CCIU: Detectives in the Digital Age

Article excerpt


TIME waits for no one, and in today's digital age, neither does crime. No other medium has evolved as rapidly as the Internet, providing its users unparalleled access to news, information, services and entertainment by simply clicking a mouse. Surfing the Web has become the norm, but there are sharks in the waters.

Lurking below the surface, cyber criminals hunt, plot, scheme and attack unsuspecting systems, networks and users. E-mail scams, hacks and viruses are the tools of their trade. However, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's Computer Crimes Investigative Unit patrols this world, stalking those who exploit it, and bringing them to justice.

"The military presents a very large target for both international and domestic hackers," said Special Agent Michael Milner, the director of the CCIU. "That makes our mission extremely challenging, because there isn't an 'off switch' for the Internet."

Behind a vaulted door, in an unassuming red brick building on Fort Belvoir, Va., lays the battlespace of the Army's digital detectives. As the sole entity for conducting criminal investigations of intrusions and malicious activities involving Army computer networks, CCIU maintains a constant watch over the Army digital footprint. With personnel assigned at Belvoir, and an office at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the members of CCIU are tasked with a challenging mission and a global area of operations.

"Basically, our special agents go in and conduct virtual autopsies on hacked systems," Milner said. "From there, we figure out exactly what happened and then go after the bad guys."

Army CID recognized the expanding role of computers in criminal activities and investigations, and provisionally established CCIU as the Computer Crime Investigative Team in January 1998. Prior to this, only a single forensic examiner at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory was dedicated to investigating computer crime.

"We were originally created out of the Field Investigative Unit, a specialized unit within CID that investigates classified programs, and given the primary responsibility for investigating intrusions into U.S. Army computer networks," Milner said. "Now, as the Army moves to an ever more net-centric environment, the opportunity for cyber crime will only continue to increase." In September 1998, the team became the Computer Crime Resident Agency and moved to Fort Belvoir. The CCRA was redesignated in November 1999 as the Computer Crime Investigative Unit and separated from FIU, becoming a subordinate element of the 701st Military Police Group (CID). In January 2000, CCIU was officially established as a criminal investigative organization within CID.

Because investigations of this nature require a specialized level of computer expertise, special agents assigned to CCIU receive advanced computer training from the Defense Cyber Investigations Training Academy, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and other technical experts. …