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Cyber sleuths: Police team up to fight hi-tech crime

In 1998, in an effort to address the rising incidence of computer-based crimes, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) and the RCMP created specialized units mandated to investigate computer crimes.

To merge resources and capabilities, the CFNIS, RCMP ‘A’ Division and Ottawa Police Service (OPS) established a Joint Force Operation to conduct computer forensic analysis and joint projects within the National Capital Region. In July 2003, a memorandum of understanding between the CFNIS, OPS and the RCMP was created and endorsed to establish the joint operation, known as the Integrated Technological Crime Unit (ITCU).

The DND positions in the ITCU are held by military police personnel posted to the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service Support Detachment (SD) in the capital region.

“Within the CFNIS Support Detachment, ITCU plays an integral role in fighting computer based crime across the country,” said Captain John Gilchrist, Officer Commanding. “[The unit] is constantly challenged by technological advancements; as a result, the number of occurrences, as well as the complexity of computer crimes, increases exponentially. Understandably, our integration with partner policing agencies is vital to our operations and will set the stage for continued success in the future.”

Established in 1997 with a mandate to investigate serious and sensitive matters related to National Defence and the CF, the CFNIS performs a function similar to that of a police major crime unit. Members are selected from the Military Police and must have completed various MP training and worked for at least one tour of duty on a Base or Wing. After selection, they are submitted to specialized training and have to complete a one-year internship before operating as a full fledged investigator.

Since the ITCU is a highly specialized area, all aspiring members must complete the Technological Crime Understudy Program, directly supervised by a fully trained forensic analyst/investigator. The program consists of a minimum of 12 months conducting forensic analysis and the completion of various courses at the Canadian Police College.

The CFNIS ITCU members have a wide range of policing experience, an asset in both the forensic examination of data and in cyber crime investigations. Furthermore, all members are required to have strong computer backgrounds and must continually upgrade their skills.

ITCU’s primary role and mandate is to provide computer forensic services, technical investigative support, and act as lead investigators on high-tech crime investigations within each contributing agency’s jurisdiction. The RCMP ‘A’ Division ITCU is responsible for the capital region and all RCMP national security projects and files that involve computer or computer-aided crimes. The OPS component is responsible for the geographical area encompassed by the City of Ottawa. The CF component has authority and jurisdiction over persons subject to the Code of Service Discipline without regard to rank and status throughout the world and wherever the Canadian Forces are established or deployed. The DND component is not geographically restricted; rather it is responsible for providing its skills and capabilities to all CF establishments.

The CFNIS ITCU provides assistance to investigators from all primary CFNIS and MP detachments on files requiring forensic analysis of data (electronics devices). Moreover, the unit provides advice and training on technological crime issues, execution of search warrants involving computers, and seizure of IT-related hardware and accessories.

The computer forensic examiner provides forensic examination on various computer related media, including hard disk drives, flash/jump drives, cellular phones, personal digital assistants, and other external storage devices. The majority of files analyzed by the unit are for possession of child pornography and sexual assault, and take up about 60 percent of investigative time. Other common files include sudden deaths, frauds, thefts, criminal harassment, and possession or trafficking of narcotics and/or controlled substances.

In recent decades, law enforcement agencies have seen a growing threat derived from computer and computer-aided crime, related to an increase in computer users, the accessibility of computer networks, and more computer literacy. Notably, computer storage is increasing at a rapid rate and it is not uncommon for an average user to possess an external hard drive of two terabytes.

As a result, the CFNIS ITCU expects to see increased incidences of sophisticated computer crime. From basic fraud to various drug offences and organized crime, the range is expanding. Limited only by the user’s imagination, computers linked to networks or the Internet have increased the complexity of investigations by redistributing evidence and blurring jurisdictional boundaries.

As each case is unique and needs to be investigated with specific methods and specialized software, investigators too are limited only by their imaginations and current technology to find perpetrators and bring them to justice.

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