FBI bulks up digital forensic network

The FBI this week said it was opening two new US Regional Computer Forensics Laboratories where examiners are conducting a growing number forensic examinations of digital media, in support of an investigation and/or prosecution of a federal, state, or local crime.

With the addition of the new facilities in Los Angeles and Albuquerque, the FBI will have 16 RCFLs nationwide.

RCFLs are a network of digital forensics labs sponsored by the FBI and staffed by local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel. These labs are available-free of charge-to 4,750 law enforcement agencies across 17 states.

The additional labs are needed because in its annual report, the RCFL chief said that a digital forensics services shortfall continues. It is important to note that as the capacity of electronic devices continues to increase, examiners must review more data. Therefore, even if the number of requests decreases, the workload either remains steady or actually increases in many cases, the report stated.

The number of investigations the RCFLs have handled has grown from 987 in 2003 to 4,634 in 2007, so the need for addition support is there. The labs have been instrumental in solving a host of digital and no-digital crimes. For example:

* During 2007, RCFL experts conducted 4,634 exams, processing 1,288 terabytes of information.

* RCFLs provided assistance to 685 agencies (608 were state and/or local).

* A total of 76,581 digital devices were examined (the most popular media by far-CDs, coming in at 37,424; followed by hard disk drives at 17,378; floppy disks at 11,781; and DVDs at 4,374).

* An interesting trend: the number of CDs, cell phones, and flash media devices examined doubled from the previous year.

* A total of 9,762 law enforcement personnel were trained, and, for the first time, RCFL instructors traveled overseas to share their expertise with approximately 169 government representatives.

During 2007, RCFLs conducted forensic exams in a number of successful local, national, and international cases, including:

* The alleged plot by six foreign nationals to attack the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey;

* The apprehension of the so-called "Bike Path Rapist," who terrorized female bikers in Buffalo for two decades;

* "Operation Remaster," an undercover investigation believed to be the largest-ever manufacturing case in U.S. history involving high-quality counterfeit movie CDs and DVDs;

* The arrest of the individual responsible for posting an online message threatening to kill San Diego State University students, just one day after the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech; and

* The indictment of two California men in a China-related economic espionage case involving the theft of trade secrets on computer chip design and development.

As with all RCFLs, the FBI provides start-up and operational funding, training, and equipment, the FBI said. Participating law enforcement agencies provide their own forensic examiners, as well as additional staff for operating the RCFL. Participating agencies receive access to expert digital forensics examination and advisory services from the examiners on staff. The examiners from outside the FBI will also have access to sophisticated technical training and will receive FBI Computer Analysis Response Team (CART) certification. Examiners would receive continuing state of the art computer forensic instruction after certification is obtained, the FBI said.

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