The perils of burglary in the Internet age

The perils of burglary in the Internet age

Summary: We have met the network, and it is us -- a cautionary tale.

TOPICS: Servers

I can't give you the details around this story--it was told in confidence. But it's so wonderful that I have to give you the gist. A woman's home was burglarized and her computer stolen. She had subscribed to a Web-based service that transparently backed her files up to a server, and when the thief reconnected her machine to the network, the backup program quietly resumed operation. Since she retained access to her account, the woman was able to log onto the server and view the files being backed up from her (erstwhile) PC. So she has the name and address of the thief as well as (and this blows me away) digital pictures of him and his immediate family. Unfortunately (and this blows me away, too), there are issues around the "chain of evidence" (I don't watch CSI, so I don't really know what that means) that make it awkward for the police to arrest anyone. They're still trying to figure it out.

So what?

This is obviously a cautionary tale, but I'm not sure what it cautions against, nor at whom it's directed. It's certainly a lesson in what spyware could be doing to you even as I write this (secretly transmitting your bank's cookie file--with its saved password--to a server in a back room in some other country). Maybe it means we should be encrypting our files so that when (as is probably inevitable) they migrate elsewhere, they'll remain secure. Or maybe it's a reminder that the Internet isn't something that's out there: Your hard drive can be a part of it just as surely as Google's servers are. Or, to put it another way, we have met the network, and it is us.

Topic: Servers

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  • Well, I hope they at least got her computer back...

    I can see where the chain of evidence is a problem. They can't establish that the current user of the computer is actually the person that stole it.

    However, since it seems clear that the computer is stolen property, I hope they were at least able to recover the computer and return it to the rightful owner.
  • Expectation of Privacy

    Actually rather than 'chain of custody' the courts have probably determined that a thief using a stolen computer has an 'expectation' of privacy therefore monitoring someone who 'stole' your computer is eavesdropping and therefore illegal.
    Thus the thief could sue YOU for monitoring HIS use on YOUR stolen computer. After all - gotta protect the rights of thieves!
    • no expectation of privacy

      Much like a burglar who steal a camera, uses it and then has film developed by a guy who recognizes your family on previous pictures and turns burglar into police. Evidence can be aquired by private citizens without the same fruit of the poisoned tree therory that relates to cops.What the woman would be seeing is paid for by her and the services are rendered to her.
      So the material IE: Family of burglar (and hiself) being watched could not be used against her. She can turn in any material related to the police for investigative and proscution.
      • No expectation of protection

        Here in Portland, Oregon, crack-related thefts and robberies number in the scores daily, such that the police are so busy that they have said publicly that they do not investigate property crimes, regardless of evidence. However, if someone (or more) breaks into our house while we are at home, then we have a right to shoot them dead, in person, at the time. We only have to make sure their body falls inside and not back out a door or window, and be sure they are dead before calling the police, lest they sue us. It has happened. Do I want my grandchildren to grow up in this country?
  • Just call me Sherlock

    The backup information is being stored in the owner's backup account without her permission. That is: The person currently using the computer is guilty of stealing computer backup service resources from the owner. Ignorance (on the part of the current PC user) is no excuse - just as ignorance of a speed limit is no excuse for breaking it. You didn't see the sign? Tough luck!

    A crime is therefore being commited and, as I understand it, when a crime is in progress the police do not therefeore even need to to get a search warrant to legally impound the computer long enough to confirm that it is the source of the backups. Having the computer they will be able to, legally, also ascertain as to whether the computer is the owner's.

    There is no rocket science needed from this point, the easiest way is to ask the current user how they came by the PC. If they are not the burglar, they may still be guilty of dealing in stolen goods.

    Even if the police do not have the time to check a serial number against an invoice or two, if I am any judge of human nature, the seizure of the PC will probably be enough to extract the full story - even if the current user is the burglar, and an old hand, he will know the game us up.

    Stephen Wheeler
  • Stolen PC

    There are no chain of custody issues; it is only the perception of the single law enforcement officer assigned to this case.

    As an intelligence officer, my advice is to go directly to the State/US Attorneys responsible for the jurisdcition assigned to this case and tell them to wmploy the asme investigtive programs utilized by child pron investigators.

    If they fail to tkae this felony seriously then contact your local print/broadcast media.

    They - and I - have the same access to programs to enable swift and sucessful prosecutions.