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What is a Cyber Investigation?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cyber investigation is the process law enforcement officers use to track criminals via the computer. This process may be to investigate computer crimes or it may be to track records of criminals using computer forensics. Most branches of law enforcement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to small town police departments have departments or officers dedicated to catching criminals via the World Wide Web. Computer crimes is an area of criminal activity that includes Internet fraud, pornography, hacking, copyright infringement, and malicious viral attacks. Also known as cybercrime, these illegal activities may be perpetrated across the globe using a computer with Internet access.

To conduct a cyber investigation, the officer usually first receives a complaint from a victim. For example, in the case of a person who ordered goods from a website but never received the product and was still charged, the officer would take the victim's statement and follow up with the company in question. By reviewing charge receipts and the company's financial statements, he can determine whether Internet fraud had been committed. If a crime did occur, the officer will file a warrant with the company based on its jurisdiction and charge the company owners with fraud.

For other crimes such as pornography or computer hacking, the officer conducts his cyber investigation with software designed to track Internet movements of specific users or Internet protocol (IP) addresses. When the software alerts the officer that a specific website has been accessed or compromised, he can gather information regarding the user's identity by tracing his IP address back to a specific service provider. A warrant will be required to get the actual name of the user and other pertinent information, such as address and phone number, from the service provider. Once the warrant is served the officer can arrest the violator.

Copyright or royalty infringement is another area where cyber investigation may be necessary. This is most often an issue for the music industry with unlawful downloads. With the invention of the MP3 player, many websites have allowed free downloads of individual songs or entire albums of music without paying the record company or the artist. Scanning artwork or stealing written work and publishing it on the Internet is also a copyright infringement that is often investigated.

Malicious viral attacks are more commonplace as criminals become more computer savvy and businesses use computers and the Internet more in their daily activities. A viral attack, or virus, is the term used to describe a deliberate introduction of computer code intended to harm software or hardware. When the criminal sends a virus via an email, for example, it may cause the recipient's computer to delete or modify files, send the virus to everyone on the same network, or even shut the entire computer down.

In extreme cases, viral attacks have infected millions of computers causing significant downtime, lost earnings or revenue, and sensitive online records to be compromised. For large-scale viral attacks, the FBI may conduct a cyber investigation to pinpoint the origin of the virus and attempt to create a computer code fix. If the originator of the virus is found, he may be prosecuted if the virus was intentional.

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