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MSU at forefront of cybercrime training for law enforcement

Mississippi State University (MSU) has established an impressive reputation in the field of cyber security as evidenced recently by MSU being named by the National Security Agency (NSA) as one of 23 Centers of Academic Excellence in Research in Information Assurance Education in the country.

“This is a new certification that recognizes security research capability,” said Dr. Ray Vaughn, head of the Center for Computer Security Research housed in the Computer Science Department. “This designation puts us in a really good group of other universities that the national government has sanctioned as universities having a very strong program in information assurance research and education. We are very proud of that.”

MSU has also started a training center to help law enforcement officers become skilled at digital forensics.

“Today, most criminals have computers and tend to leave evidence on those computers,” Vaughn said. “There are special techniques that law enforcement must use to extract evidence from digital devices so the evidence is admissible in court. We train police on how to do what we call ‘search and seizure’ and how to present the evidence in a court of law. Police go to crime scenes and search for physical evidence. Just as important today is to capture the computer system that is there and search for digital, as well as physical, evidence. But that takes a different skill set and we are trying to bring that skill set to law enforcement.”

People often think about child pornography offenders regarding computer crimes. But it goes far beyond that into areas such as finding evidence of thefts, drug sales and even voter fraud.

“Almost every criminal today relies on automation, even drug dealers,” Vaughn said. “They tend to leave evidence on their computer that may show up in spreadsheets, e-mails or other files they create and keep on their computers. Police need not only the technical capability, but also the hardware and software that allows them to extract evidence quickly off computer hardware in a way that is admissible in court.”

The effort initially focused just on Mississippi. Grant money was used to not only train law enforcement, but also build five additional computer forensics laboratories across the state. Then it was quickly determined there was a need for this kind of training all over the Southeast.

“Now we have discovered this is really a national need,” Vaughn said. “We have had participants come in for training from as far as California and Michigan. We have had requests from Texas, California and Minnesota to go to their locations to provide this training, which we have done. We started with an emphasis on Mississippi, and quickly determined this is bigger than Mississippi. It became a training center for the Southeast and is now moving towards becoming a national center. That is a real success story.”

The Southeast Regional Forensics Training Center, which is directed by Dr. David Dampier, offers no cost training in digital forensics to law enforcement officers. Officer are trained, housed and fed at no cost.

“All they have to do is get here,” Vaughn said. “Since 2005, we have trained more than 2,000 law enforcement officials through this training program funded by the Department of Justice. It has been a very successful program.”

The website www.security.cse.msstate.edu/ftc lists courses that are offered and how law enforcement officers can get involved.

That doesn’t end MSU’s involvement with cutting edge cyber crime developments. MSU has also partnered with state Attorney General (AG)Jim Hood in a partnership to create the Mississippi Cybercrime Fusion Center, the first center of its kind in the U.S. where federal, state and local agencies work with academia in one facility to solve cyber crime problems.

“The Cyber Crime Fusion Center is managed by the state attorney general in cooperation with other state, federal and local officials and personnel from MSU,” Vaughn said. “It is a state-of-the-art facility. We have a staff member who works there and handles training within that facility. We provide the funding for the rental of the 10,000-square-foot space being used. That is a very strong cooperative effort that the AG’s Office put together.”

MSU is also working on making control systems more reliable and less vulnerable to malicious attacks. In 2007, MSU received funding from the NSA to establish a control systems laboratory. Every critical infrastructure used today such as oil and gas, water and power, government services, banking and finance and transportation rely on and in some cases are controlled by a computer system of some kind.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.


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