DHS Spotlight: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Cyber Crime Center Takes Down Online Criminals
Cyber criminals are notorious for exploiting vulnerabilities and capitalizing on the ability to access a global network of people connected through the Internet. Fortunately, law enforcement agents and officers across the country and at all levels of government work tirelessly to combat Internet-related crimes and take down online criminals in order to make the Internet a safer and more secure place for everyone.
On Aug. 3, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced indictments against individuals on five continents who were involved with the online network Dreamboard, marking the largest child exploitation investigation in U.S. history. The investigation was named Operation Delego.
Members of an online network called Dreamboard allegedly traded graphic images and videos of children 12 years old and younger. The members created a massive private library of child sexual abuse and encouraged each other to create new images and videos. Individuals continue to be sentenced under Operation Delego, including most recently a Massachusetts man sentenced to 45 years in federal prison in January. Read more.
HSI led the investigation, relying on the expertise of the agency’s Cyber Crimes Center (C3). The center is home to three units: the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU), Cyber Crime Unit (CCU), and Computer Forensics Unit (CFU). C3 is tucked away in a non-descript Virginia office building, but within those walls, special agents and analysts are investigating the country’s toughest trans-border, Internet-facilitated crimes.
On any given day, special agents investigate cases involving international money laundering, counter proliferation investigations, and narcotics trafficking — or as in Operation Delego – online child sexual exploitation and abuse. That’s why it’s necessary for C3 staff to have expertise on a variety of topics, including highly sophisticated technology and computer forensics.
“Criminals will use whatever means necessary to commit their illegal acts, including the Internet. This is why it is important for C3 to employ the latest technology and techniques, so that criminal organizations as uncovered in Operation Delego can be dismantled,” said Special Agent Neil O’Callaghan, CEIU operations section chief, who spearheaded Operation Delego.
In the case of the Dreamboard network, members employed a variety of measures designed to conceal their criminal activity from detection by law enforcement. Members communicated using aliases rather than their actual names. Links to child pornography posted on Dreamboard were required to be encrypted with a password that was shared only with other members.
Members also accessed the board via proxy servers, which routed Internet traffic through other computers in order to disguise a user’s actual location and prevent law enforcement from tracing Internet activity. Dreamboard members also encouraged the use of encryption programs on their computers, including password-protecting computer files to prevent law enforcement from accessing them in the event of a court-authorized search.
That’s why the center must stay in the forefront of ever-changing technology to combat cybercrimes. C3 offers training and advice to HSI’s 200 U.S. field offices and more than 70 ICE attaché offices across the globe. It also has a state-of-the-art laboratory to process and analyze unusual, non-standard, or voluminous amounts of evidence seized by HSI field offices. From time to time, the center’s computer forensic analysts identify, research, and write field office guidance for new storage devices, trends, and technology.
“C3’s mission is to provide the highest level of technical support and training to HSI while employing the most sophisticated investigative techniques to combat today’s cyber criminals,” said Ian Quinn, HSI deputy assistant director and head of C3.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around-the-clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may also be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 orwww.cybertipline.com.
To learn more about tips and resources to keep yourself and your family safer online, please visitwww.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.