?" Wiebusch asked.

In response, Vatis acknowledged "the government is slow" to acquire technology that would aid in investigating cybercrimes.

However by forming the National Infrastructure Protection Center, Vatis said, "we tried to cut through the cycles of procurement and training so that we can get up to the cutting edge of technology. We've established partnerships to tap into companies with cutting edge technology."

Vatis said the center is also establishing partnerships in academia, such as with Dartmouth, in order to acquire other resources.

Condemning lack of personal responsibility in developing new cyberspace usage, Wedgewood said "people do not think they are held to the same standards as they are in the real world."

Wiebusch said that "there is certainly no agreement about what constitutes a crime" in cyberspace.

Wedgewood discussed the overall attitude of the "techies," who "are their own regime." There is a competition for affiliation among techies, which leads to the formation of "cybernations," she said.

"We are left with an 18th century sense of frontiers, boundaries, and nation states in a 21st century sense of cyberspace," Wiebusch said.

The program was sponsored by the National Infrastucture Protection Center of the FBI/Thayer School Cybercrime Punishment, the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for the Social Sciences.

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