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DHS opens first cyber-forensics center
Published: 2007-03-13

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security teamed up with law enforcement officials from the state of Alabama last week to announce the founding of the National Computer Forensics Institute in Hoover, Alabama.

The NCFI aims to give criminal investigators, prosecutors and judges from the U.S. and other countries the training and support needed to better investigate and understand digital crimes, the DHS said in a statement announcing the center. The plans for the center includes a computer forensic lab, research and development laboratories, exhibition space for educating the public, and a conference area, according to the DHS statement.

The U.S. Secret Service will develop the curriculum for the center and some funding will come from the DHS's National Cyber Security Division.

"Today’s high tech environment presents new challenges to law enforcement as cybercriminals exploit computers and the Internet to threaten our banking, financial and critical infrastructures," Brian Nagel, deputy director for the U.S. Secret Service, said in a statement. "As a result, law enforcement has been propelled into technologically non-traditional terrain requiring highly specialized skills and innovative applications of traditional investigative strategies. It is imperative to address the changes in technology by providing training on cyber-investigative techniques and by sharing current expertise among federal, state and local officers."

The lack of expertise in digital forensics and technology has resulted in some public black eyes for law enforcement officers and prosecutors. In January, security experts questioned prosecutors' conclusions in a controversial criminal trial that found a Connecticut substitute teacher guilty of four charges stemming from pornographic pop-up ads that appeared on a classroom PC. Some members of the security community have banded together to attempt to analyze the hard-disk drive image of the PC to show that spyware, and not the conduct of the teacher, led to pornography appearing on the computer's monitor.

Three states have mandated that all digital evidence introduced into court must be have been processed by a certified forensics facility, of which only about a dozen currently exist, a forensics expert told attendees at the recent Black Hat DC Conference.

The National Computer Forensics Institute will receive approximately $3 million from Alabama and $9 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. Secret Service will provide 18 full-time agents to help staff the NCFI, according to press reports.

Posted by: Robert Lemos
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