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Police Bone Up on High-Tech Crime-Busting

April 07, 1985|THOMAS D. ELIAS | Scripps Howard News Service

SAN JOSE — Sophisticated machines have spurred sophisticated crime, and now they're also creating sophisticated cops bent on stopping the new types of crime here in the so-called Silicon Valley, heart of America's computer industry.

The war on computer-related crime has become a high-technology battle that escalates every time a more advanced memory chip comes off an engineer's bench.

"As the industry and its employees become more complex, we have to keep pace," said Douglas Southard, a Santa Clara County prosecutor who designed the nation's first local course aimed at training police to stop the new and more educated type of criminal.

"We still use tried and true investigative techniques, but since there usually aren't witnesses to these crimes, we need to educate our people much better to track them down."

Takes Various Forms

High-tech crime comes in a variety of forms, from trespassing in computer systems and changing, stealing or eliminating information to theft of the latest model silicon chip.

But the FBI's computer crime training school in Quantico, Va., offers only a three-week course focusing mainly on computer-related theft of money.

That's not enough to cope in this county, with its 2,000-odd highly competitive high-tech firms.

"We have much more than money being stolen here," Southard said. "And most of the criminals are not regular toughs, but productive citizens who rationalize their dishonest behavior and take valuable information. They were outstripping police because they often knew the latest developments and police did not--police didn't even know the language."

Most high-tech criminals are also "insiders." Police estimate that 90% of such crime is perpetrated by employees or recent former employees of the victimized companies.

Costs $100 Million a Year

Those computer criminals cost industry in Santa Clara County about $100 million a year.

But until recently, police often could do little to stop them. The average officer here, as in most parts of America, has two years of college and little computer knowledge or experience.

"This area depends on high-tech companies," Southard said. "They pay a lot of taxes. But these crimes were so complicated that police were just throwing their hands up and going back to pursue rapes, murders and armed robberies. Aren't the IBMs and Hewlett-Packards entitled to assistance, too?"

So far, Southard's course has trained about three dozen local officers in computer programming and lingo.

"The point isn't to make computer operators of them," he said. "We aim to let them be sophisticated enough to ask the right questions and know which independent expert to call in. That way they don't have to be trained on each new machine the moment it comes out."

$10 Million Recovered

So far, police trained in the county's course have recovered $10 million in stolen computer chips and equipment. They've thwarted efforts by trespassers to alter grades in Stanford University's computer system and they've snared dozens of new-style bandits trying to take company secrets from other computers.

"We can't put a dollar value on that sort of thing, but we have to stop it," said Southard, who predicts that similar training will soon be offered at police academies across the nation.

"As criminals become more sophisticated, police must respond," he said. "Computer development is most intense here, so we're responding first. And these are tough crimes to solve or stop.

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