A Case of Cyberstalking or Cyber-Annoyance?

A story recently caught my eye from woman noting how she has been a cyberstalking victim for “15 years.”  My first impression was how could this be and her victimization must be stopped.  However, upon critical examination the catchy headline is really not supported by the story’s content.  In some ways, the woman is quick to criticize the law enforcement response to her plight, which I believe is somewhat misdirected. Based upon the information she provided it is clear she is a victim but the duration and the illegality of the situation is being overstated.

Let me first say that this woman notes in the article that her stalker, “Danny,” had made no “threats of violence.” His conduct has been of a harassing nature. This is important. Under the federal cyberstalking statute, “cyberstalking” includes any course of conduct or series of acts taken by the perpetrator on the Internet that place the victim in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, or causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to the victim or the victim’s immediate family (See 18 U.S.C. § 2261A and Blanch and Hsu).  Based upon the women’s story we are limited to conduct that would reasonably expected to cause … “substantial emotional distress.”

The second issue is the victim has known Danny for 15 years. Not all of those years of interaction could be termed “harassment” in a legal sense, let alone stalking. She indicated that she started interaction with Danny when she was 12 and he was 14.  At first the interaction appears to have been mutual but he became too obsessive, so she blocked him. I am not sure if she told him to buzz off or just blocked him. If she just blocked him without telling him to stop then he might not have realized she had enough. We know from her article that she blocked him sometime in high school.

In about 2006, Danny sees her on Facebook and sends her a “friend” request, which she accepts.  If she felt the previous interactions were that disturbing why in heavens name did she accept?  We clearly are running into difficulty equating her response as indicative of someone who suffered “substantial emotional distress.”

Danny shows up unexpected and she agrees to have coffee with him, accepts his gift, and interacts with him. Does she block him from Facebook afterwards? No, she continues to allow him to send messages to her and have him as a Facebook friend until 2012. So for six years she keeps him as a Facebook friend. Again, is that indicative of someone suffering “substantial emotional distress?”

Finally, for the first time in 2012, she tells him to mediate his behavior noting in part… “sent him a message asking him to please stop messaging me so much or I’d block him.” He continues to send messages and she FINALLY blocks him.   Note, that she was willing to continue him being a friend, provided he quit sending so many messages.

From then on, the situation has gotten to what is clearly negative and indicative of harassment. In short, this is a case were possible criminal conduct has been going on for really about four or five years, not fifteen years, as she portrays.

Finally, she decides to make an official police report and goes to some lengths to point out law enforcement’s apparent ineptitude.  She goes so far as citing New York penal code, on cyberstalking, noting Danny’s conduct was “…is likely to cause such person to reasonably fear that his or her employment, business or career is threatened, where such conduct consists of appearing, telephoning or initiating communication or contact at such person’s place of employment or business.” I believe based upon her version of events that his conduct likely does fit this particular statutory element. Ironically, the women also included in her story an additional statutory element … “the actor was previously clearly informed to cease that conduct.”  She then glosses over the second element concluding that law enforcement was wrong in telling her no crime was committed.  The problem is for a crime to be successfully prosecuted ALL elements must be proven.

However, her own facts fail to support that her harasser was “clearly informed” to cease his conduct. Sure, she blocks Danny on AOL, only to later accept his friend request on Facebook.  We have one incident where she tells him to stop sending so many messages or she will block in on Facebook. She later blocks him after he sends more messages.  After that she appears to accept his conduct and there is no indication in her story that she told Danny in clear terms to stop communication with her in any manner.  She knows him after all and could send him a letter, instant message, or email to stop communicating and to cease all interaction. The article does not mention her sending him a “cease” notice.  Under federal cyberstalking the “cease” notice could also be evidence to establish that Danny was causing her “substantial emotional distress.”

The writer goes on to discuss her interactions with several legal scholars who conclude that law enforcement doesn’t know how to deal with cyberstalking/harassing cases.  Law enforcement does have to work on its cybercrime responses. In this case, I think the victim should have been directed to tell “Danny” in clear terms stop contacting and harassing the victim.  Law enforcement has been known to also reach out to the harassing person, if identified, to cease and decease their behavior or they will take action. Obviously, any such notification should be documented.   Additionally, it should have been reinforced that she should stop communication with him after that notice was provided. No more accepting his friend requests, etc.

