What is Involved in a Cyber Crime Investigation?

Renee Booker

Computer crime encompasses a wide variety, and ever-growing, array of crimes. As a result of the many different types of computer crimes, the techniques and procedures used in cyber crime investigation are varied as well. Often, cyber crime investigation involves law enforcement agencies in multiple jurisdictions. Traditional law enforcement detectives, forensic accountants, and experts in information technologies are all frequently involved in investigating cyber crimes.

A cyber crime investigation may include monitoring credit card transactions for fraudulent purchases.
A cyber crime investigation may include monitoring credit card transactions for fraudulent purchases.

Common examples of crimes that may be classified as a cyber crime, or that may have a cyber component to them, include fraud, phishing, and identity theft, as well as terrorist activities and child pornography. Crimes such as fraud and identify theft are often accomplished through phishing. "Phishing" is the term used to describe the illegal acquisition of personal information over the internet. Cyber criminals often hack into personal files, or trick people into giving away personal data and/or account information, over the internet which they later use to make illegal purchases or transfer money from bank accounts.

Cyber investigation may be used to investigate computer crimes or to track records of criminals using computer forensics.
Cyber investigation may be used to investigate computer crimes or to track records of criminals using computer forensics.

Aside from financial and identity crimes, a cyber crime investigation may also target terrorist activities or child pornography activity that is carried out over the internet. Terrorists, as well as child pornographers, often use the anonymity of the internet to aid in the commission of their crimes. The internet also provides an endless supply of potential buyers of pornographic videos or photos for child pornographers.

Much like traditional crimes that leave a paper trail, cyber crimes often lead a digital trail. The first place to look in a cyber crime investigation, then, is to follow the digital trail. All internet correspondence or transactions must have a point of origination. Finding where the communication or transaction originated is the job of the law enforcement officials who work in cyber crime investigation.

Cyber crime investigation often requires investigators to sift through massive computer files trying to connect all the dots. Often, the suspect has attempted to delete incriminating files or communications. For this reason, information technology experts are frequently used to retrieve deleted files or communications from computers to ascertain what information the suspect was trying to hide.

Once the information is located, a forensic accountant is often called upon to make sense of the information located when the crime is a financial crime. Cyber crimes such as fraud or embezzlement often entail very complex banking transactions that require an expert to understand and follow. A forensic accountant is someone who is trained to discover even the smallest inconsistency in financial records.

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