Construction of the West Virginia State Police Digital Forensics Laboratory, on the third floor of the MUFSC Annex building, was completed in early 2011. The new laboratory was created through a partnership with the Marshall University Forensic Science Center (MUFSC) and grant funding arranged by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The 392 square foot digital forensics laboratory was specifically constructed to accommodate the needs of the West Virginia State Police Digital Forensics Unit (WVSP DFU).
The secure laboratory housed at MUFSC is one of two such labs in the state. The state-of-the-art digital forensics lab is the workspace for two full time analysts; WVSP trooper, Cpl. Robert Boggs and Chris Vance, who specializes in mobile forensics. These two analysts moved into the new space in April of 2011 and started processing casework immediately. The digital forensics laboratory is visited often by law enforcement investigators from throughout the state of West Virginia regarding various cases which involve digital evidence, cell phones, and internet based crimes.
The process for digital forensic casework accomplished by the WVSP DFU has special requirements which differ from other types of police operations. Because the evidence of the crimes investigated is housed in a digital medium certain precautions and securities are taken to be able to prove, in a court of law, none of the evidence has been tampered with by investigators.
The first step in digital forensics casework intake is to meet with the investigator to obtain the pertinent case information; such as the crime committed, suspect and victim identities. Then the investigator will provide the actual evidence; such as a desktop computer, a mobile device, or a collection of DVDs. The physical evidence is then logged and photographed before any other interaction takes place.
The next step is a process known as "imaging" in which an exact duplicate of the digital information is created and used for analysis. This process insures the original evidence and its data are never disturbed. The image is validated to make sure an exact duplicate has been created and then analysis of the duplicate data begins.
Imaging and analysis are accomplished using industry standard tools such as AccessData's Forensic Tool Kit, along with other specific tools for peer-to-peer network analysis and mobile forensics. Analysis of digital evidence is a process which includes meticulous note taking and data logging. Once all the data duplicated from the evidence has been analyzed an official report is generated and given to the investigator to proceed with the case.
The WVSP DFU lab, at MUFSC, currently processes more than 30 pieces of evidence on a weekly basis and between 2 to 3 terabytes of data monthly. About 80 percent of the cases processed by the WVSP Digital Forensics Unit involve some form of child exploitation.
The WVSP Digital Forensics Unit works closely with the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force on cases which involve child exploitation including physical abuse, sexual abuse, pornography, prostitution, and undercover operations. WV ICAC currently employs 6 troopers from the WVSP and has more than 60 outside agency affiliations. One of those affiliations, with a close connection, is the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) which is an integral part of discovering suspects linked to other cases involving child exploitation.
The WV ICAC Task Force has been investigating cases since March of 2006 and has achieved a conviction rate of almost 100%. Aside from investigating child exploitation, the WV ICAC Task Force gives presentations throughout the state to educate both adults and children about the apparent dangers of the internet and technology with regard to minors and their predators. WV ICAC has educated more than 64,000 citizens to date.
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To learn more about the organizations who help to make the WVSP digital forensics laboratory at MUFSC a success please visit their official websites.
Reprint of Marshall Magazine Spring 2012 Issue used by permission.
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