I think in fairness to law enforcement, they are focused on acts which are threatening of person or property. If she had evidence of threats of harm or Danny’s acts were clearly causing her emotional distress, such as occurs with revenge porn or forwarding obscene material, they would have been more aggressive in their response.  Another indication that would have shown the communication was causing emotional distress was it if was from an unknown person. However, the victim knew it was Danny and from her tone she just found him to be a growing annoyance. I don’t think our only response as citizens to non-threatening annoyances from individuals we know is to call the police.

Documentation of the communication and interactions is just one prong to helping law enforcement.  But like law enforcement, victims also have to learn how to deal with cyber misbehavior in a manner that either ends the troubling conduct or results in situations where law enforcement and prosecutors can go after the cybercriminal.  Nipping an annoyance with clear notification to a person that their communication is unwanted and to cease, may stop the activity before it escalates to something much more serious. Who@ (Working to Halt Online Abuse) provides the following advice on such notices:

Generally speaking, it is unwise to communicate with a harasser. However, as soon as you determine that you are truly being harassed by someone, you must very clearly tell that person to stop. Simply say something like “Do not contact me in any way in the future” and leave it there. You do not need to explain why, just state that you do not want the person to contact you.

This simple notice to stop provides evidence any reasonable person can interpret that a victim finds the interaction distressing. I have included links to additional resources for individuals being victimized below. On that note, I left a cigar lit somewhere.

 

PS: The victim noted that Danny’s lawyer called her and indicated that he would stop all communication. She noted that Danny’s lawyer would not tell her if he had harassed other victims, citing attorney client privilege. Danny’s lawyer contacting her may well have been the result of her formal law enforcement compliant, which was found during a probation officer’s investigation if Danny caught a criminal cyberstalking or harassment case.  If true, law enforcement may have indirectly helped the victim by documenting her concerns. The victim could do a search of Danny’s true name through online court records to determine if he had a criminal case. If Danny has such a criminal case she could reach out to the Court and/or probation office to insure they were aware of her plight as a further preventive step.  If he is on supervision he can be ordered to cease contact or face a sanction (location monitoring, jail time, etc.)

Some Resources

Stalking Resource Center

Who@ (Working to Halt Online Abuse)

WomensLaw.org

 

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The Dark Net Archive

A recent article in the Economist magazine “Shedding light on the dark web” brought to light the work of Gwern Branwen (reportedly a pseudonym). Branwen as a researcher decided to collect information on the dark net. According to the article, roughly once a week from December 2013 through July 205 he crawled 90 different Dark net market places (including Agora, Evolution and Silk Road 2) and archived a snapshot of each page.  The Economist reports that the data collection is 1.5 terabytes of data. Included in the various 360,000 sites is information on the items sold, the Bitcoin price of the item, the date of the sale, shipping information, customer ratings and the vendor’s pseudonym.  On his website Gwern says “I scraped/mirrored on a weekly or daily basis all existing English-language DNMs as part of my research into their usage, lifetimes/characteristics, & legal riskiness”.

Dark Archives

Wow, that is a heck of a data set to crawl through.  Anyone investigating crimes on the dark net finally has some historical data with which to do research.  This can provide investigators with some valuable information as to targets and suspects. The article admits that the collection was not everything on those sites and excluded certain data..  Still this is a treasure trove of information not previously available to researchers and law enforcement. Gwern also states on his website that the data set contains various vendor PGP keys, username (even clearnet names), and email addresses.

You can find the complete archive at https://www.gwern.net/Black-market%20archives. Or by going to the ever popular Archive.org where they have a Torrent link to download the data https://archive.org/download/dnmarchives/dnmarchives_archive.torrent

 

“The Government Did Not Need a Warrant….” — In support of NIT’s

WOW, that is all I have to say up front. A federal Judge responding to motions filed in one of the Tor hidden service cases against users of the “Playpen” child pornography site found that the FBI did not need a warrant to use a Network Intrusion Tool (NIT). If you have not read Judge Henry Coke Morgan, Jr’s finding in the Playpen child pornography case you need to, find it here Judge Morgans Ruling.

