How Cyber Crime has Evolved
When I came up with the idea to write a police detective, I met with some friends who were cops and detectives. Their help was invaluable. One of them was a TPD cyber crime expert, Phil Uhal, who generously showed me how he dealt with cyber crime—particularly men who lured young girls over the internet.
The reason I’m bringing this up, was due to our one-night stay at a Gilbert, Arizona, hotel, where Glenn and I wound up watching a 48 Hours episode, showcasing cyber crime—mostly men who lure underage girls, in this case, a fifteen-year-old girl who fell for a man who made a beeline to her town to kidnap her. He lured her from the Kik Messenger application.
If Laura was going to solve this case TODAY, it’s likely that the bad guy, Music Man, would be using Kik, or something like it.
Now that so many people are using social media (almost distraction—I’m talking to YOU, J. Carson Black!) it’s as easy as can be. In fact, thinking back to the Olden Times, it all seemed a bit quaint. As you will soon see, Laura was pretty out of touch back then. Back then, the Dark Net was a little more like this:
Laura watched as Jay pulled up a no-frills site, devoid of graphics.
Ramsey said, “Welcome to WiNX. This is the quintessential Internet relay chat program.”
Laura tried to remember what Buddy Holland had told her. “Does it have something to do with Instant Messaging?”
“That’s the currency. People talking to each other in real time. You’ve probably done something like it on Facebook or Yahoo.”
“Uh no.” (Author note: I wrote this before I became a Facebook addict!)
He twisted in his chair a little, smiled. “The principle is really simple. You put yourself out there and pretty soon someone wants to talk to you.”
He hit a couple of keys and brought up a screen that reminded Laura of her first experience with a computer, back in the covered wagon days. “That looks like DOS.”
“See? You know more than you think. WiNX is a DOS-based system. See these?” He keyed down through several lines of old-fashioned courier print and pointed with a thumb. “These are channels—rooms where people with like tastes can meet. There’re probably 20,000 channels on WiNX right now.” He flinched again, moved in his seat. Looked at her. “Am I confusing you?”
She remembered how Buddy had thrown technical terms at her without telling her what they meant–enjoying her discomfort. She hesitated to make a fool of herself, but couldn’t help asking, “Are they kind of like TV channels?”
“That’s as good a description as any. Imagine a station with unlimited channels on everything you can imagine.” He clicked on another page. “WiNX has been around forever. The thing you’ve got to know is that this is the real underground. There are no controls. Nobody’s watching you to see that you don’t go over the line. There’s nothing to stop you from doing anything you want to do. It’s a no-man’s land.”
Laura felt a kinetic snap in her spine. A no-man’s land. She got the feeling that she was on the brink of knowing something she’d rather not.
He scrolled down what seemed like miles of print. “Ah, here we are.” He clicked on something called Warezoutpost.
“Warez is ‘wares’,” Jay explained. “As in ‘let me show you my wares.’ See? Software for games. Movies, music. This is where the kids are at because they can download stuff for free.”
He showed her how to locate what he wanted, a movie called Ghost Recon. “This is what draws the kids. Free music, movies. I’m next in line if I want it.”
With a few clicks to the keyboard, he moved on.
“The kids are always the first to know. You can get anything you want off these boards. They cater to every taste. This one is general, but there are channels where kids talk to each other.” He pulled up another window. “Let’s see what we’ve got in the Girls’ Room.”
“The Girls’ Room?”
“I call it that. It’s used by lots preteen girls.”
He pointed out the list of names on the sidebar to the right. “Those are the people in the room now. What I’m going to do is …” He hit a key and then typed in a name, erased it, and typed in another. “Gotta have a nickname.” He typed in “nick1amber/.” This was accepted, and then he typed: “hi.”
It showed up like this:
Laura heard a chime and a message box popped up. Jay pointed to the status bar and Laura saw the name Gitmo.
Gitmo: how old r u?
“He wants a picture.”
Amber: ok were you fro?????????
Gitmo: CA u?
Laura heard a chime. Another person wanting to talk to Amber. Jay hit a key and another instant message box popped up.
“He’s asking her age and sex.”
Amber: almost 13
Jay nodded to the status bar at the top of the screen. Podunk’s name changed from red to black. He was gone. “Wrong age,” Jay said, going back to Gitmo.
Gitmo: where you been?
Amber: My mom calledm e
Gitmo: send me a pic
A flurry of chimes. Four new names lit up the board.
Amber: well see how old r you?
Gitmo: you ever had sex?
Amber: I had a bf last year
Gitmo: Did bf getta bj?
Amber: You sonud mean!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Gitmo: can’t handle a joke LOL
More chimes, the board lighting up with suitors. Jay opened another instant message box.
Smooth Talk: Amber u a little girl?
Amber: im thrteen how old r u???????????????
Smooth Talk: let me see a pic
Amber: I have 1 at shchol school – not here
Smooth Talk: where d you live
Amber: I live in az
Smooth Talk dropped out. Back to Gitmo:
Gitmo: I want a pic
Amber: not fair if u don send me pic toO
Gitmo: you playing games little girl
Amber: fairs fair my pic for yours
Gitmo: if you don’t want to fuck your wasting m time
Gitmo’s name went from red to black.
Jay sat up straighter, twisted, adjusted himself against the back of the chair. “That’s what you’re dealing with. These creeps are on these boards all day, trolling for kids.”
Laura was about to say that she didn’t think any child would fall for that, and then shut her mouth.
Children would fall for it. Teenagers would fall for it. Because they had not yet developed that distrust life ground into you over the years, like grime into clothing.
“We did a survey,” Jay said. “Among parents. They think of computers as just another appliance, like a TV set. They don’t realize it’s like leaving the back door to your house open. Anybody can come in, and some of these guys are really smart. They know how to push the buttons.”
“How do you find someone like this? Can you find his ISP?”
“Doubtful. Guy like that, he’d use one of the big servers, like Earthlink, Hotmail—it’s easy to be anonymous. There are search engines that you can look on, but I’m pretty sure this guy wouldn’t have a local ISP.”
“But there’s an easier way. That’s what’s so interesting about technology. Sometimes the best things are simple. You know the photo you have of him? We can probably trace him through that.” He hit a couple of keys and a beach scene came up on the screen.
“This is why you need me.” Sounding cocky. “Not many people can get their hands on this kind of software.”
He explained that there was something called image recognition software, which could break up every photograph into its elements, then run each element against all kinds of databases, looking for a match. He zoomed in on a man on the beach. “See this guy’s T-shirt? With the software I’m going to use, I can run a search for exact matches. It’s like a search engine, instead of searching for like words, it searches for images. I’m going to need the original photo, though.”
“From what Endicott said, it was a digital photo, and the only thing we have is an inkjet picture.” She nodded to the black-and-white photocopy. “It’s not all that much better than that.”
Jay looked troubled. “It might be harder, but we can still do it. Where is the original?”
“Endicott’s FedExing it—I should get it today.”
“What we’ll do,” Jay said, “is re-scan the picture using high resolution. Then I’ll compare it to the databases. It might take a few days, though.”
“You sure you can’t find him with the ISP?”
“I’ll try that, too. I’m warning you, though, this guy isn’t your average Internet user. I think you know that.”
“But this image recognition software, it’ll take a few days? That’s a long time.”
“How many days has it been so far?”
Too many, she thought.