Data sharing critical to law enforcement

With today’s interdependent computer systems, a single hacker can create an enormous amount of havoc.  Those interconnections also make it critical that law enforcement agencies can access other organizations' data and tools to investigate and prosecute computer-related crimes.

In a "growing and unsecure" cyber ecosystem, agencies need to share data quickly and effectively with partner organizations, Bruce Welsh, unit chief in the FBI's Cyber Division, said at IBM's Government Analytics Forum on May 5.

Jamie Holt, cybercrime unit chief at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, said outside tools proved crucial in Project VIC, an ambitious initiative to tackle child pornography.

After seizing 6 petabytes of data in 2015 -- the equivalent of 77 years of high-definition video -- Holt's 6,000 agents faced the daunting challenge of combing through all that evidence. HSI ameliorated the backlog with a tool that could pull out previously identified images, thereby cutting a nine-month review backlog down to one month and reducing the number of times agents had to view graphic images of abuse, Holt said.

Even with a better internal data-wrangling scheme, HSI still needed international help because abusers are often in one country, victims in another and servers storing child pornography in a third, Holt added.

Vijay D'Souza, director of the Government Accountability Office's Center for Enhanced Analytics, said fraudsters aren't always linked to all their crimes because one jurisdiction uses their full name in records while another relies on initials. Establishing information-sharing agreements among agencies to reduce lag times and standardize data formats is a must, he added.

Linking criminals to their activities is especially tricky internationally, but it’s critical, said Kenn Kern, chief of staff of the Investigation Division at the New York County District Attorney's Office. Trying to fight financial crime without quick, effective data transfers between London and New York is a fool's errand, he added.

For Holt, integration is the name of the game -- between organizations and tools alike.

"It takes a lot of time for a human to process all that information within each individual tool," Holt said, adding that many vendors' tools don't connect well with others.

Interoperable tools and data are the key to giving law enforcement a clear picture of threats and crimes in an ever-swelling mountain of data, Holt added.

This article first ran on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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