After you read it come back and let’s chat….

Okay, now that you have done your light reading, let us review a few things.  First, I am a huge proponent of law enforcement use of “Policeware” (for full disclosure my company received a grant from the USDOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance to build a NIT for local law enforcement’s use).  Judge Morgan hpolicewareas done a fine job of recognizing and validating the use of these tools by law enforcement. He commented in his decision, “As noted in Levin, “NITs, while raising serious concerns, are legitimate law enforcement tools.” 2016 WL2596010, at *8.”.  Judge Morgan presents, in his 58-page opinion, several serious points of interest to law enforcement investigators. After reviewing numerous motions before the Court, he concluded “The Court finds that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred here because the Government did not need a warrant to capture Defendant’s IP address,”. This decision alone is significant in that the Court felt that no warrant was needed for the FBI to deploy their Network Intrusion Tool (NIT), even though they had originally obtained one for its use in this case. Partly it was because of the nature of the tools limited identification of information from the target computer. The Defense had said that the original warrant was not specific enough, but the Judge pointed out the FBI was only seeking 7 pieces of information and specified exactly what that information was that they sought.

Judge Morgan supported his opinions with well thought out reasoning. However, this does not mean that everyone agrees. The Judge’s decision has met with much consternation by those viewing this as an overreach by government and an invasion of privacy. Mark Rumold of the Electronic Freedom Foundation complained in a recent blog posting that the decision was “…a dangerously flawed decision …”. Rumold further commented “The implications for the decision, if upheld, are staggering: law enforcement would be free to remotely search and seize information from your computer, without a warrant, without probable cause, or without any suspicion at all.” Well, that is a little bit of an overreach of what the Judge said. In fact, I think the Judge succinctly put that based on the architecture of the Internet and how browsers work the targets of the investigation traveled to Virginia over the Internet. This then gave the Magistrate Judge the authority to issue a warrant because the target had traveled to Virginia to access the Tor Hidden Service.

As anyone knows on the law enforcement side, law enforcement is never free to search anything and this decision did not extend the reach of law enforcement. What it did do, was to help define what technology can be used in a cyber-investigation. It also helped to legitimize law enforcement’s deployment of NIT’s and make them Legitimate law enforcement tools… This is fantastic, it is about time that law enforcement can use the technology available to them in a meaningful way to fight crime online.  Although, the larger media and its audience will not recognize it, this decision is to cyber-crime investigators what the North Hollywood shootout was to patrol officers. Instead of crazies with machine guns and bulletproof vests being fought off by police officers with revolvers, this case has the chance to change cyber investigators still using Window XP into cyber-crime SWAT guys. Special Weapons and Tactics will take on a completely new meaning within the cyber-crime arena. The deployment of NIT’s will change how we collectively seek out those committing crimes on the Internet.

So what does this mean going forward? It means law enforcement can actually catch more bad guys committing crimes on the Internet. It means cyber-crime investigators can come Snip from orderout of the dark and become aggressive members of the law enforcement establishment.   According to Judge Morgan “The Government’s efforts to contain child pornographers, terrorists and the like cannot remain frozen in time; the Government must be allowed to utilize its own advanced technology to keep pace with our world’s ever-advancing technology and novel criminal methods.”

Thank you Judge Morgan for understanding the technology, and making sense of the Internet policing front line. Sadly, at this time this is only a single Judges ruling. We can only hope that our well-reasoned and intelligent Judiciary will understand the technology and come up with similar findings in other cases.

Hey Lets be “Friends”: Why Police Need to be Careful with Personal Cell Phones

Well it happened again. You know what we are talking about. A police officer either issues a ticket or arrests someone, and the suspect concludes it is a good idea to go to Facebook and make a threat against the officer.  This time it happened in Jackson County, MI, when Joey Jason Holliman allegedly posted a threatening message on Officer Michael Strickland’s timeline shortly after being ticketed Wednesday.

