GROUP TAKES CYBER-CRIME SERIOUSLY : MASSACHUSETTS UNIT TO FIGHT THEFTS.
Cyber-crooks in Massachusetts were put on notice Thursday when the state announced a new organization to crack down on high-technology crime.
Attorney General Scott Harshbarger said the Massachusetts High-Technology Crime Unit will strengthen the state's computer industry by combating hardware and software thefts that cost companies millions of dollars. The organization will also help in traditional law enforcement by investigating cases where computers are used as a tool of crime.
``It will protect our high-tech industry, it will protect consumers, and it will send a clear message of intolerance to high-tech criminals,'' Harshbarger said of the new unit.
The unit will be operated jointly by Harshbarger's office and by the office of Public Safety Secretary Kathleen O'Toole. It will coordinate its efforts with local police departments and the FBI.
Officials haven't set up a budget for the unit yet, but five state troopers with experience in computing have been assigned to the job. Assistant Attorney General Linda Nutting Murphy, chief of the unit, said she is talking with local computer firms about providing up-to-date equipment for the investigators.
``There really isn't a bright line between computer crime and down-and-dirty street crime,'' said O'Toole. Some criminals are out to steal or damage computer hardware or software. Others use computers as a tool for committing crimes, the way a bank robber uses a car to make his getaway.
There are disgruntled workers who steal corporate secrets from computer networks, embezzle money or forge documents. Corrupt hackers often distribute pilfered commercial software for free over the Internet. And organized crime groups often store evidence of drug dealing, prostitution and illegal gambling on personal computers.
High-tech gear is also often the target of old-fashioned thieves. On Wednesday, three men were indicted for stealing $10 million in blank disks and Microsoft Corp. software from Kao Infosystems in Plymouth, Mass. Meanwhile, in California, armed gangs have broken into warehouses and stolen computer hardware worth millions of dollars.
``It's not happening here, but it could happen,'' said Anthony Gentilucci, manager of investigative services at Digital Equipment Corp.
In all, said Harshbarger, high-technology crime costs the U.S. economy between $5 billion and $10 billion a year. He estimated the typical technology theft results in a loss of $2 million, compared to $2,500 stolen in the average bank robbery. And Harshbarger said computer crime adds $45 to the cost of the average personal computer.
Some communities have already responded. In the high-tech havens of San Jose and Austin, Texas, police departments have set up computer crime units; New York City has done the same. In addition, the FBI has established its own center for computer crime investigation at the federal level. The Boston Police Department doesn't have a computer crime unit, but a spokesman said the department does have officers who specialize in the field.