Editor's Desk: Networks becoming criminal accessories

Wyatt Kash

The assault on network systems by cyberintruders has become so unrelenting that most IT managers treat it as routine. They've adapted their systems with a wide array of defenses that work pretty well at keeping the barbarians outside the digital gates.

But for all the advances in IT security'and mandates to secure federal networks'break-ins may turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg of a larger liability problem in which computer networks are being used for illicit purposes.

As computers have become an ever-greater part of our daily lives, so too has their use as accessories to criminal activity and misconduct. While statistics are hard to come by, most law enforcement agencies agree they are facing a daunting new reality where the clues to a growing number of crimes lie in a virtual world of data trails.

That presents challenges not only to agencies such as the Secret Service, whose agents now train in computer forensics (See special report, beginning on Page 1). It also presents a new set of considerations for network managers whose systems are increasingly likely to become the subject of crime scene investigations'or at least, more comprehensive audits.

As a growing number of government documents are created, modified and disseminated in the digital world, a process that was once intended to make work easier is growing more complicated. Records managers face a growing dilemma of how best to manage and distinguish native documents from their derivative cousins. Version control and collaboration tools will help. But the possibility of a surprise visit by a forensics investigator is no longer far-fetched. The answers to questions such as who handled thousands of documents, how were they modified and when'and how can one be certain'will come under increasing scrutiny.

These and other risks of crimes, misconduct or systematic errors involving agency networks are bound to prompt new and growing concern in today's digital age that will and should go well beyond the IT department.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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