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Careless Law Enforcement Computer Forensics Lacking InfoSec Expertise Causes Suicides
From: Jason Coombs <jasonc () science org>
Date: Sat, 01 Oct 2005 08:17:34 -1000

34 people have killed themselves in the U.K. after being accused of purchasing child pornography using their credit card numbers on the Web between 1996 and 1999; and thousands have been imprisoned around the world for allegedly doing the same. Two of the first, and still ongoing, large-scale investigations of credit card purchases of child pornography through the Internet are known as Operation Ore (U.K.) and Operation Site Key (U.S.) -- tens of thousands of suspects' credit card numbers were found in the databases used by the alleged e-commerce child porn ring, and law enforcement's careless misunderstanding of the Internet and infosec (circa 1999) resulted in every single one of the suspects being investigated and thousands have so far been prosecuted and convicted.

Was your credit card number in the Operation Ore / Operation Site Key database? How would you know unless and until you've been arrested?

Over the last few years I have seen numerous cases in which the computer forensic evidence proves that a third party intruder was in control of the suspect's computer. More often there is simply no way to know for sure what might have happened between 1996 and 1999 with respect to the computer seized by law enforcement at the time of arrest years later.

If security flaws, porn spyware, or mistakes by an unskilled end user resulted, over the years, in some child pornography being downloaded to a suspect's hard drive, even in 'thumbnail' graphic formats and recovered only using forensic data recovery tools that carve files out of unallocated clusters, then the suspect is routinely charged, since the presence of child pornography on a hard drive owned by a person who is accused of purchasing child pornography is the best evidence law enforcement has to prove guilt of these so-called 'electronic crimes against children' -- crimes that are proved by the mere existence of data, where it matters not that a suspect did not and could not have known that the data existed on a hard drive that was in their possession.

I ask you this question: why doesn't law enforcement bother to conduct an analysis of the computer evidence looking for indications of third-party intrusion and malware? Some people have indicated to me that sometimes law enforcement actually does do post-intrusion forensics; though this decision is entirely up to the prosecutor or forensic lab director, and if they don't put in the time to do this they still get their conviction so there is presently no incentive to spend hundreds of hours analyzing large hard drives searching for evidence of intrusion just in case one might have occurred.

A substantial factor in the answer to this question is that it is nearly impossible to know what might have happened to a computer over the years, and most computers are used by more than end user to begin with. Not only is there no way to differentiate

Every person convicted of an electronic crime against a child based only on evidence recovered from a hard drive that happened to be in their possession should be immediately released from whatever prison they are now being held.

Law enforcement must be required to obtain Internet wiretaps, use keyloggers and screen capture techniques, and conduct other investigations of crimes-in-progress, because the current approach to computer forensics being taught by vendors such as Guidance Software (www.encase.com) and others (who just happen to sell products designed to analyze and search hard drives) makes the outrageous assertion that a person can be proven guilty of a crime based only on data that is found on a hard drive in their possession.

There is simply no way for law enforcement to know the difference between innocent and guilty persons based on hard drive data circumstantial evidence. Something must be done to correct this misuse of computer evidence, and whatever that something is, it is clear that only an information security organization is going to be able to explain it to law enforcement and legislators.

Regards,

Jason Coombs
jasonc () science org

--

http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/article316391.ece

30 September 2005 21:24

No evidence against man in child porn inquiry who 'killed himself'
By Ian Herbert
Published: 01 October 2005

The credibility of a major investigation into child pornography came under renewed scrutiny yesterday after an inquest into the death of a naval officer who was suspended by the Royal Navy despite a lack of evidence against him.

The Navy suspended Commodore David White, commander of British forces in Gibraltar, after police placed him under investigation over allegations that he bought pornographic images from a website in the US. Within 24 hours he was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at his home in Mount Barbary.

The inquest into his death heard that computer equipment and a camera memory chip belonging to Commodore White had yielded no evidence that he downloaded child pornography, and a letter was written by Ministry of Defence police to Naval Command on 5 January this year indicating that there were "no substantive criminal offences" to warrant pressing charges. But the Second Sea Lord, Sir James Burnell-Nugent, feared that the media would report the case and on 7 January removed him from his post anyway.

Despite accepting the news in a "steady fashion", the commodore was dead the next day. His brother Rupert told the inquest that the news of his removal had caused his "mental collapse", and that he was in "a state of catatonic shock".

