Protecting Law Enforcement Information
Today’s records management systems, including those used by law enforcement, are nearly all computer-based digital files. The Next Generation 9-1-1 Systems are Internet Protocol based and allow for text messaging and the sharing of photographs, and video from citizens to call centers. Computer-aided dispatch systems are also a type of digital technology. In this ever-changing world, securing law enforcement information requires much more than just physical security. Police executives must begin to take cybersecurity very seriously and recognize the potential threat to public safety service delivery.
By now most police executives have heard the stories of agencies being targeted by computer hackers. In some cases, sensitive information about law enforcement operations, officers’ personal information, and even detailed information on officers’ families have been stolen from the police agencies’ digital files and then released to the public. As serious as these incidents are, just imagine if an agency’s computer systems were hacked and individual criminal records were edited, added, or deleted. The agency’s ability to depend upon their computer records being accurate for the purposes of developing reasonable suspicion or probable cause would become nonexistent.
Today many chiefs believe the threat of a cyber attack is quite serious; however, just as many admit that current policies, practices, and technology are not sufficient to minimize their agencies’ risk.1 Historically, the greatest threat to an agency’s computerized systems were disgruntled employees; however, in today’s cyberworld, one controversial arrest or incident can bring the attention of local, national, and international hackers to the jurisdiction with the shared mission to breech confidential files and exploit them as a form of punishment.
Police executives are encouraged to educate themselves as to how secure their departments are from cyber attacks. The following questions should be considered when evaluating a department’s cybersecurity:
- Who has access to computer systems to include email, confidential information, report management systems, informant files, and investigative files?
- Is it known exactly who has administrative rights to the computer systems?
- Is someone specifically tasked to remove computer access rights given to previous employees?
- Have vendors been granted access to an agency’s systems by administrators for the purpose of implementing new software or to troubleshoot existing software?
- Was that access removed when the contract work was completed?
- Does the organization utilize legacy operating systems that are no longer supported with security updates?
- Have all computer system security patches been kept up to date?
- Do secondary vendors have access to the system, and if so, have their computer systems security been vetted?
- Does the agency conduct independent cybersecurity audits of the agency’s computer systems that contain the agency’s most sensitive files?
- Does the agency have a digital data security policy, and are the guidelines tested?
In order to prevent these kinds of attacks, law enforcement should be informed of methods to reduce the probability and likelihood of a successful attack. Click here to learn more.
Terry Sult, “Facing the New World of Digital Evidence & Cybersecurity,” The Police Chief 81 (February 2014): 50–51.