Graduate profile: IT investigator
After finishing his Computer Science degree at the ZHAW School of Engineering, Andreas Eugster did not set off down a traditional IT career path. Instead, he applied to the Zurich Cantonal Police Department. His goal – to put internet crimi-nals behind bars.
The handgun that Andreas wears on his belt is genuine. The criminals whom he investigates are real. The platforms that they use for such crimes, however, are often virtual. And the trend is growing. That is why the police’s need for specialists like Andreas with IT skills to combat internet crime can only grow. He successfully completed his Computer Science de-gree at the ZHAW School of Engineering five years ago. The course modules about internet security as well as the law-related courses were extremely interesting for him even back then. “It became clear to me that I wanted to work in the area of law enforcement,” the investigator explains. In the end, I decided not to look for a traditional job in computer science but rather to join the police academy and gain legal and police-related tactical skills.” Of course, as an IT specialist he could have also applied to the Zurich Cantonal Police’s technical investigative support team. There, computer science graduates with practical experience in digital forensics support investigations, for example by reconfiguring deleted data, decrypting codes or providing police operations with technical support. “Such computer specialists are not police officers, but they provide key puzzle pieces in successful investigative work,” Andreas comments. “However, that type of work would probably be too boring for me.” As a police officer, he wants to put all the puzzle pieces together to create a whole picture, investigate from A to Z, and finally slap on the handcuffs.
“In the end, I decided not to look for a traditional job in computer science but rather to join the police academy and gain legal and police-related tactical skills.”
“As a police officer, it is important to be a good investigator,” Andreas Eugster says. “You gain the necessary tools during your day-to-day work since every case is different and provides you with new experiences.” In the meantime, he is working towards a position as a specialist in the cybercrime department. To achieve this, he must first win his spurs as a plainclothes all-round officer. “No one joins the cantonal police with a Computer Science degree and immediately becomes a cyber police officer. Obtaining such a specialisation involves a long process and you need a lot of police experience as well as specialised knowledge.” He is now gaining this in Uster, Switzerland, where he is stationed. Together with his colleagues, he leads investigations in all areas. The police force employs people with very different educational backgrounds in their first jobs. Thanks to this heterogeneous mixture, each one brings their individual strengths and specialised skills in a particular area.
Andreas’ specialised competency comes into play when the police are dealing with cybercrime and fraud cases with an IT background. He recently tracked down a scammer who had operated more than 20 fake user accounts in an online auction house and carried out fictitious sales transactions with them. “Whoever purchases an item in an online flea market usually pays in advance,” Andreas explains. And criminals take advantage of this. “It can happen to anyone, of course, but perpetrators are not completely anonymous on the internet.” However, even when they are tracked down, not all perpetrators confess to their crimes. “As police officers, we have to use the evidence available to prove unequivocally that an individual is the perpetrator.” Even when criminals have committed their misdeeds on virtual platforms, investigations also take place in the real world. Andreas and his colleagues must gather all of the time-critical facts and information, interview the victims and evaluate all of the material. Apart from this, cyber criminals also constantly leave tracks beyond cyberspace, where they assume they are safe. “Within Switzerland, it is very difficult to manipulate forms, invoices and such things without written registrations.” That is why excellent cooperation between the police’s specialist departments is of vital importance in order for investigations to be successful in the end. During the past months, Andreas has already worked together with the cybercrime department on two different cases. One of them was an international arrest operation that was coordinated by the FBI in the USA. Dozens of hackers around the world, including in the canton of Zurich, were arrested at the same time and were all users of a special hacking software. The other case involved an apartment scam. The scammers offered apartments to let online that either did not exist or were already rented. “Such scammers operate very professionally and have psychological skills to gain people’s trust and thus influence them in a specific direction,” Andreas explains. Desperate apartment seekers had to transfer two months’ rent to secure the supposedly available apartment. Anyone could be deceived by the wiles of such scam artists, he says. Anyone? Even him? “Of course I tell myself that I would never fall for a scam, but who knows? You react differently depending on the situation or stage of life you are in.”
“No one joins the cantonal police with a Computer Science degree and immediately becomes a cyber police officer. Obtaining such a specialisation involves a long process and you need a lot of police experience as well as specialised knowledge.”
Since the internet is not bound by any borders, it serves as a platform for all types of criminal activities. “It is attractive for thieves because they can access many people through it. I observe how new cases are reported each week that are connected in some way with internet crime and figure out how I can put my IT knowledge to use in dealing with them.” Meanwhile, Andreas is not losing sight of his true goal. In order to get another step closer to the cybercrime department, he is currently completing an MAS in Economic Crime Investigation. “It is a continuing education degree in the area of IT, forensics and white-collar crime.” He will soon start writing his Master’s thesis. “I will most certainly write it on a topic related to internet crime, ideally in cooperation with the cybercrime department.” Thus, he will be one step closer to his dream job.