Access Nation: Fact or Fiction?

From the episode of Law and Order, titled “Access Nation”, I have gathered a few of the Information Technologies they have used and was involved in the murder of Psychiatrist Tracey Conley.

1. To obtain the murder victim’s identity, the police went to a movie house, where the victim came from before she was killed, and got her name from the cashier’s database upon the purchase of her movie ticket (the victim used a credit card).

FACT: Under the bank credit-card system, the bank credits the account of the merchant as sales slips are received (this means merchants are paid quickly — something they love!) and assembles charges to be billed to the cardholder at the end of the billing period. The cardholder, in turn, pays the bank either the entire balance or in monthly installments with interest (sometimes called carrying charges). It is necessary for the purchase, upon the use of a credit card, to leave information of the cardholder for tracing and billing. Thus it is possible for the authorities to have gotten Tracey Conley’s information through the movie house’s database.

2. Preliminary Forensics were used to identify that the knife from a murder suspect named Arnold was not the murder weapon.

FACT: In 2008 Police reports available from the Freedom of Information Act revealed over 10,000 criminal investigations where knives were used as a weapon and a terrifying 277 deaths from knife crime. With such a high number of criminal investigations involving knife crime, forensic resources put together a specialist forensic knife analysis and knife crime expert witness team to help provide expert witness reports to aid criminal investigations where knives were used as a weapon. When analysing cases where a knife has been used as a murder weapon, forensic resources can provide DNA Analysis and fingerprint analysis on the knife and also provide a blood spatter analysis service to investigate what had occurred during the incident.

3. Police recovering the file of Virgil Rice in the victim’s laptop before it was edited and saved after the event of the murder.

FACT: Hard Drives keep a copy of everything done in the computer as reference. It takes a special program to permanently delete anything. Thus it is possible for the police to have recovered Rice’s original file even after it was edited.

4. Virgil Rice sending Tracey Conley an email containing a computer worm, so that upon opening said e-mail, Rice gets complete access to Conley’s laptop. Meaning, he can read and edit her files and documents, monitor her key strokes when she typed and see her online activity. In other words, he had complete control of her laptop, as if he’s the one sitting in front of her keyboard.

FACT: There are worms existing that can actually perform these dreadful stalking acts. In recent worm attacks such as the much-talked-about Blaster Worm, the worm has been designed to tunnel into your system and allow malicious users to control your computer remotely. Another is the W32 Gaobot Gen U program, an internet worm that spreads to your computer when you connect to an already-infected network. The worm installs several files on your computer that allow other people to directly access the contents of your machine through an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel.

5. Access Nation – a sort of online P.I. firm that sells information and software. The information they sell to customers are from online sleuthing and investigation. Such information are personal data like online activity (downloaded files and music, movies rented, chat room postings, websites visited), bank accounts, credit card history, driving records, medical records, e-mail content, criminal records, and more.

FACT: This is actually true. Big companies compile information of their clients on their computers and talented online investigators can look them up and gather information by gaining access to their records. Companies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion have your credit card history. ChoicePoint, a data broker in Georgia, are based on claims information reported by insurers to the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, meaning they have information about insurance claims. The MIB consumer file database is maintained by the MIB Group, a consortium of 470 U.S. and Canadian companies that sell life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term-care insurance. Two other companies, Milliman and Ingenix, compile your prescription drug history from databases maintained by pharmacy chains and prescription benefit managers, and sell IntelliScript and MedPoint reports to insurers. Medical history is also on showcase. Chex Systems provides information on mishandled checking and saving accounts, a service used by about 80 percent of U.S. banks. TeleCheck assesses the risk of accepting paper checks at 350,000 retailers, financial institutions, grocery stores, and other outlets. Checking accounts are also on display. ChoicePoint is one of the more prominent background-check companies. LexisNexis, which owns ChoicePoint, also provides Person Reports. The Retail Equation maintains information on merchandise returns made to an undisclosed number of national retailers. Before customers are allowed to return goods, participating stores ask to run their driver’s licenses through a reader to check their return history. Meaning, purchase returns data are also at stake. First Advantage SafeRent maintains a landlord-tenant database of 34 million records and a subprime payment history database of 40 million records to screen prospective renters. A smaller company, RentBureau, includes nearly 6 million records nationwide (this is rental history). Major companies like USADATA, which has delivered more than a billion names to over 100,000 companies, and InfoUSA, whose databases contain 210 million consumers have their mailing lists. These companies are a few of the many who have information about you that you do not know and is readily AND legally available to strangers, particularly customers of those who sell information for a living.

6. Every e-mail sent contains a hidden header with the sender’s I.P. address. An I.P. address is the network address the internet provider uses to connect the sender. Once linked to a person (the sender/user of the internet), an online investigator can search wherever that person has been online and know what they’ve servered down once they got there. This was the method Robert Kitson used to track down Tracey Conley for Virgil Rice.

FACT: If you for whatever reason need to find someone and all you have is an I.P. address, there aren’t numerous options, but there are a few you can take. There are online search tools for this purpose, like Abika. This search tool allows one to discover the location of the address as well as the name and address of the owner. Just remember that the owner of the address isn’t always the user; someone else can use the computer easily, perhaps without the permission of the owner. The tool also allows one to do a reverse search on a variety of e-mail addresses (forwarding and more), instant messenger screen names, discover the addresses of those who make blog posts, and search for websites by the IP address. IP Address Location is another option.

Someone may want to perform such searches to discover the origins of criminal activity, such as stolen social security numbers. Any sort of online fraud may potentially be revealed with the ability to identify IP addresses.

So there are searches such as these, but the chances are that it will be very difficult to locate a specific person using an IP address alone. Most of the time, looking for someone based only on that information means one will be able to determine the network or general location.

However, once someone can determine that information, it is possible to track activity from that area and piece together the identity of the owner and even the user.


Law and Order: Access Nation (season 12, episode 15), T.V. show


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