Social Media Use Common among Neighborhood Crews & Street Gangs

Cyberspace Emerges as Law Enforcement’s New Battleground

Investigative Database - Cyber Crimes

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By Robert Rogers/MediaNews Group | Article Courtesy of: Times Herald

When gunshots ring out in Richmond, familiar scenes unfold. Calls to 911 and alerts from the city’s ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system trickle in. Police cruisers scream to the scene. Detectives show up soon after.

But other detectives go somewhere else: to their computers to troll Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media for clues, often provided by people involved in the crime who can’t resist boasting.

“We have seen situations where someone will commit a shooting or a homicide, and they’ll immediately write something on social media, ” said Matt Anderson, a Richmond gang detective. “‘Man down,’ ‘scoreboard,’ those are the kinds of phrases they’ll use, and it gives us a lot of clues about what just happened. ”

As social media increasingly have become an extension of who we are and how we communicate, it has emerged as a new battleground in the age-old struggle between Bay Area criminals and the detectives who seek them. Social media use is common among neighborhood crews and street gangs, who have inadvertently supplied police and prosecutors with troves of photos and other information often used to nab and then prosecute them.

However, law enforcement agencies with low-staffing issues like the Vallejo Police Department said they have not been using social media due to it being “labor intensive.”

“We do recognize the importance of social media,” Vallejo Capt. Jim O’Connell said. “But it’s something that’s part of our long-term plan. It’s just a personnel issue with us right now.”

Like braggadocio on a street corner or graffiti on a wall in yesteryear, gang members have come to use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to tout their criminal prowess, taunt rivals, boast about crimes and even gather information about potential targets of violence.

“What we see on social media brings an insight that you normally might not otherwise see, ” said Jeff Palmieri, a veteran gang investigator for the San Pablo Police Department. “You can get a view of who a person is, what they’re about, and that not only helps us but can help a jury in a courtroom. Our intelligence information has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. ” Online postings can help prosecutors establish a level of intent, premeditation, motive and gang affiliation, said Derek Butts, a Contra Costa deputy district attorney.

During the 2012 murder trial of Joe Blacknell, 23, Butts used the reputed Richmond gang member’s MySpace account to prove to the jury that he committed numerous shootings in retaliation for the killing of his friend.

Among the evidence presented to the jury were photos of Blacknell holding an AK-47 while dressed in a shirt memorializing his fallen friend, and private messages sent to rivals and friends boasting about the demise of Marcus Russell, an emerging Bay Area rap artist that Blacknell was convicted of murdering.

“The MySpace photos and messages were very revealing to jurors, ” Butts said. “It’s one thing to have a gang expert testify about what the gang members say, but when you have the defendant’s own communications, it paints a very compelling picture. ”

The same is true in San Jose, where Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Lance Daugherty, who supervises the gang unit, said more than a quarter of gang felony cases involve evidence gleaned from social media.

“It’s such a widespread part of how we communicate today. Often, we get information about defendants who aren’t even on social media themselves, but their fellow gang members may talk about that defendant or post pictures of them to their own accounts, ” Daugherty said. “They know this information is being used in prosecutions, but they still do it; it’s part of their identities.”

Assistant Contra Costa County district attorney Tom Kensok estimates that evidence from social media factors into more than half of the county’s gang trials, although that number may be on the decline.

“In the beginning, a few years ago, it was often the equivalent of making a key find in a search warrant,” he said. “Back then, they never had a sense that these postings would end up in a courtroom, that they were far from the law. Now, that advantage is gone. ”

The advantage was key a few years ago to trials involving members of Varrio Frontero Locos, a subset of the Sureno gang, who committed a string of homicides in San Pablo.

“The gang members were driving around, hunting rivals, ” Palmieri said.

When a half-dozen members were arrested and sent to trial, Palmieri was a key witness, testifying to juries that the killings were done to advance the gang’s interests. He used photos from defendants’ Facebook pages to prove it.

“Their own pictures showed them flashing gang signs, alongside other gang members, and holding guns, Palmieri said. “The average sentence was 55 years to life. ”

The cat-and-mouse game online is endlessly complex and in constant flux. Amid the infinite realm of the Web, images and words, often in coded language, circulate throughout cyberspace. MySpace was a platform of choice among Bay Area gang members a few years ago but was overtaken by Facebook and YouTube.

