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Digital tracing

Cyber Cops: Hunting for criminals on the World Wide Web

© Thomas Eisenhut

19 February 2018

The potential threat from cybercrime is growing fast: in the State of Saxony alone, the police register several thousand crimes each year where the Internet is the “weapon” – and the trend is on the up. In order to gain control, the police in Saxony are recruiting experienced IT specialists and providing them with fast-track training to become members of the police force. #explore visited the Cyber Cops in the Saxony State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) in Dresden.

Eric Fischer could really have had a great career in a start-up company, or he could have claimed a top position in a large organisation. Many doors were certainly open to him. Yes, really. But instead of that, he decided in favour of a career in the civil service, with less say in where he would work and what his tasks would be. Not to mention less money. He earns a very good salary, but it is not such a vast amount as is sometimes paid in private industry to attract or retain specialists like him. To give him his full and correct title, Eric Fischer is a Chief Inspector in the police force, focussing on computer and internet crime. He works at the Saxony State Office of Criminal Investigation in Dresden in the Cybercrime Competence Center, known as SN4C.

IT Experts are in urgent demand

Cyber Cops, as Fischer and his colleagues are also often known, are in demand throughout the whole of Germany. For the threat from cyber criminals is increasing rapidly. In Saxony, for example, the police registered 10,269 crimes in 2016 “where the Internet was the weapon”. Four years earlier it was almost 3,000 fewer. The police depend on IT experts to support them in the battle against hackers, data theft and cyber blackmailers. And as such experts are not easy to find, the police in Saxony launched an initiative in 2016, and since then have used the recruitment slogan ... “At last you can access the police computers – and do some good!” to attract well-qualified professionals for the future.

Normally the time needed to become an Inspector within the upper ranks of the police service is 36 months in total. But the new Inspectors, who need an IT degree in order to be accepted, undertake a fast-track training course lasting only twelve months. They then go into the Cybercrime departments of the individual police forces directly or, like Eric Fischer, they enter section SN4C at the Saxony State Office of Criminal Investigation. Their net starting salary amounts to around 2,300 euros.

Dream profession: Policeman?

Of course a certain affinity with police work is a basic prerequisite for those who wish to enter the police service. As a young boy, Eric Fischer – who started out as an IT security consultant after completing his computer sciences degree – already wanted to become a policeman. And then at some point he was not longer able to resist the police recruitment drive: “I constantly heard the advertising on the radio and saw the posters and even my friends kept saying that it could be the right thing for me to do.” And yes, being a Cyber Cop is just the right thing for Eric. In autumn 2016 he started his police career at the Saxony Police Academy in Rothenburg, only a few hundred metres from the Polish border. For six months he learned the basic principles of police work, where firearms practice and police operations were on the timetable alongside public law, criminal law, criminal methods and interrogation techniques. After this period of specialist theory, there were six months of practical training including patrol duty and the filing of charges ... in other words, everyday police activities. But in autumn 2017, Eric Fischer finally started working in his specialist area – together with a colleague, he is responsible for the central contact hub for cyber crime, otherwise known as ZAC . This department supports companies, associations and official bodies who have been the victims of cyber attack and have contacted the police. These security incidents are recorded at ZAC and a decision is made regarding the police action that is necessary: is it sufficient simply to file a complaint, or should a police team be sent out immediately to secure data and possible evidence on site?

Cyber Cops do good

Nevertheless, ZAC is only one part of SN4C. The majority is made up of police officers, forensic specialists and colleagues from the telecommunications monitoring service. The Cybercrime Competence Center started in 2014 with around 60 staff – but today there are already 80 people working there, either experienced criminal investigators or IT experts like Eric Fischer, who belongs to the second generation of Cyber Cops. One of the Cyber Cops who was there right from the beginning is his colleague Lisa Schwertz*. And whilst the companies in the region should get to know the face of Eric Fischer so they can work with him on a basis of trust, Lisa Schwertz wishes to and must remain unrecognised. She is an IT investigator and hunts down cyber criminals on the net. In autumn 2016, she was one of the first ten officers to complete her training in the computer and internet crime division. Of these, seven went to the LKA in Dresden, while only three started in the police force in Leipzig, Chemnitz and Görlitz.

The story of Lisa Schwertz is similar to that of Eric Fischer. She studied computer and digital media and then worked for several years as a developer in the area of Search Area Optimisation, SEO although as a child she had already dreamed of joining the police. And today she combines both police work and SEO expertise. She develops algorithms and scripts for online searches which are more suited to the work of the Cyber Cops than those used by Google, for example. Using the algorithms she programs herself, Lisa Schwertz wants to track down cyber criminals. She is very much the embodiment of the Cyber Cop slogan: “At last you can access the police computers – and do some good!”. This desire to do good is also what motivates Eric Fischer to support the IT investigators in their work – as he says, “The desire to achieve something positive must be greater than the simple urge to earn a lot of money.”

*Name changed by the author

Cyber-Cops required

Each year, the police force in Saxony takes on IT experts who, after twelve months of fast-track training, start at the rank of Inspector with special focus on computer and Internet crime. Applicants must fulfil the following conditions:

  • at least a Bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, business IT or information and communication technology
  • no police record
  • minimum height 1.60 metres
  • at least 20 but less than 35 years old

Read more about training to be a Cyber Cop here > https://cybercrime.verdaechtig-gute-jobs.de

Computer scientists who would like a career in the police force are also urgently needed in other parts of Germany – for example in Bavaria. Read more > https://www.mit-sicherheit-anders.de/IT/einsatz/it-kriminalist 

ABOUT

Eric Fischer decided against a career as an IT Security Consultant in industry – and in favour of a career in the police. If an organisation reports a cyber attack to ZAC, Eric Fischer has to make a fast decision: can a small group record the crime on site or is a much larger team needed to save the last available data from loss?

ABOUT

For Henrik Hohenlohe, Eric Fischer’s boss and Head of the SN4C, there are two main factors when it comes to attracting the much-needed IT experts: police work is secure ... and it’s cool. “The work we can offer is interesting and really cool. And it has civil service status, which offers a certain job security and in the end brings people in to work with us.“

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