We don’t know how Holliman located Officer Strickland’s profile.  It may be that Officer Strickland didn’t set his privacy settings properly. For instance, he may have allowed search engines to index his profile, a feature that can be turned off rather easily.

But then again it might not have anything to do with the settings. Let us explain. About two weeks ago, I started seeing individuals appear in my suggested friends page that should not be there. For instance, offenders that I supervised and had sent to prison. Todd and I discussed how this might happen. We ruled out that I had searched for them with my profile or I had their telephone number in my personal address book.  I theorized that they may have searched for me. Even though they couldn’t find me as my privacy setting was locked down, Facebook, thought I might want to connect with them, so it suggested them as possible “friends.” How helpful! (We haven’t ruled that theory out yet.)

However, it appears there is another possibility that is even more troubling. If two Facebook users connect to Facebook from the same IP subnet or they are using Facebook on their cell phone from near-overlapping geocodes, the social networking site assumes the users are “friends” or potential “friends.” Yep, you guessed. It then populates the suggested “friends” to both users.  How nice!

In the ticket incident above, if both Holliman and Officer Stickland had cell phones on, with Facebook connecting to the Internet, they would have likely been using an overlapping geocode.  Even if Holliman’s didn’t remember Stickland’s name, Facebook would likely have suggested him as a potential “friend.”

Many of us carry our personal cell phones on our person in the field.  We also have them in our office.   But by allowing Facebook to connect to the Internet from our cell phones, we are exposing ourselves to “friend” suggestions from those we would prefer not know we even have a Facebook profile.  How many times do those of us in law enforcement go into high crime areas with criminals nearby with cell phones on their person? How many times do suspects have cell phones on their person in police waiting areas or outside courtrooms? Do we really want our Facebook profile offered up as a “friend” suggestion to EVERYONE?  Unfortunately, Facebook does not offer restrictions on appearing in “friend” suggestion lists.

It would seem the solution is to turn off one’s geolocation  (Suggestions can be found here). But, this would seem only to limit Facebook from sharing it with other users. This suggestion does not prevent Facebook from gathering your geolocation and using it for its own purposes, such as in suggesting “friends” in the same area.  The really only secure why to stop this is not have Facebook installed on your phone OR at a minimum limiting your cell phone/Internet usage. For instance, turning it on when needed and turning if off when not in use.  This way it is not consistently connected to the Internet, looking for “friends.”  Additionally, limit or eliminate your cell phone/Internet usage in “high “risk” areas, such as where you might run into someone you are going to arrest, are arresting, and/or did arrest. Finally, individuals involved in law enforcement must be continually vigilant to how their personal devices may be inadvertently “leaking” information to other devices in a way that poses a risk to them and their loved ones. Of course, that is really sound advice for all of us, regardless of our occupations. On that note I left a cigar lit somewhere.

Riddle Me this Batman: Doing Google Search Warrants

One of the unique aspects of my “job” is I get to see investigative reports on various cases and how they develop. Recently, I was looking at the investigative efforts of an agency on a child porn case. It was a simple case really. The suspect used a gmail account to send illegal images to a covert account, which also happened to be a gmail account. But I have my questions.

The investigative agency got a search warrant and served it on Google. However, for some reason the matter was not sealed. If one searches the gmail account name you can actually still find the case which references the search warrant, i.e., USA v. actual name of the gmail account.

Yeah, big problem Batman. And guess what? The suspect went missing for a year. First question, why was the search application not sealed in this day in age, particularly on a case seeking a search warrant an email account? I am just guessing but maybe this suspect did a Google search on his email or even had an alert set up to notify him when his email showed up on the web. Hence, the reason he was missing for a year.

Next few questions in this case revolve around the search warrant affidavit and what they were seeking. In this case they only asked for “the email account”, which apparently is all they got. They got email to and from the suspect and their attachments. This was the meat of the issue and showed he sent and received illegal images. However, why didn’t they seek and obtain other aspects of the Google account in their application?

