Is there a special police agency that spies on your computer?

I often hear on the news that the police have arrested some one because they have porn on their computer and since when I was in law enforcement years ago when there were few computers I am wondering how it is possible that anyone in law enforcement knows what a private citizen has on his or hers computer if they don’t tell anyone or send photos to anyone else. Is there a special law enforcement agency that snoops on every person that owns a computer? This has always been a mystery to me how the government knows what we have on our personal home computers.:confused:

IP addresses.

Everytime you visit a website you leave your IP address with them.

If the FBI finds a site called SDMB-Perverted and finds it has hosted child porn they simply look up the traffic logs for that site. The website that hosts the site will have such logs.

Then they see, they go “AH HA” (FBI agents are known for saying “ah ha” a lot)… IP address XX.YYY.ZZZ.XX

Then they do a reverse look up and see… Ah ha that IP address belongs to someone from So they contact and get the info or if won’t make that info available they get a subpoena and that will say XX.YYY.ZZZ.AA belonged to Joe Pervert.

Then they use that info to get a search warrent for your house and computer and try to get the goods on you.

Now that would be a very simple case. Most people doing illegal thing are careful to not leave such obvious tracks.

The thing is everything on the Internet is in fact traceable. The thing is many things on the Internet are though not traceable because they are simply too difficult or too time consuming.

For instance if I send a message it might go from

Mark -> Yahoo Mail -> Receiver.

But I can use proxies to route info indirectly. I can go from Mark -> Proxy -> Proxy -> Yahoo Mail -> Proxy -> Proxy -> Reciever.

Now let’s say instead of 4 proxies I route it through 4 THOUSAND proxies or 400,000 proxies or some other huge number. You see now if law enforcement wants me they have to go through all those proxies and trace back each route.

If they think you killed someone they probably will, if they think you smoked a joint they won’t bother.

Now I oversimplified a lot but that is the basic idea. Remember if you’re running an illegal site your not gonna keep the same information. You’ll change it constantly. And most likely you’d run a server yourself and not host it with a company. Or you’d host it in a third world country that would have horrible record keeping or you could “pay” officials to lose things. Notice the two most popular music torrent sites “What.CD” and “Waffles.FM” are hosted in Congo-Kinshasa and Micronesia. So it’s more complex but you get the idea

Also remember people can be unknowing proxies. For instance, perhaps I have a virus that routes mail to others. As long as the writer of said program is clever enough not to tax my system too much, I wouldn’t even be aware my computer was being used to send mail. Why would I check for such a thing unless my CPU is slow and I can’t find a reason.

There are ways around this for instance the 9-11 terrorists were going into yahoo mail and writing a message and then putting it in the “save draft” folder. Then at another agreed time in a city far away another 9-11 terrorist was opening the same account and reading the unsent mail. You see no mail sent, no recording of mail to be intercepted. This forced a change in the way online mail systems record mail.

Also remember the time-honored technique of waiting until somebody drops a dime.

Most people arrested for computer related child pornography are caught because someone else (computer technician, spouse, house guest, random observer, thief) spotted the evidence, because of a pattern of connections to another person arrested for a similar offence, or by back-tracking ip addresses from a known internet source.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no global/universal system for monitoring all phone/email/text/faxes - the sort of data storage/processing required would be so massive that it would bankrupt a 1st world nation. Even the proposed UK requirement of ISPs recording connections between computers (without recording any data) has been dismissed as unworkable due to the data requirements.


I don’t get this.

And that was a very interesting and informative post, Markxxx.

“Dropping a dime” means someone cooperated with the authorities to implicate other miscreants.

As in drop a dime into a pay phone.

Pay phones used to be a popular way to make an anonymous phone call. Pay phones were everywhere. One call used to cost 10 cents. By the time I was a kid (currently, I’m 33), one call cost a quarter. By the time I was a teenager, they were up to 35 or 50 cents. If you wanted to tip off the police, you might want to remain anonymous (presumably, to not have to be identified or subpoenaed to testify against your neighbors). You wouldn’t want anyone to be able to trace the source of the tip back to your home phone.

We also used to have to pay to call people from our home phones in addition to our monthly bill. Someone a couple years older than me will be by shortly to remind you that you used to have to rent your home phone from AT&T, followed by someone older who will remind you of shared lines, switchboards, etc.

I suppose the new version of dropping a dime would be using a pre-paid cell phone from 7-11 or whatever, a burner. Or a gmail or yahoo e-mail account made just for that purpose.

What?! I have gotten several emails to the effect that I am going to get a FREE Disney vacation or a FREE cone at Ben & Jerry’s from Bill Gates and AOL because they are tracking my email and every forward counts!

