Computer frauds have become a common and familiar event. In the middle of the 1980s, a complaint was registered with the police by a large daily newspaper as a result of a break-in of their computer network. This was the first event of its kind handled by
computer crimes how it all started
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Computer Violations – How It All Began


Today, everyone talks and writes freely about computer violations. The terms “Trojan Horse,” “hackers”, “hacking” into computer and media systems, and installing “security” software have all been integrated into the criminal chronicles that are widely reported in the media.

The general public is unaware of how and under what conditions the investigation of computer criminals began in Israel, and what methods were used for computer investigations. What means were at the disposal of investigators who were forced to deal with young hackers whose computer abilities far surpassed those of the police investigators? I was there twenty years ago. A newly appointed officer in the National Unit for Fraud Investigations.

None of the investigators had a computer in their home or office. The only computer in the unit that dealt with computer investigations was in the secretary’s office, and was used to print out investigation reports that were handwritten by the investigators. The only computer term familiar to me and to several of my colleagues was “Enter”. What can I say - it was a different generation.

And then, on a hot and sticky June day in 1986, the Yediot Achronot newspaper published an unusual and flashy news report for the time: “An Electronics Teacher from Tivon Transferred Drugs Through Electronic Bugs”. The story was submitted by a representative of the Israeli army radio station in New York, currently known to us as television anchorman Yaacov Eilon. 

The newspaper’s night editor left instructions for the morning editor to send a reporter to Kiryat Tivon in order to complete the coverage of the story. The reporter arrived at the teacher’s home. Neighbors upset by the discovery of this information regarding their neighbor hovered around the entrance to the building. 

The reporter’s initial inquiry revealed that the teacher had been hospitalized as a result of the anguish caused by the association of his name with a serious criminal offense. A brief conversation with the teacher’s family members strengthened the reporter’s opinion that the story was false. The reporter submitted his initial findings to his editor.

A phone call in the middle of the night woke Yaacov Eilon up from bed.  “Did you send us the story about the teacher from Tivon who smuggles drugs through electronic bugs?” Eilon was asked. Eilon, half asleep, nevertheless answered the editor with clarity, “What are you talking about?  What do I know about this subject?”  The editorial staff of the newspaper then convened for an urgent meeting in order to deal with their situation.  The meaning was clear to the publisher of the newspaper.

If the story turned out to be fictitious, the newspaper could expect a very expensive libel suit. 

No one is willing to part with money easily, not even an established and respected newspaper such as Yediot Achronot.  A quick consultation with the newspaper’s attorneys led to the decision to register a complaint with the police. The newspaper believed that a successful and thorough investigation that could expose the planter of the story may soften the financial blow and image problem about to be faced by the newspaper owners. 

 The complaint went straight to the commander of the unit. This was the first time that their unit was to deal with such a case. At the beginning, we didn’t know how to define the violations and determine which law had been broken. Keep in mind that the laws involving computers were only legislated ten years after the investigation of this complaint!

It was finally decided that an investigation would be conducted in order to examine suspicion of forgery, trespassing, and damages. The investigation was assigned to me, I still cannot understand why. Neither I nor the other people on my team knew anything about the field. Investigations into violations conducted with computers were unfamiliar in Israel. The then commander of the unit, Yoram Gonen, just took a gamble on me. And that is how the first police investigation into computer violations began. 

I examined the problem for a few days. I met with all the professionals who were willing to help. We received all the computerized details identifying the path of the story’s transfer to print from the newspaper’s computer department. Today this sounds amazingly obvious and simple. Back then this was less advanced and not as easily accessible.

Based on the information collected, we identified a suspect from Kiryat Tivon. We quickly went to court in order to receive a warrant to search this suspect’s home - a suspect still referred to as the “boy from Tivon.”  That day I was accompanied by two investigators from the unit’s northern division, who helped me search the boy’s home.  At his house we found a computer, modem, phones, computer outputs, and work papers. 

The boy was brought to our unit and his interrogation began. He did not use the right to remain silent, but rather the right to lie. His exaggerated self confidence in his knowledge as compared with mine caused him to be arrogant and try to sell me terms that he thought would deceive me. What he didn’t know was that I came prepared to the interrogation.

Of course I didn’t have, nor will I ever have, his level of expertise. The little information I had, combined with investigative sophistication and a good capacity to pressure the boy, began creating the first cracks in the defensive wall raised by the boy.

The boy was detained overnight in Abu Kabir. The next day he was brought to us again for interrogation. He used the night in Abu Kabir in order to examine himself closely. The interrogation that day began with a statement by the boy proclaiming that he intended to confess to his actions and get the whole thing over with. The boy knew and understood that I already had all the evidence, and that I had the power to prove how he sent the news story. 

    His motive was unclear to me at this stage. I had to crack the motive riddle. I didn’t actually need his confession to the accusation at hand, although I am guided by the principle that a case without the suspect’s confession is incomplete. I didn’t like cases based on circumstantial evidence. And then the boy began to discuss and focus on the motive for his actions, after he had already confirmed what I knew from the collection of evidence prior to his arrest.

And this is what motivated him. The boy was diagnosed late with dyslexia at a time when appropriate attention was not given to students with these kinds of disabilities. He compensated for his learning disabilities with computer expertise. The boy was diagnosed as a computer genius with the ability to hack into computer systems by stealing account numbers and passwords on the Bezeq computer system, “Isranet.”  His electronics teacher was uncompromising and not sympathetic to the boy’s learning limitations.

Instead of encouraging and nurturing him, the boy claimed that the teacher insulted and hurt him.  And then the boy hatched a plan that would give the teacher what he deserved. He was able to crack the password for reporter Yaacov Eilon’s account, hack into his account, and send a fictitious and dramatic news report on his behalf.

The boy was convicted and sentenced to community service at a Center for the Blind in Haifa. Following his conviction, he was not drafted into the army unit that he wanted. After his army service, he provided information protection services and consultation to companies that wished to protect themselves from the attacks of computer hackers such as himself. Fate is ironic, but that’s the way life goes.

The resolution of the case and confession of the suspect were published throughout the media. The affected newspaper led this campaign, of course, and even praised the head of the unit. Back then, the publicity was enough. The public affected by computer violations considered the unit to be the best venue for complaints, and the field of computer investigations began to develop.

This success pleased us. It took the Police Authority a little while to absorb this new and developing field of criminal activity. The required organization of resources was finally completed. I was sent to Canada in order to participate in a computer violations course.

I was appointed as the head of the first team dealing with computer violations. The Police offered a basic course to investigators from various investigation units. The investigators were not yet equipped with computers. We used the computers used by the suspects in order to clarify and investigate our suspicions.  Today everything is different, of course. All the units are networked. 

A Computer Violation Division has been established. A Computer Law has been legislated. The number of complaints continues to rise. The criminals continue their activity. The Police cannot handle the amount of complaints. Limitations in human resources and budget prevent the police from handling computer violations in a consistent manner. We are all hoping for better days.

The Yanir Levin Investigation Agency is happy to answer questions and be of assistance regarding any matter related to computer violations, identity theft, etc. Please visit our Investigation Forum in order to respond to or raise questions about this issue. You can also approach us personally and discretely via email or telephone.  Private investigators specializing in the field will answer any questions and assist you as soon as possible.

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