Computer Crime Research Center

Alliance to combat villains of cyberspace
(By Joseph D. Wilcox)

Crime has gone online — and so have the cops.

In a unique collaboration, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, universities and businesses throughout western Pennsylvania have created a nonprofit training center to give investigators the skills for cyber-sleuthing.

The National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance will offer training and degree programs in computer forensics, investigations and case management. It also will have a lab that will simulate cyber crime and cyber attacks to help law enforcement better understand how intruders work.

"We have seen in law enforcement that computers are used in almost every criminal activity we encounter," U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said.

From fraud to child porn, computers are part of all types of crime prosecuted in Allegheny County, said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

"By the end of 2005, we expect half of our indictments to involve computers in some aspect," he said, noting that the county prosecutes about 20,000 cases a year.

The alliance grew out of the work performed by the Pittsburgh High-Tech Crimes Task Force, made up of state, local and federal law enforcement.

Within two months, the new center will begin teaching investigators how to extract evidence from computers and training them to detect and track computer crime. The center also will help law enforcement develop responses to cyber crime and to assess computer systems' vulnerabilities.

"In cyber, evidence is fleeting," said Dan Larkin, FBI supervisory special agent in Pittsburgh who heads the task force and who helped to create the alliance. "It's very important for us to get plugged in at the earliest stage. Industry and academia hold the key to that early in."

He compared the center to a "teaching hospital," where instructors will use actual investigations to train law enforcement officers. The first classes should be offered in Pittsburgh in late December or early January, he said. Organizers are looking at sites on the North Side and Downtown.

Other alliances exist elsewhere in the country among the public and private sectors and higher education. What makes the Pittsburgh center unique is that the three groups will do more than share information. They will have a headquarters that houses the training center, officials said.

"It is the first one to get up off the ground and is being promoted by us as a model for the nation,” said Richard L. Johnston, director of the National White-Collar Crime Center. “The alliance is certainly unique. It is an extremely cutting-edge endeavor.”

The alliance concept will be shared and adapted across the country, Larkin said. Consortiums in Dallas and Tallahassee, Fla., are working to start similar programs.

Dain Gary, chief security officer of RedSiren Technologies in Downtown, said government must tap business and academia to stay abreast of rapidly advancing technologies. RedSiren Technologies, which develops computer security and forensics software, is a member of the alliance.

"You can't look at history anymore to make security decisions," Gary said. "Technology advances so fast and changes on a daily basis. This collaborative is sorely needed."

The initiative sprouted here because western Pennsylvania is rich in technology companies and universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh that are expert in computer research and security, Larkin said. Law enforcement needs to tap those resources to help combat everything from fraud to terrorist attacks, he said.

"We have the cyber epicenter of the world," he said. "From the FBI's perspective, it should be our role to tap that data in a way that makes us all smarter and better able to respond."

Carnegie Mellon is a key player in cyber and homeland security and was a natural choice, Larkin said. The National White-Collar Crime Center operated by the Department of Justice is in Morgantown, W.Va., and the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center is in Fairmont, W.Va.

CMU also manages the Computer Emergency-Response Team, which tracks incidents of computer intrusions and researches computer-security issues. The team reported six incidents of computer intrusions in 1988. So far this year, that number has zoomed to 70,000 incidents.

Professor Don McGillen, executive director of CMU's newly created $35 million Center for Computer and Communications Security, said 80 percent of the nation's infrastructure is controlled by private industry. Much of that is connected to the Internet, and it's unknown how all those interconnected systems would be affected in the event of a cyber attack.

Securing these systems will require a coordinated effort among industry, government and academia, McGillen said.

"The government alone can't secure the infrastructure. It really is going to take a joint effort," he said. "These are extremely complicated systems, and there will be a lot of work needed to stay ahead of intruders."

The training programs will be open primarily to law enforcement and industry professionals but eventually could be offered to the public. The alliance will grant certificates, and participating universities will offer credits to officers and students enrolled in university-degree programs, Larkin said.

Employees of founding alliance members won't pay tuition for the programs. Tuition for others will be set on a sliding scale, depending on whether they are members of the alliance.

High-tech teamwork

The National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance will bring together local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, businesses and academic institutions to learn about combating cyber crime. Here are the key players:

- Law enforcement: FBI; U.S. Attorney's Offices in Pittsburgh and the Northern District of West Virginia; U.S. Secret Service; IRS; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Pennsylvania State Police; Allegheny County Police; National White-Collar Crime Center; the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center; and many others.

- Academia: Carnegie Mellon University; University of Pittsburgh; Duquesne University; Penn State; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; and West Virginia University.

- Private businesses: RAND; Microsoft; Marconi; RedSiren Technologies; Lucent Technologies; Federated Investors; and many others.


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