It appears almost to be one of UCD’s best-kept secrets, yet it has an international reputation second to none for helping thwart high-tech crime. Natalie Voorheis meets the men and women of UCD’s Centre for Cybercrime Investigation.
The UCD Centre for Cybercrime Investigation has been operating since 2006, from the Computer Sciences Building with a staff of just seven, and a low profile on campus – with most of the student body oblivious to its existence.
On the world stage, by contrast, this small centre is of huge importance, providing pioneering training and research in the field of digital forensics. UCD is the only university in Europe accrediting the training of law enforcement officers in computing and cybercrime investigation.
Cheryl Baker is Centre Manager for the Cybercrime Investigation Unit, and explained to The University Observer how the Centre came into being. “We were asked to join a number of groups, the European Policing Organisation and the International Policing Organisation to help them set up accredited training, training programs for law enforcement that are qualified by the university.”
Baker went on to speak about the ongoing initiatives in UCD.
“Upstairs at the moment, I have 27 law enforcement officers from throughout Europe who just embarked last week on a Masters in Forensic Computing Cybercrime Investigation, sponsored by the European Commission. This is the largest project that has ever been conducted in this area by the European Commission justice and home affairs department.”
Officers take classes such as mobile phone forensics, internet investigations, malware investigations, wireless lands and voiceover IP. Graduates go on to fight organised criminals in fields such as child exploitation, internet and auction room frauds, network attacks against businesses, and so on.
The Centre boosts graduates as high achievers in their field, one of the first being Assistant Director of the High-Tech Crime Sub-Directorate at Interpol. Interpol last year asked UCD to bring the training programme to India, where UCD staff trained a group of Indian officers in the field and gave them the skills to train other officers in their regions. Following the success of the Indian experiment, the programme was introduced in Cyprus, and UCD have been asked to run a similar course in Damascus early next year.
The Centre is a valuable tool used not only by law enforcement officers and organisations on continental Europe, but also by An Garda Síochana. The University Observer spoke to Detective Inspector Paul Gillen, Head of the Garda Computer Crimes Investigation Unit.
DI Gillen flagged the Centre at UCD as being crucial in investigations of crimes, such as the PIN entry device fraud of 2008. The PIN entry devices that were seized in Ireland last year were brought to UCD, where scientists from here disassembled them.
“These devices had been encrypted by the criminals. The scientists here were capable of decrypting those devices and were able to disclose information to the police that we otherwise were unable to discover ourselves.”
Dr Joe Carthy, Director of the Centre for Cybercrime Investigation in UCD, gave an example of the research topics undertaken by his Masters students. Most recently a student researched the usefulness of modern gaming consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the Nintendo Wii, or Sony’ PlayStation 3 to aid criminals in cybercrime.
“There have been some instances in the UK where criminals have used these devices to store child pornography and information about criminal activity. Typically many police officers might enter a crime scene, i.e. a criminal’s house, with the view of seizing material; a games console might be lying in a corner, and they might overlook the device on the basis that they felt that no information could be stored on it, whereas in point of fact, quite a few of these gaming devices can connect to the internet and can upload and download information to and from the internet.
This [Masters student’s] job was to look at the area of games consoles on the market, to identify which among those devices could be use to access material on the internet, and what were their storage capabilities, so that we could effectively create a table of the characteristics of these devices that would be useful for law enforcement investigating various crimes.”
The Centre is ambitious about its future. Baker reports that the Centre has “submitted a bid to the European Commission this year to create a centre of excellence here for training, education and research throughout Europe.”