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See Inside July 2006

Virtual Skulduggery

Internet crime may be a brake on productivity

The Internet, which seemed like science fiction a generation ago, has become a supernational reality, with more than a billion people worldwide now having access. But with growth, there has come crime, and indeed the Internet is now where pedophiles prowl and identities are stolen.

Part of the blame must go to law enforcement agencies, which have been slow to adjust to the radically different conditions of the virtual world. Police accustomed to relying on physical evidence, eyewitnesses and confessions, were suddenly confronted with evidence in digital form; in place of an eyewitness was a log file, a transcript of a server's activity. Most disconcerting, the crime scene was no longer in the neighborhood but in a computer half a world away. In addition, cyber crime seemed to mutate into new enigmatic forms, forcing bewildered police to learn new tricks. From the early days, when hackers sent out viruses for the sheer joy of creating consternation, to the present, when sophisticated cyber criminals threaten to close down a Web site--"denial of service" in the jargon of the Internet--the authorities have had difficulty keeping up.

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