If what you say is true, I am crushed :frowning:

I suppose the closest thing would be the NSA with Carnivore and NarusInsight.

While there are all sorts of ways for “big brother” to know what you are doing online if they really want to, by far the most common way regular police catch such people is when they are reported by someone else. Typically their employer (as they are using their work PC) or someone else who has access to the computer (often a computer repair guy).

Once there is probable cause, even small police depts have access to crime labs (all of whom nowadays have computer specialists on hand, who can use a variety of tools to find illegal material on confiscated computers)

Also, the FBI’s Magic Lantern and CIPAV.

(hijack): Thanks for clearing up the dime thing. I was trying to make sense of it by picturing somebody bending over to pick up a coin he or she had dropped, and being kicked in the rear.

I think it’s maybe overstating things to say that “everything on the Internet is in fact traceable” or that a dodgy website will necessarily retain logs of which IP addresses accessed it, although in fairness the poster did point out that he was simplifying things. But a website administrator can disable access logging, and traffic through the internet cannot easily be traced. For one thing, the traffic could travel by different routes even within the course of one session, and for another the intermediate routers along the way don’t necessarily log anything.

You’re wrong! Don’t you watch television!?!? They can trace anything!

But mostly I want to say that finding people who don’t know what dropping a dime is makes me feel really old.

This is probably the most common method.

And a large percentage of the reports come from computer repair shops. A lot of the online porn sites are infested with malware, many of the visitors are unsophisticated gullible computer users, so they do tend to get their computers messed up, and have to take them in to a professional for repair.

And those professional repair shops do have an incentive to report this to the authorities. Besides the fact that the repairperson may be personally disgusted by some of this material, they could face some legal liability for their shops, too, if they repair the machine and thus enable the owner to continue any criminal actions. Suppose the family of a future victim sued them/their shop – even if they successfully defended themselves from the lawsuit, the publicity would be very bad for their business.

Plus as a small business, known to have valuable merchandise in the store and subject to break-ins, being on the good side of the local police is valuable.

If I should call you up, invest a dime
And you say you belong to me and ease my mind
Imagine how the world could be, so very fine
So happy together
-The Turtles “Happy Together”

Yeah, I imagine a lot of these guys would’t know that much about computer repair. Their computer dies, so they can’t really clean teh disk up before getting it repaired. A computer repairman that does not report an obvious violation they run across could be in even worse hot water; after all, if caught the guy might claim the repairman put it there. Most cases you read about in the newspaper started because something led the police to the culprit - information from a repairman, someone who saw their computer, or someone they traded files with; and there were some big investigations related to tracing credit card numbers from pay sites.

Sure the NSA theoretically traces all sorts of electronic traffic; but they don’t usually search it for mundane crime stuff, they are more interested in international espionage; plus, if they passed on too many secrets, people would understand their capabilities (and so theirlimits) and this is not something they want known. The FBI might be closer, but there is no easy way to check every file in going by; automated photo filters (or at least the commercial firewall versions) have trouble with detecting simple porn, let alone the age of participants.

I thought I read once there is a registry of the most common pictures, so that when questionable porn is found on a PC the police can verify the identitiy and age of the subject.

Trojans can be used to take over a computer not just to send spam email, but also to use it as a safe place to store files; IIRC someone in Britain successfully used the defense of “trojans did it”. OTOH, the (ex)Disney exec (working for, IIRC) tried to claim chat programs automatically put files on his PC unsolicited and he didn’t know about them. Of course, that might have been more believeable if he wasn’t arrested after an arranged meeting with someone on a chat site who claimed to be 14.

The point is, your computer keeps all kinds of logs. Every file has the creation date, last mod date, and last accessed date. Your applications keep track of the last X files they opened. Your browser logs where you went and when, and even stores temporary copies of the websites you went to. This can be used to piece together a trail of what was done when on the computer, so saying “a trojan put the file there” doesn’t work well if the police can show what times the file was obtained from a web site and downloaded, then opened with the photo viewer, etc.

They can get a court order and monitor you through your internet connection if they suspect kiddy porn. It has happened twice in my area. It’s the State Police in the case I mentioned. A person I know is in Federal prison because he bought porn online from outside the country.

You can never get rid of information either so just go buy a new computer. Never use online storage through your internet company though because it’s theirs.

I don’t like porn but had a ex bf that did. I got Vista and closed him down with the parental controls. It’s scary that someone using your computer could get you arrested.

I would say your ISP has a pretty good idea what you do online.

Sounds like Echelon


[Echelon fodder: Nuclear Bin Laden Bomb Terrorist]