Whether you do it intentionally or not, many of us have broken the law at some point during our online travels. You might have downloaded copyrighted material like movies or music, or you could “accidentally” view pornography when you’re technically under the age of consent in your country.
If you’ve done anything illegal online, then you may have started to worry about getting in trouble. Can cops see what you’re doing online? Do they arrest people for crimes they have committed on the internet? Do proxies actually mask your identity?
Today, we’re going to tell you why it is so difficult for law enforcement agencies to track people who commit crimes online.
IP addresses cannot be traced to a specific PC:
If law enforcement officials happen to obtain the IP address of the cybercriminal, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can pinpoint it to a specific computer. IP address data is relatively easy to obtain: every time you visit a website, the webmaster can see your IP address, and pretty much everything you do online can easily be traced to your IP address.
But IP addresses are problematic because they can be shared across a number of different PCs. The cybercriminal may be using shared public Wi-Fi at Starbucks, for example, in which case the IP address is used by hundreds of people throughout the day.
Furthermore, the IP address can be faked by the cybercriminal using proxies or other software. So, while law enforcement officials may be able to determine which country the IP address originated from, the cybercriminal could be located anywhere in the world. Since most proxies work on the basis of anonymity, tracking the individual back through that proxy is incredibly difficult.
Forensic examination is difficult, if not impossible
Cleaning up evidence in the virtual world is a lot easier than doing it in the real world. After committing a crime online, many cybercriminals wipe up any trace of what they just did. This significantly reduces the already slim chances that law enforcement officials have of catching the criminal.
This problem is compounded by the fact that cybercrimes take place in just a few seconds (if that). Not only does this leave a miniscule amount of evidence, but the crime may not be noticed for hours, days, or even weeks. Somebody might not know that their information has been stolen until they try to withdraw funds from the bank a week later, for example. By the time they report it to law enforcement officials, it is often far too late to do anything.
If a file is heavily encrypted, then even the best decryption software in the world might not be enough to unlock it. Law enforcement officials struggle to decrypt online files every day, and today’s computers just aren’t powerful enough to accomplish the task.
Lack of reporting
Another problem that prevents law enforcement officials from prosecuting cybercriminals is the simple fact that many online crimes are never reported. Some crimes are ‘victimless’ (who is harmed when a 16-year old accidentally views online pornography?), and many victims are aware of the difficulties law enforcement officials have in tracing cybercriminals, so they don’t bother reporting it at all.
Lack of international cooperation
Teams of hackers are often made up of people from many different countries. This makes it difficult for law enforcement officials to make any progress in the case, as their jurisdiction is limited and investigations are costly. While there are some international law enforcement agencies that are targeting cybercrime, investigation requires a large amount of communication and resources that many countries are simply unwilling to give up.
And, of course, to complicate matter even further, online laws vary around the world. Something that is a crime in one country (like copyright infringement) may not be a crime in another. This makes the internet a virtual minefield which very few lawyers want to navigate.
The bottom line
Law enforcement officials are struggling to keep up with the new technology that cyber criminals are using. While people can and do get prosecuted for crimes they have committed online, it is still relatively easy for anybody to mask their identity and avoid the long arm of the law.