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Cybercrime-fighting abilities in doubt

Kyodo

After a series of embarrassing missteps — including multiple wrongful arrests — police investigating a high-profile cybercrime case Sunday took into custody a 30-year-old man previously convicted of a similar crime on suspicion of using hijacked computers to threaten murder.

Yusuke Katayama was convicted in an online-threat case in 2006 that investigators believe matches information shared by the self-proclaimed perpetrator in the current case, which also involves threats posted between last June and September.

Observers, however, have pointed out inconsistencies that must be addressed by police whose highly publicized mistakes — including the arrests of four innocent people in connection with the case — have cast doubt on their ability to investigate high-tech crime.

In 2005, Katayama was arrested for posting Internet messages threatening to kill elementary schoolchildren and record-label employees. A court convicted him and sentenced him to 18 months in prison the following year.

In the latest case, the self-claimed perpetrator sent emails to media organizations in January, asking them to solve a puzzle that led to a micro SD data storage card that was attached to the collar of a cat found in Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture.

The card contained a message that said: “Because I was embroiled in a criminal case before, despite my innocence, I was forced to make major changes to my life.” The email, meanwhile, said, “I wanted to frame police and prosecutors.”

During his 2005 trial, Katayama, a self-described outcast, said of his motive: “I thought I don’t belong to society and I wanted to see how people would react (to such a person). That was the reason (for committing the crime).”

During questioning by his lawyer about the reaction to his posts, Katayama said he had been “basking in the wrong sense of satisfaction.”

Police apparently began focusing on Katayama after security camera footage captured a man resembling him videotaping and approaching a cat in order to attach an object to the collar.

However, at least one ranking officer at the Metropolitan Police Department has doubts about the footage because of the apparent carelessness of the subject, which contrasts sharply with the perpetrator’s thoroughness in earlier identity concealment. The perpetrator had been methodical in posting threatening messages through other people’s PCs using software designed to remain anonymous on the Net.

But police say they have several pieces of evidence that point to Katayama remotely controlling other people’s computers. Still, Itsuro Nishimoto, an official at LAC Co., a data security firm, said Katayama may have had another scenario in mind, apparently thinking he could eventually escape prosecution.

“If no indictment is filed against him, that would humiliate the police and prosecutors,” Nishimoto said. “He may have sought arrest.”

There remain some issues that need to be addressed.

“We could make an arrest because the suspect revealed himself, but what we fear most are copycats,” a National Police Agency official said.

Domestic law enforcement has an unflattering history when it comes to hunting down Internet criminals.

Since a raft of documents related to international terrorism probes was leaked online in 2010, no new information about the who committed the crime has been uncovered, and the case’s statute of limitations expires in October.

In the threat cases, too, four people were wrongly arrested as a result of police relying too much on IP addresses, which helped them locate the PCs from which the threats were sent, when in fact these computers were remotely hijacked by the perpetrator without the owners’ knowledge.

In January, the NPA devised an emergency program to step up collaboration with private-sector experts versed in computer technology, admitting that police alone could not keep up with the latest advancements in cybertechnology.

Despite it having been identified as a priority area, the agency has not made significant budget appropriations for measures to counter cybercrimes. Within its budget of roughly ¥244 billion for fiscal 2013, which starts in April, only around ¥1.8 billion — less than 1 percent — is allocated for such measures.

Katayama, who works for an information technology firm, faces a charge of forcible obstruction of business. He is suspected of posting a message last August on an online bulletin board, claiming that many people would be murdered at a comic book event, resulting in tightened security at the venue.

Katayama has maintained his innocence.

For the authorities, though, another misstep in the case could mean further damage to their reputation. “We were badly burned and there is no more room for us to make mistakes,” the NPA official said.