One Man Geek Squad on Cybercrime

03/10/2015 04:44 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

Marc Goodman is a one-man Geek Squad who began his law enforcement career as a beat cop in Los Angeles and became the departmental computer expert. With a nose for wrongdoing and digital aptitude, Marc has served as the FBI's Futurist in Residence, Interpol advisor, lecturer and now author.

His book "Future Crimes" has just been published and is a must read for everyone from legal professionals to businesses, parents and individuals.

"Criminals embraced the online world long before the police ever contemplated it and they have outpaced authorities ever since," writes Goodman.

Headlines are now starting to reveal the extent of nefarious usages of the Internet. Edward Snowden's revelations about spying on citizens and world leaders at the National Security Agency or the Sony Pictures hack-a-thon, the theft of Google algorithms by Chinese interests and the penetration of the Pentagon's Twitter and other accounts in 2015.

Most recently, the owner of the eBay for criminals, called Silk Road, was tried and convicted after a lengthy investigation. He was a Texas programmer who made $100 million in a handful of years calling himself Dread Pirate Roberts and running a site selling the services of hit men, terrorists, hacking software, weapons and drugs.

Goodman has compiled the scams, gangs and use of technology by criminals that's hair raising: For instance, drones are delivering illicit drugs across borders and drones have flown over prison walls to deliver weapons to inmates wishing to escape.

Closer to home, the U.S. Bureau of Justice estimated that in 2012 about 16.6 million Americans had their identities stolen online. The only good news about this is that Goodman points out that much of this can be prevented and he lists useful tips as to how to keep criminals out of your digital life.

1. Never click on or open attachments from unknown sources.

2. Always update your software when it's suggested because updates plug security holes in your system.

3. Vary your passwords and save them in a secure password manager site such as LastPass or KeePass.

4. Don't browse the web in a public place like a coffee shop or airport, but subscribe to a private service like Private Internet Access that allows you to get online anywhere.

5. Tape over the little camera lens on the top of your laptop. Hackers can watch you this way and some have posted and sold compromising photos of actresses on line.

I would add a couple of others. Never put confidential information such as credit card numbers or document numbers in emails. And watch where you obtain cash. I have had my credit cards compromised and counterfeited twice after using ATMs in convenience stores. Only bona fide ATMs in banks should be used.

I also had my g-mail account hacked several years ago and my contacts were sent "Nigerian" letters asking for emergency funds. Fortunately, no one fell for it, but I had to change all my bank accounts at great inconvenience and my archives were lost forever.

Google never responded or helped or even apologized which is when I realized that we are all walking down dark digital alleys that are never policed and without so much as a 911 number to call for help.

The result is that crime pays better than ever now that criminal organizations leverage technology when the police do not. In Mexico, for instance, traffickers and gangsters have their own encrypted cellphone network. When one leader was caught in 2014, police found US$200 million cash in his Mexican mansion - more than twice Interpol's worldwide budget or Mexico's drug interdiction budget.

Goodman says that 600,000 Facebook accounts per day are hacked and burglars, for instance, search the website by postal code to find out who's posted to their friends that they are on vacation somewhere.

"Vacation plans on Facebook or Twitter are like a `please rob me' signal," he said. "Some 78% of burglars get their leads from social media."

Some of the scams are impressive. In 2012, a bank robber in Seattle posted on Craigslist that construction jobs were available and interested parties should show up the next morning at a certain intersection with their boots, tool kits, goggles and hard hats. The bank robber dressed that same way, robbed the bank and joined the throng to escape. When police arrived to arrest a robber wearing construction gear, there were dozens who that fit the description and he escaped.

Unfortunately, Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs have been indifferent as to how their technologies can be applied. "Many of these...creating our technological future pay precious little attention to the public policy, legal, ethical and security risks that their creations pose to the rest of society," he said.

For example, he wonders, what would happen if IBM's incredible artificial intelligence machine, Watson, turned to a life of crime? Another incident involved the murder of a roommate by a man who asked Siri where he should bury his roommate? Siri rhymed off a list of possibilities such as dumps or swamps.

3D printing technology has been used to replicate handcuff keys in Germany, police badges and bullets.

"When it comes to technological threats to our security, the future has already arrived," he writes in his conclusion. "Everything is connected and every one is vulnerable. But there are things we can do about it."