The computer lab at the Anderson School of Management this week is packed with students completing an advanced digital forensics course. It’s a combination of University of New Mexico Students, Western New Mexico University Students and law enforcement officers, all intent on learning how to unravel the secrets any computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone might hold.
It looks so easy on television shows when every police department has a handful of computer experts, ready to instantly decipher the thousands of lines of computer code they’re faced with, but the reality of computer forensics in any small police department are very different.
Detectives are trained in the basics of crime scene investigation, but it takes advanced and complex training for them to understand whether a suspect was using a computer to pull off a sophisticated scam or was buying or selling items that might connect them to criminal activity.
Mississippi State Professor of Computer Science and Engineering John Hamilton is at UNM this week, along with several graduate students to teach a packed class where to look and what to look for when police take possession of a computer as evidence. Hamilton has a grant from the National Science Foundation to teach these pilot classes.
“We’re teaching them how to look for malware on a computer,” said Hamilton “and how to examine the flow of information on networks. We’re not going to make computer scientists out of them. What we are hoping to do is give them some familiarity with what to look for.”
UNM students and Western New Mexico University students enrolled in the class are getting regular course credit. The New Mexico Department of Public Safety, Training and Recruiting Division certified the class as a continuing education activity for interested law enforcement officers.
“The digital forensic discipline, which includes the recovery and investigation of materials found on digital devices, is a vital discipline for law enforcement in New Mexico,” said Frank Ortiz, Chief Advanced Planning Bureau, New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. “Information technology advancements have been at the center of a conversion in how society, law enforcement and criminal justice operate. Crime has evolved into a more technical realm as technology has transformed the efficiency, convenience and effectiveness with which information is available in our world.”
Hamilton says he will be back in New Mexico in early 2016 to teach another course at the Law Enforcement Academy.