With all the recent news about the “sins” of tech companies, let’s take a look at the positive side. There’s never been a worse time to commit a crime online.
Let’s start with the Manafort case. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates didn’t report tens of millions of dollars to the IRS – a brazen act, when you look back at it. Anyone trying to cheat the US government out of millions of dollars is taking a huge risk. The recent trial was like a commercial for the IRS – “Pay your taxes, or else.” Rightly so.
Technology was essential to FBI and IRS investigators. Emails, text messages and PDF documents were dissected. Speaking of text messages – encrypting text messages is good. But storing them on the cloud is not a wise idea. When you back things up, consider what you don’t want to back up. Then again, for the vast majority of us, an FBI agent would fall asleep bored out of his mind reading all of our What’s App messages. Paul Manafort didn’t realize this – he backed up his text messages to the Apple cloud.
Everything Manafort and his former partner Rick Gates did left a digital footprint.
Drug Dealers With Twitter Accounts
Then, last week I read about a French Israeli who was busted for selling drugs to FBI agents via the dark web. The criminal complaint reads like a Law & Order episode. FBI agents saw a handle used on the site and connected dots to identify a suspect, who flew to the US on his own, not knowing he was a suspect. Now the young man has 20 years to consider how secure the dark web really is. This story was like a commercial for the FBI – “If you sell drugs on the dark web, don’t sell to the US, because we will catch you.”
According to one article I read, “tracking him down involved the DEA, FBI, IRS, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.” They even compared his writing on the dark web to his Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Besides the obvious lesson of don’t break the law, the lesson here is that the dark web is not a safe platform for criminal activity. The dark web may prevent one computer from identifying another, but it doesn’t stop criminals from accidentally leaking info all over the place to FBI agents and law enforcement around the world.
Your 3rd Cousins’ DNA
In the US, investigators are using public DNA sites to catch killers and rapists from cold cases. Yes, it is strange to think that a 3rd cousin could upload his or her DNA to the internet and have this result in the arrest of a distant relative. As long as they don’t use it to bust grandma for a 30 year old unpaid parking ticket, most of us won’t mind seeing even more bad guys convicted.
The premise of the TV show Person Of Interest was that the government created the internet and social media so people would expose everything and the government would just collect information about us and use it to stop the worst criminals. I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories (though I loved Person Of Interest), but it is a very sane thing to realize – the government scours the internet and dark web in order to identify criminals.
Today Vs The 1970’s
Let’s compare this reality to the 1970’s. Criminals didn’t store their secrets in the cloud, and nor did they have social media accounts. 1970’s investigators had to wiretap the phone or location – which is still done today, but in the 1970’s, drug dealers didn’t post their photos on Instagram.
When you leave your home today, you assume that some or all of what goes on is recorded – by a sophisticated traffic light, building or store security and by random people filming stuff on their phones. It doesn’t bother most of us, because we’re not doing anything that would interest anyone – for better or worse. But anyone who does do something stupid in a public place is digging a much bigger hole for himself in 2018 than in the 1970’s.