Computer crime is so prevalent that the good guys are employing hackers to help them crack cases involving criminals ranging from drug dealers to bookies and con artists. The computer-crime investigators often accompany police to crime scenes, armed with portable computers and special software to foil secret password and encoding programs used to hide sensitive information.
Their mission: retrieve the material from a suspect's computer, analyze it and turn it into evidence used for prosecution.
Once a suspect's computer is seized, says Jeff Herig of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), authorities probably can recover information stored inside. Police also can intercept computer-telephone transmissions and replay them into police computers.
Herig spends hours at his computer seeking to defeat keyboard-locking systems and programs that encrypt data in efforts to obtain confidential correspondence, mailing lists, telephone numbers and bank account information.
He travels around the state to help police agencies and instruct police and FBI trainees about computer crime. He is president of the Florida Association of Computer Crime Investigators, which has 150 members from federal, state and local agencies statewide.
Herig recently accompanied agents of the FDLE and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when they raided the offices of Orlando investor Timothy Brumlik. Using a search warrant, Herig found the key to unlock Brumlik's computer by circumventing the password system. He retrieved 2,000 tax and financial documents.
Many of the documents were used to prosecute Brumlik and help the IRS recover $4.8 million they say Brumlik owes in back taxes. He pleaded guilty to attempted money laundering and was sentenced to four years in prison.