Outdated Systems, New Threats: The Urgency of Closing the Law Enforcement Tech Gap

Date: 11 April 2024 Author: Matt Swenson Read Time: 4 mins

In late 2002, as a new Special Agent for the U.S. Customs Service, I was in front of a typewriter. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I’d used one before, but it had been years, or possibly a decade or so since I had used one. But here I was, sitting in front of a relic from the past, filling out a confidential source document card. I had been assigned to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after September 11th. Seattle was an original target of the terror attacks; the terrorists had planned to crash a plane into the Bank of America building, the largest building in Seattle, but when they decided to scale back their plans, they dropped Seattle as an attack site. Ahmed Ressam, dubbed “The Millenium Bomber,” had been caught by U.S. Customs in Port Angeles, Washington, located northwest of Seattle.

Seattle had become a focus for hiring new agents to help combat border and terrorist related criminal activity. Agents like myself were being hired by the dozens to augment the fight against transnational crime. One might think that being in a field office in Seattle, the home of Microsoft and Amazon and a major tech hub in the USA, the method for signing up a confidential source would consist of something more advanced than filling out a card on a typewriter, but the reality was that the technology used by law enforcement was years behind the corporate sector.

The case management system used then was called the Treasury Enforcement Communication System, which was developed in the late 1970s and written in COBOL, a programming language developed in 1959. The graphical user interface, if you could call it that, was a monochromatic black background with green text that looked like something out of the 1980s movie War Games. Based on Hollywood’s portrayal of U.S. federal agents in television and the movies, most people expect them to use the most cutting-edge technology to track a suspect’s every move. The reality, I learned, couldn’t be further from the truth.

My first work computer ran the Windows NT operating system. Windows NT didn’t allow for hot-swappable USB drives, so if you wanted to plug a USB drive into a computer, you had to shut it down first and reboot with the drive plugged in. Therefore, files were usually moved via floppy disk, which had a max capacity of 1.44 MB. We were using Lotus Notes for email. I couldn’t believe how outdated most of the systems were.

The government, and by proxy, law enforcement, have often needed to catch up to adopting new technology into their I.T. ecosystems. Investigative case management software, arguably the most essential software for an investigative agency, provides a centralized platform for managing and tracking investigations. Good investigative case management software enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement agencies by streamlining investigative processes, improving collaboration, and facilitating informed decision-making.

Even though investigative case management software is essential for a law enforcement agency, it is often slow to be upgraded or replaced. Case management software is used daily, and agencies fear disruptions to everyday operations and employees’ resistance to learning a new system. For these reasons, organizations are hesitant to adopt new systems with more modern and state-of-the-art features and instead cling to systems they are familiar with.

Compare the average law enforcement case management system with most modern cybersecurity platforms, and you will see a dramatic contrast between old and new technology. Cybersecurity software, driven by a constantly evolving threat landscape, must continuously innovate to keep up with unknown attack vectors. Many cybersecurity programs have cutting-edge features such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, automation, orchestration, workflows, and adaptive response. These advanced features are rarely included in most investigative case management platforms, which are content to ingest data from the customer, organize it, and present it to the user.

The BlackRainbow Nimbus case management system was designed with the belief that a case management user doesn’t need to settle for a basic system that retrieves data. Nimbus combines the features you expect in a traditional case management system and connects the advanced features in a next-generation cybersecurity product. These features allow for the creation of automated workflows, taking repetitive and time-consuming tasks to streamline work. Tasks related to evidence handling and chain of custody, case assignment, hardware and software validation, quality management reviews, and others can be automated, saving time and increasing the quality and accuracy of work.

The Nimbus platform manages more than just case data. It also manages evidence, assets and inventory, training, and forensics labs while maintaining an audit log of all user actions in the system. Nimbus also has a built-in messaging capability, allowing users to communicate and share correspondence from within the platform. In most law enforcement environments, separate systems exist for each item. By bringing all of these items under one system, a system with advanced functionality like Nimbus, an organization has access to all of their data at their fingertips, added with the functionality to utilize it as effectively and efficiently as possible.

In today’s rapidly evolving landscape of cyber threats and criminal activities, law enforcement agencies face unprecedented challenges in combating crime and ensuring public safety. Traditional investigative methods and outdated technology are needed to address the complexities of modern crime syndicates and cybercriminal networks. As criminal tactics become increasingly sophisticated and interconnected, law enforcement agencies must adapt by embracing innovative technologies and modernizing their investigative capabilities.

The BlackRainbow Nimbus case management system represents a paradigm shift in how law enforcement agencies approach case management and investigative operations. By integrating advanced features such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation, Nimbus empowers investigators to stay ahead of emerging threats and effectively navigate the complexities of modern investigations. Automated workflows streamline repetitive tasks, enabling investigators to focus their time and resources on high-priority activities and critical decision-making processes.


About the Author: 

Matt Swenson is the CEO of North America at Black Rainbow. Interested in digital forensics, cyber security, mobile device forensics, incident response, cyber crime, cryptocurrency and investigations.

Matt Swenson




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