Cybercops learn how to hack systems

March 13, 1998

Students at one small American university are studying the art of computer hacking and other electronic crimes.

Not how to commit them. How to prevent them.

The graduate programme in justice administration at Salve Regina University in the state of Rhode Island is training a new generation of cybercops to think like cyber criminals.

The computer is a new tool for the same old bad guys, the instructor, Nicholas Lund-Molfese, said. "And so the good guys need to know about it."

In addition to criminology texts, the reading list for the course, Culture, Computers and the Law, includes the book Secrets of a Super Hacker and the underground computer hacker journal 2600. Among the guests in class have been a hacker and a private cyber detective.

Computer crime is more widespread than is reported, Mr Lund-Molfese said, although perhaps a little less dramatic than portrayed. "The esoteric Pentagon break-in, sure, that stuff happens, and how many millions have banks lost?" he said. "But the reality is that people are really being hurt more by the garden-variety type of crime: senior citizens bilked out of money because they bought something on the Internet, for instance."

Mr Lund-Molfese, a lawyer, does not spend the whole time teaching students the specifics of computer skills. Technology evolves too fast for that, he said. "Too much technical training and you end up with somebody who is great today and useless tomorrow."

He teaches that the same things motivate computer crime as non-computer crime: sex and money. "Our focus is that these are the same kind of crimes that are already being committed."

United States law takes more or less the same view. Online crimes are prosecuted just as other crimes. People who commit fraud on the Internet are charged with fraud. Someone who attempts to find a contract killer over the Internet would face attempted murder and related charges. Soliciting online is still considered prostitution.

"Just because you use a computer to do it, doesn't mean there has to be a special law for it," Mr Lund-Molfese said. "We don't regulate technology. We regulate crime."

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