Computer Crime When and How To Report It

You hear a lot about computer crime, and you know that good citizens report criminal activities to the proper authorities. But you also know that, in practice, the police often don’t have the time and manpower to deal with every minor offense.

As good citizens, we should report computer crimes to the proper authorities. However, many are not be sure exactly which activities observed are illegal and should be reported, and to whom should we report to.

This article is designed to assist in making that decision with confidence. We will cover ten potentially-reportable activities and groups them into three categories: activities you should not report, activities you may report, and activities you should always report. We’ll also provide contact information for the law enforcement agencies that investigate computer crime.

In general, computer crime laws in the U.S. can be divided into two categories: federal offenses and state offenses. If a state statute applies, you can call your local police department or state police agency – but they may or may not have the technical expertise and resources to conduct a proper investigation. The FBI and other federal agencies, on the other hand, may be able to get more done – if the case is important enough for them to get involved.

Before reporting any incident to law enforcement, follow your chain of command within the company and ensure that upper management approves. Involving law enforcement can result in significant costs. For example, personnel may be required to take time off to prepare for and appear at trial, equipment may be confiscated as evidenced and not returned for long periods, the company's "inside" information may be subpoenaed by the defense attorneys and exposed to the public through the media before and during the trial. It's not a decision that you would want to make alone.

Don’t report port scanning and similar “non-intrusive” activities.

Although port scanning is often a precursor to intrusion or attack, in most jurisdictions it’s not, in itself, a crime. It’s more like walking down a hallway in an apartment building and trying each door to see if it’s locked. If they find an unlocked door and go inside, that’s criminal trespass – but as long as they don’t go inside, they haven’t committed a crime.

Don’t report viruses, Trojans, worms, and Spyware to law enforcement agencies.

Although malicious software is a huge problem that does a great deal of damage and costs companies millions of dollars, law enforcement agencies generally don’t (can’t) respond to individual malware reports. While those who release viruses and other malware can be prosecuted under Title 18 of the U.S. Code, prosecutors generally go after those whose malware is widely distributed and causes a large amount of harm. If you encounter a new variety of malware, check the pages of popular antivirus vendors and report to them if it isn’t listed. Remember that the sender of a virus often doesn’t even know he/she is sending it. However, if you have evidence that a particular person actually wrote and originally released a piece of malware, you should contact local law enforcement or the FBI computer crime squad.

You may report intrusions and attacks that bring down the network.

Unauthorized access to a computer network is a crime under the laws of many states. If there is little or no documentable injury or monetary loss, however, you may find that law enforcement agencies simply file a report and don’t do much more. Jurisdictional issues and caseload often prevent in-depth investigation of computer crimes that are considered “minor.”

Report intrusions/attacks on large corporate dealing with sensitive data.

If sensitive data such as client financial information, medical records, customer credit card information, social security numbers, and the like has been compromised, you should report it to the authorities. This is also true if the company has government / defense contracts or deals with other types of regulated information. The FBI’s computer crime squad investigates major network intrusions and network integrity violations. You can report these types of attacks to both federal and local/state authorities and let them sort out the jurisdictional issues.

Report intrusions or attacks that result in large monetary losses.

The amount of monetary loss often determines whether a theft type offense is considered a misdemeanor or felony. Felony offenses will get more attention from law enforcement agencies.

Report cases of suspected industrial espionage.

If an intruder goes after your company’s trade secrets, this is a serious federal offense that will be investigated by the FBI.

Report cases involving child pornography.

This is an offense that is taken very seriously by law enforcement, and if child pornography is discovered on any company computer and is not promptly reported, as the company and management may be implicated or held liable in a civil lawsuit.

Report e-mailed or other digitally transmitted threats.

All states have laws against threatening and harassing communications. Physical threats against individuals, terroristic threats, bomb threats, blackmail, and similar electronic communications should be reported to local police.

Report Internet fraud to the IFCC.

If one of your users is a victim of “phishing” scams or other fraudulent activities perpetrated by e-mail or the Web, report it to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), which is operated by the FBI in conjunction with the National White Collar Crime Center.

Report suspected terrorist activities.

If you suspect that your network is being used for communications between terrorists, report it to your local police agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or via the FBI’s “tips” Web site.

Local/State Law Enforcement: Call your local police department, county sheriff’s office or state police agency. Do not call 9-1-1. Ask for the agency’s high tech crimes unit or, in smaller agencies, the criminal investigation division.

FBI Computer Crimes Squad: or 202-324-9164

FBI Tips site:

US Secret Service Form 4017 - Cyber Threat/Network Incident Report:

Internet Fraud Complaint Center:

National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C):

FTC Identity Theft Web site: