Cyber Crimes and Digital Forensics
When the U.S. went to court against Enron, prosecutors arrived with a virtual
mountain of evidence gleaned from data—more than 31 terabytes of data—gathered
and analyzed during the FBI’s five-year investigation. To put that into
perspective, a terabyte is equivalent to about 250 million pages of text, which
would stack 10 miles high if printed on both sides of the page.
How did investigators digest and make sense of the sheer volume of information?
They turned to the Greater Houston Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, one
of 14 RCFLs operated by the FBI, as they are called, that provide digital forensics
services and training for more than 4,300 law enforcement agencies across 16
states. The RCFL in Houston processed data from 130 computers, thousands of
e-mails, and more than 10 million pages of documents, culling evidence that
helped deliver convictions of the company’s top executives, among others.
The Enron case is one of the many success stories highlighted in an annual report
of the RCFL Program, which began as a pilot in San Diego in 1999 and has evolved
into a network of cutting-edge digital evidence labs created to meet the burgeoning
need. Last year alone, RCFLs—staffed by the FBI and trained computer analysts
from more than 100 other agencies—collectively analyzed 59,677 media items,
including CDs, cell phones, hard drives, and PDAs.
“Computers are the crime scene of the new millennium,” U.S. Attorney
Patrick Meehan said at last year’s opening of the Philadelphia RCFL.
Among the Fiscal Year 2006 highlights of the RCFL Program:
- Opened four new labs—in Denver, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Dayton. A
14th lab opened in Kentucky in October (the start of a new fiscal year) and
is not reflected in the report;
- Conducted 3,633 digital forensics exams;
- Processed 916 terabytes of data;
- Trained 4,500 law enforcement personnel in various digital forensics techniques;
- Supported high-profile investigations, such as Enron, the bribery case against
ex-Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the public corruption case
against ex-Governor George Ryan, and the dissolution of an international child
During 2006, requests for assistance on cyber crime—which includes child
pornography and other violent acts against children—were the most frequent
in 11 of 13 RCFLs, followed in varying degrees by violent crimes, major thefts,
and white collar crimes.
“The RCFL is a tremendous resource we use in every one of our cyber-crimes
cases,” Eric Zahnd, a county prosecutor in Missouri, says in the report.
The 63-page report, issued in March, profiles each of the RCFLs in detail, including
their history, participating agencies, the number and type of examinations they
performed, and their challenges going forward.
For the overall program, which has an $8.8 million operating budget, the top
challenges are to increase the number of participating agencies—today,
110 agencies are partnered with the RCFL Program—and to increasing efficiencies
with more personnel and technology to meet the growing demand.
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