[ PRINT ] [ VIEW ARCHIVE ] Wi-Fi technology has been publicly available since 1999, however within the last couple years Wi-Fi has made a significant penetration in the day-to-day lives of most people. It is virtually impossible to buy a laptop, cell phone or any other handheld device that doesn’t already come with Wi-Fi available on it. Further, many retail areas and fast-food businesses are using free Wi-Fi availability to draw more patrons to their establishments. These include McDonalds, Starbucks, Panera Bread, libraries, college campuses, municipalities and a host of others - all making free “open” Wi-Fi publicly available to their patrons or residents. This level of open Wi-Fi availability has created significant challenges for law enforcement to detect, identify and ultimately find suspects to enforce the law regarding illicit downloads and communications.
In the beginning of Internet usage you could almost guarantee if your agency received notification from an Internet Service Provider (Comcast, AT&T, etc.) that illicit content (Child Pornography or pirated software) was being downloaded, you could easily find your target at a single location (based upon the user’s address where the Internet service was provided). Today everyone is using handheld smart phones and laptops with easy access to the Internet in public and retail locations. Now, consider trying to find a suspect in a crowded location that offers free open Wi-Fi . . . how do you know who the victim is and who is the suspect?
Law Enforcement is once again caught in a “catch-up” position looking for solutions. Criminal Wi-Fi investigation are limited and law enforcement is ill-equipped by not having the technology, and not being trained in the impacts and critical methods used for conducting investigations where Wi-Fi is a key consideration and factor. There are many challenges related to Law Enforcement Wi-Fi investigations including declining budgets for training and lack of tools necessary to detect, isolate and find suspects.
Fact is most communities, large and small, have publicly available Wi-Fi and today’s suspects are, for the most part, savvy users of Internet technology and know they are vulnerable at any address that they are a resident of. Fact is they are clever in stealing Wi-Fi connectivity from an open network whether it be in a public location or residential community. To effectively deal with these issues, Law Enforcement is required to have a basic understanding and technical ability to eliminate and prosecute Wi-Fi criminal activity.
So what types of crimes are utilizing Wi-Fi? The list is rapidly growing and already includes the use of open Wi-Fi by:
Every day civilians connecting to public Wi-Fi or their neighbor’s Wi-Fi to download Child Pornography and other illegal content;
Terrorist groups using Wi-Fi for remote detonation of hidden IED’s on roadsides in Afghanistan and Iraq;
Groups performing espionage by using Wi-Fi to exchange hidden communication between Russian operatives in New York and Washington DC;
Nigerian groups using open Wi-Fi to commit credit card fraud by filing multiple fake credit card applications.
In general, any electronic crime that can be committed using wired Internet methodologies can now be easily committed using unsecured Wi-Fi services now available virtually everywhere. Law Enforcement must adapt to this new and increasing threat by learning how to effectively investigate and solve crimes using Wi-Fi investigative techniques and by obtaining purpose-built tools that allow you to detect, identify and locate your targets of interest and even more importantly, to confidently clear someone as a suspect.
Law enforcement can enter the Wi-Fi investigative arena with little or no expense using free open-source software investigative tools. More effective tools and Law Enforcement-specific training can be obtained from subject matter experts such as SRT Wireless and PATCtech Digital Forensics. Ultimately, your agency’s level of preparedness will be driven by having the necessary tools and training to effectively use them. One thing is for certain, technology alone will not solve the problem for agencies. They need to understand the legal implications, techniques and methodologies that have already been proven successful. The premise “Is Law Enforcement Ready for Wi-Fi Investigative Technology?” needs to be quickly updated to “Law Enforcement Needs to be Ready for Wi-Fi Investigations!”