December 2007
Facebook Apologizes (5 December 2007
More Tracking Mania: PDFs with Ads (6 December 2007
Western Digital's Crippled Drive (9 December 2007
Ask.com's "AskEraser" (12 December 2007
Full Text Feed Coming Soon (12 December 2007
Full Text Feed Installed (31 December 2007
Exploiting Linkages for Good (31 December 2007

Exploiting Linkages for Good

31 December 2007

I heard an interesting story the other day. Since I often write about how linkages can be exploited for bad purposes, I thought I should mention an instance where there was a happy ending. I do have permission to post this story to the net.

Paul was robbed of his laptop at gunpoint. The story might end there, except that a few days later, a girl called him to ask for his password: "We're from Microsoft; we've recovered your laptop, but we need your password to verify your ownership". Paul said he wasn't comfortable giving it out over the phone. She asked if he'd email it to her; he agreed, so she supplied her Yahoo! Mail address.

Naturally, Paul called the police with that information. They thanked him, but said there was nothing they could do with it. Paul, however, knew rather more about the Internet. Since the caller had sounded rather young, he went to myspace and searched for that email address. He found her page; however, it was marked private, so he couldn't read it. But he searched for her myspace name on Google to find her friends. That was very productive; aside from a picture of one of her friends with a gun, another friend provided her own picture and precise birthdate and time, as part of her horoscope… This was enough for the police, though emailing the information to them was a bit problematic: the robbery squad — in what should be one of the most tech-savvy large city police departments in the country — has a single email address on a fading ISP, and the detective had to look it up.

The rest of the story is ordinary police work. The police found the astrology believer; she identified her friend, who indeed had Paul's laptop. However, she was a juvenile, so he doesn't know what happened to her. She told the cops who gave it to her (not the person who posted the picture of the gun, it turned out); the police then arrested him. Paul then had to identify him in a lineup; thirteen other robbery victims did the same.

The moral? I'm not sure… One, of course, is that many criminals are very stupid. Beyond that, the linkages were there, and Paul knew how to exploit them. The police did not, and they should have. Perhaps not enough violent street crime has a cyber angle to make such expertise worthwhile in that squad. But Paul got his laptop back, and the perpetrator was convicted.

Tags: privacy