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TMCNet:  Law enforcement on the Internet

[December 07, 2012]

Law enforcement on the Internet

Dec 07, 2012 (Northwest Florida Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- DEFUNIAK SPRINGS -- The office of the Walton County sheriff's Cyber Crime Unit isn't your typical cubicle.

The office is similar to an evidence room because of the information stored on the equipment and its level of security, Investigator Joshua Sconiers says.

The office is locked when he and the other investigator aren't inside. They work on a separate Internet network from the rest of the county and serve as their own IT support.

Walton County Sheriff's Office's cyber crime unit began with Sconiers in 2009 as a way to combat child exploitation. Since then, the second investigator was added and the unit's focus has expanded to network intrusion, fraud, and even non-electronic-based crimes.

Almost everyone has a smartphone, which can contain evidence of a theft or burglary, Sconiers said. His job is to find possible evidence and extract it.

"They're no different from a regular computer," he said.

The same rules apply for evidence gathering from computers and phones as a private building. A warrant is needed for the initial scope of a search and another warrant is needed for any search beyond that.

Sconiers compared searching for evidence on a computer to looking for a certain line in a book that sits in library with no card catalog or index.

No official training requirement exists for computer forensic examiners, Sconiers said. Still, he spends hundreds of hours each year in training.

Every new product and computer or phone update must be learned. That gives him the tools to find evidence and the credentials needed when he is called to court as an expert witness.

"I need to know the ins and outs of how everything works," Sconiers said.

Even if he doesn't understand a particular device or needs a specific resource, local law enforcement agencies share information and tools, he said.

The Sheriff's Office also helps with national cases. Sconiers discovered a computer virus attached to what looked like an email from the U.S. Postal Service. That brought in Homeland Security, the FBI, Secret Service and local agencies.

Recently, Sconiers received an award for his work on a nationwide online sextortion and cyberstalking case.

Christopher Gunn, a former Walton County resident, allegedly befriended girls between the ages of 13 and 17 all over the country either by posing as Justin Bieber or by pretending to be a new kid in the area after he looked at information the girls' social media accounts.

Eventually, Gunn would convince the girls to send nude photographs, and then blackmail them to continue doing so.

It took investigators three years to gather evidence and find Gunn, Sconiers said. Gunn was eventually indicted in May.

Cases involving children are difficult, said Sconiers, who is a family man. He tries to leave work behind when he comes home.

"We see the worst things a person can see," he said.

Sconiers is a firm believer in overseeing a child's Internet usage through monitoring software. He also recommends turning on the GPS in their cellphones. The data gleaned from those programs can help investigators in case of a kidnapping or abduction.

"Protect your children at all costs," he said.

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Delgado at 850-315-4445 or ldelgado@nwfdailynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenDnwfdn.

___ (c)2012 the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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