The head of the Royal Navy, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, expressed his "deep regret" over Commodore White's death yesterday, after the inquest recorded an open verdict.

The coroner, Charles Pitto, said there was insufficient evidence to conclude whether the commodore's death was accidental or suicide. If it was suicide, it would have taken to 34 the total number of people who have killed themselves after being identified as suspects by Operation Ore, Britain's biggest child-sex probe. The nationwide police investigation was launched three years ago after a list of 7,200 British suspects was handed to British police by US authorities. The men on the list are accused of using credit cards to pay for child porn through Landslide, a sex website that operated in Texas from 1996-99.

The results have seemed impressive. Nearly 4,000 people have been arrested, some 1,600 have been charged and 1,200 convicted. But the operation has placed some apparently innocent individuals under suspicion. In one case at Hull Crown Court last year, a distinguished hospital consultant was acquitted after it emerged that hackers had used his credit card on Landslide. The judge dismissed some police evidence as "utter nonsense".

Robert Del Naja, frontman of the group Massive Attack, was also wrongly accused of downloading child pornography. His arrest in 2003 was leaked to the media, but the case was dropped. The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, the most high-profile name to emerge so far from the Ore list, was not charged because he had not downloaded any pictures, and said he had been doing research for a book about child abuse.

The inquest heard Commodore White had reached the peak of his military career. During the 1990s he was on the military staff at Nato HQ in Brussels and was promoted to Captain in 1997, when he became the assistant director for naval operations during the Kosovo conflict. In 2001, he was appointed captain of the Second Submarine Squadron, and was in charge of Trafalgar class submarines. He never married, but was seen as very sociable.

The credibility of a major investigation into child pornography came under renewed scrutiny yesterday after an inquest into the death of a naval officer who was suspended by the Royal Navy despite a lack of evidence against him.

The Navy suspended Commodore David White, commander of British forces in Gibraltar, after police placed him under investigation over allegations that he bought pornographic images from a website in the US. Within 24 hours he was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at his home in Mount Barbary.

The inquest into his death heard that computer equipment and a camera memory chip belonging to Commodore White had yielded no evidence that he downloaded child pornography, and a letter was written by Ministry of Defence police to Naval Command on 5 January this year indicating that there were "no substantive criminal offences" to warrant pressing charges. But the Second Sea Lord, Sir James Burnell-Nugent, feared that the media would report the case and on 7 January removed him from his post anyway.

Despite accepting the news in a "steady fashion", the commodore was dead the next day. His brother Rupert told the inquest that the news of his removal had caused his "mental collapse", and that he was in "a state of catatonic shock".

The head of the Royal Navy, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, expressed his "deep regret" over Commodore White's death yesterday, after the inquest recorded an open verdict.

The coroner, Charles Pitto, said there was insufficient evidence to conclude whether the commodore's death was accidental or suicide. If it was suicide, it would have taken to 34 the total number of people who have killed themselves after being identified as suspects by Operation Ore, Britain's biggest child-sex probe. The nationwide police investigation was launched three years ago after a list of 7,200 British suspects was handed to British police by US authorities. The men on the list are accused of using credit cards to pay for child porn through Landslide, a sex website that operated in Texas from 1996-99.

The results have seemed impressive. Nearly 4,000 people have been arrested, some 1,600 have been charged and 1,200 convicted. But the operation has placed some apparently innocent individuals under suspicion. In one case at Hull Crown Court last year, a distinguished hospital consultant was acquitted after it emerged that hackers had used his credit card on Landslide. The judge dismissed some police evidence as "utter nonsense".

Robert Del Naja, frontman of the group Massive Attack, was also wrongly accused of downloading child pornography. His arrest in 2003 was leaked to the media, but the case was dropped. The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, the most high-profile name to emerge so far from the Ore list, was not charged because he had not downloaded any pictures, and said he had been doing research for a book about child abuse.

The inquest heard Commodore White had reached the peak of his military career. During the 1990s he was on the military staff at Nato HQ in Brussels and was promoted to Captain in 1997, when he became the assistant director for naval operations during the Kosovo conflict. In 2001, he was appointed captain of the Second Submarine Squadron, and was in charge of Trafalgar class submarines. He never married, but was seen as very sociable.

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