Documentary: Cybercops (2000)

Cybercops is a Channel 4 UK documentary first aired on December 21st 2000. The documentary explores threats to electronic commerce at the turn of the century and the work done by various private companies and law enforcement agencies to defend it.

The documentary offers a coverage of HOPE and Defcon conferences as a way to introduce hackers to the viewer. Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC) is prominently featured with interviews of Deth Vegetable and Sir Dystic. The two talk about the rationale for developing and releasing tools to circumvent security in Windows systems as a way to increase awareness and security of Microsoft’s products. At the same time, viewers are presented with clips of wild CDC parties and theatrical presentations at the conferences. The rest of this segment covers Chris Rouland and his crew discussing and carrying out intelligence gathering at the two conferences looking for new tools, hacking methods and future hacker stars.

A large chunk of the documentary is dedicated to interviews with Law Enforcement agents and private companies discussing various types of hacking attacks against Internet users, e-commerce sites, financial system and kids. A segment with a USSS Electronic Crimes Task Force special agent, Nancy Yule, talks about the ease with which hackers can see everything that Internet users do on their computers with tools such as CDC’s Back Orifice. Nancy advises never to purchase anything online to a group of wide-eyed agents. At the same time, she advises police officers just how easy it is to intercept and modify communications sent by portable computer terminals in their cars.

A Symantec virologist, Motayaki Yamamura, discusses some of the destructive virus payloads that format user hard drives and destroy files. At the same time he predicts that the future of computer viruses is not to destroy but to steal sensitive information from computers. Another example of private companies combating Internet crime is a segment at IBM’s Monitoring Center in Boulder, Colorado where we are walked through a typical detection and incident response process with Dough Brown and an unnamed analyst.

The documentary includes a coverage of several popular criminal cases. Detective Michael Brausam from LAPD’s Computer Crimes Unit talks about how he tracked down Dennis Moran aka Coolio after he defaced several websites. One of the more interesting interviews is with Michael Bloomberg who talks about his experience with online extortionists. In this incident, FBI and Michael Bloomberg were able to lure the two Kazakh extortionists to London in order to capture and extradite them back to the United States for prosecution. At last, a detailed view on identifying and capturing online predators is offered by Sacramento Valley’s Hi Tech Crimes Force.

Cybercops was released in the time of the dot-COM boom, when the rapidly growing electronic commerce has faced privacy and security issues of the online world. In that vacuum we can observe law enforcement agencies slowly adapting to an Internet equivalent of policemen and various private entities attempting to build businesses around fear and uncertainty. By far the smallest and the narrowest coverage in the documentary is that of hackers who are represented as wild internet delinquents set out on the quest of world domination. In that respect the documentary fails to identify hackers of varying ethical standards and how each of them present a unique threat or benefit to the online world.

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