Specifically, they interacted with this suspect via email from another gmail account. Why not have also interacted with him using Google chat function too? It is after all highly likely that this suspect also used Google’s chat service to trade child porn, if not worse. Additionally, what about asking for everything on the Google drive too? I mean, individuals don’t just store data on hard drives now. Why not also explain that law enforcement also needed data from this subject’s Google drive in the search application?

Additionally, individuals often times will search via Google while they are signed into their account. Guess what? Google will frequently have that history saved. Won’t it be good to also have that evidence that subject was searching for these images too?
These last two questions, concerning the Google drive and the search history, become particularly important when we consider that when they found this suspect his computer was long gone. Sure they have the emails messages and attachments sent back and forth. But is it possible that he still has images saved in his Google drive?

Additionally, this suspect initially claimed his account was “hacked.” One way to overcome the “hacked” defense is the person was doing other activity at the time they were looking for porn. For instance, one minute he is looking for an address for a job and the next he is surfing for porn followed by searching for a car part etc. Also, having the IP address from where the account was accessed during the email and browsing sessions would also have been helpful to defeat the hacker defense, particular as they didn’t have the suspect’s computer. Thankfully, he later admitted he was using the account to trade child porn and dropped the hacker defense.

Final question is they apparently never went back and got search warrants for the original Google account and additional email accounts after his admission over a year later. Do we really believe that he only traded child porn for a two month period? With his admission and the evidence already gathered it appears that there would be plenty of probable cause, which wasn’t stale, to get additional search warrants for these accounts. I get that they had plenty of evidence but shouldn’t they make sure they checked these accounts again. We don’t stop searching a building because we found drugs in one room. What if there were more than just additional images in those accounts, such as evidence that he was involved in molesting a child?

Granted I am playing arm chair detective here and they have the guy. My point to all this is we need to start looking at Google as more than just an email service. It is cloud storage provider and in many ways contains as much and maybe more pieces of electronic evidence than a traditional computer. So Batman, what you think? On that note, I left a cigar lit somewhere.

Silk Road Reload – 3.0 is already up and running

The new main page of what purports to be the reboot of Silk Road says “This is no place for men without souls. We rise again Silk Road 3.0.” Check it out, the new site address is at http://qxvfcavhse45ckpw.onion.

2014-11-07_14-42-08 Redo

 

Who knows if this is a reboot by the 2.0 staff or a total take over of the name and concept by new people. Whatever it is the store is open.

2014-11-07_14-48-10 for sale

 

No doubt that someone is interested in the millions of dollars in Bitcoin possible in the name, The site appears to have reopened with in just two days of the FBI’s take down of the Silk Road 2.0 and many of its competitors. From a business model having all your competitors eliminated in one large law enforcement take down is pretty helpful.

At least the new Dread Pirate Roberts is polite….

2014-11-07_14-45-43 DPR Message

How long until the next hand off to a new DPR….FBI, the ball is in your court.

 

Operation Onymous- What it actually means for law enforcement and the Internet

By now most of the Internet has heard and is digesting the actions of law enforcement agents around the world taking down the infamous Silk Road 2 and other online Tor hidden markets. The question for all of us now is what does this mean in the future? We have been talking about the subject of Internet Investigations for more than two decades. The normal conversation is about how difficult it is and how law enforcement does not have the capacity to stay up with the online criminals. I think this week’s efforts will be game changer in the general investigative philosophy of law enforcers.

What this week has shown the community of law enforcement, as well as the for the criminals, is that law enforcement does have the ability to extend their reach into the darkest places of the Internet. The have the ability to find the criminals, identify them and handcuff them in the real world. Internet investigations have now been brought out into the light of day as a real and productive opportunity for policing in the 21st century. What the average law enforcement investigator needs to take away from this week is that they can go online, they can investigate internet crimes, and they can protect their communities from criminals hiding amongst them using anonymization.

Investigating crimes on the Internet does take some understanding of the technology and it does require training in the proper techniques and skills required to successfully conduct these investigations.

But, these crimes can be investigated…