Instagram is now en vogue, thanks to looser restrictions on identities and a platform that is more image-driven and esoteric in its messaging.
“Instagram’s popularity is a challenge, Anderson said. “It’s harder to identify people; the messaging is more coded. “

During an investigation last year that netted 11 arrests, including for charges of attempted murder, Anderson and his colleagues conducted extensive social media surveillance, and they discovered that the targets of their investigation were using social media to track rivals and plot attacks.

“Our investigation revealed that gang members will plan assaults based on disrespect of each other taking place on the social media, ” Anderson said. “They are pretty much doing the same thing we are doing, peeking around the social media accounts to gather information. “

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Cyber Security – “The Virtual Battlefield”

War Drums Beat Louder For ‘World War C’

Cyber Security

Article Courtesy of: Kenneth Rapoza | Forbes

Forbes

A report by cyber security firm FireEye says cyber warfare expanding. The U.S. leads the charge in this virtual battlefield.

If the lingo of cyber security experts, zombie warfare might that be that far fetched after all.

Call it “World War C”, and it playing right now at a nation near you. It is quiet, mostly invisible and oddly as safe as it is dangerous.

The ‘C’ in this war zone stands for cyberspace, and industry experts have been warning about it for the last five years.  The war drums are beating louder. Once limited to cybercrime stealing credit card numbers, cyber attacks are becoming a key weapon for governments seeking to defend national sovereignty, project national power or spy on both friend and foe alike, as was brought to light by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed.  The United States uses its soft cyber powers to tap into the computer systems of friendly nations in the E.U. and Brazil.

From strategic cyber espionage campaigns, such as Moonlight Maze and Titan Rain, to the destructive, such as military cyber strikes on Georgia and Iran, human and international conflicts are entering a new phase in their long histories. In this shadowy battlefield, victories are fought with bits instead of bullets, malware instead of militias, and botnets instead of bombs.

“Cyber warfare isn’t necessarily part of a wider war. Sometimes it is just to collect data that is not easily accomplished by a military drone,” said Eugene Kaspersky, head of Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky said the war drums are beating louder.

“A cyber attacks are being used more and more for military purposes,” he said.  Kaspersky became famous for being part of the team that discovered the Stuxnet worm in 2010.  The worm targeted Siemens industrial control systems used at Iran nuclear power plants and is believed to have been the brainchild of the U.S. and Israeli defense departments.

A cyber attack is best understood not as an end in itself, but as a potentially powerful means to a wide variety of political, military, and economic goals.

“Serious cyber attacks are unlikely to be motiveless,” Martin Libicki, Senior Scientist at RAND Corp. said in a report released this month by cyber security firm FireEye. “Countries carry them out to achieve certain ends, which tend to reflect their broader strategic goals. The relationship between the means chosen and their goals will look rational and reasonable to them if not necessarily to us.”

Just as each country has a unique political system, state-sponsored attacks also have distinctive characteristics, which include everything from motivation to target to type of attack.

World War C is a FireEye creation.  They noted in their 22 page report that their out-of-this-world war scenario is hard to fully describe. There are very little physical casualties involved. For the general public, collateral damage is unheard of so far.

Cyber war has been compared to special operations forces, submarine warfare, targeted missile strikes, and assassins.

But some say it could be as bad as a nuclear weapons, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 or a natural disaster.

FireEye’s zombie analogy is not new. Often, any compromised computer, if it is actively under the surreptitious control of a cybercriminal, is called a zombie, and botnets are sometimes called zombie armies. Also, compared to stockpiling tanks and artillery, writing cyber attack code, and compromising thousands if not millions of computers, is easy. Moreover, malware often spreads with the exponential growth of an infectious disease.

The analytical waters surrounding cyber warfare are inherently murky, write FireEye analysts in their report. At the strategic level, governments desire to have a degree of plausible deniability. At the tactical level, military and intelligence organizations envelop such operations in layers of classification and secrecy. To be effective, information operations rely on deception—and the Internet offers an ideal venue for a spy’s smoke and mirrors.

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