Cyber arm of the law gets stronger with CETS

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Sexual predators victimizing minors online have counted on the Web’s anonymity and lack of boundaries for years. But those protections may not be available to them anymore.

Software engineers and police investigators are working together to further enhance Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS), an evidence gathering and analytics tool developed in Canada.

Microsoft Canada Co. of Mississauga, Ont., said it is preparing to release a beefed up version of CETS next year. The tool was first jointly developed in 2005 by Microsoft, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Toronto Police Service.

More than $3 million has been poured into the development of CETS version 2.0. The upgraded tool will focus on improving collaboration between the various investigative and police agencies using the system.

Since its launch in Toronto, CETS has been deployed by 28 other police agencies across the country, as well as by police forces in Indonesia, the United Kingdom (U.K.), Italy and Brazil. Spain and Chile are also planning the use the system.

CETS is primarily an information management tool that uses extensible markup language (XML) Web services and other Microsoft products such as SharePoint Portal Server and SQL Server database to obtain data related to child exploitation. The system enables investigators to search newsgroups, chat rooms and Web sites in a matter of seconds.

“The first version was focused on sharing of information between agencies. This version will enhance the level of collaboration between agencies across the world that use CETS,” said John Hancock, senior consultant and solutions architect for Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont.

Citing security reasons, Hancock declined to provide further details, but said the new CETS will take advantage of the collaborative tools of SharePoint 2007 and the improved business intelligence (BI) features of SQL Server 2005. “Investigators will be able pass around documents detailing progress on a case, and the system will be capable of analyzing larger volumes of data.”

CETS has been credited for the arrest of 64 suspects and the rescue of 43 victims of child pornography or sexual exploitation, according to Michael Eisen, chief legal officer, Microsoft Canada.

Nine of the suspects and 22 of the victims came from Toronto, said Eisen.

A couple of weeks ago the police force in Brazil launched its own CETS program.

“Now we are equipped with better tools to protect children against on-line pedophiles,” said Paulo Quintiliano, head of the Brazilian forensic computer crime unit.

He said the system allowed users to quickly share information concerning a case with other participants in an investigation.

Some 200 police officers were recently trained in using the system, according to Quintiliano.

Next year the force plans to train 600 more officers and then eventually deploy the system in all Brazilian states.

CETS’s strength lies in being able to scour the Internet for information, churn through volumes of data, and uncover “non-obvious” social connections, according to Paul Gillespie, former detective sergeant with the Toronto police force.

The system then establishes links pertaining to a suspect’s online identity and other resources such as URLs and IP address.

Under Gillespie, the Toronto police force’s child exploitation section had kick started work on CETS by e-mailing Microsoft chief Bill Gates a request for help in battling criminals using the Internet to victimize children.

Gillespie, who now runs a consultancy agency, said prior to CETS investigators spent hours or days searching through sex-oriented chat rooms and sites to uncover a suspect’s trail.

“CETS does this automatically within minutes,” he said.

Recently other police agencies in Canada have collaborated with tech companies in the development of anti-crime databases.

The Cape Breton Police Service in Nova Scotia is working with IBM Research on database that links disparate and seemingly unconnected data to help investigators track suspects.

Big Blue also provided Toronto’s men in blue with Enterprise Case and Occurrence Processing System or eCops , a system that uses data mining, extensive mapping and geo-coding to help police analyze trends and crime patterns.

“Criminals have used and sought refuge in the Internet long enough. It’s about time for the law to take advantage of this technology,” said Gillespie

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