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Cyber-crime forensics lab opens in Orange County

January 5, 2011 |  3:16 pm

A regional forensics lab where investigators can analyze digital evidence in their pursuit of cyber criminals opened Wednesday in Orange County.

The $7-million lab is the third of its kind in California and the 15th in the nation and is designed to tackle the growing use of data and media to commit and conceal crimes, said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

The lab has taken three years to get up and running and will take the workload of digital evidence analysis off local agencies, he said. Local law enforcement agencies can sign up to participate in the regional program.

Mueller said Regional Computer Forensic Labs have helped investigators solve national security, criminal and cyber cases and streamlined resources and investigative standards across agencies.

"There's no one agency that can be successful in addressing the threats of today.... This RCFL is a perfect example of us coming together," he said.

The Orange County district attorney's forensic lab was incorporated into the new regional center, and the six examiners that once worked in the local lab will now staff the FBI lab.

"The FBI is footing the bill," said Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

He said the evidence processed by the lab would speed up the process of bringing charges against criminals and taking them to court.

"We are in need of staying a step ahead of the criminals," he said. "We know that this resource and this sharing of resources is going to help us protect the community and save lives."

The 21,000-square-foot lab houses about 25 workstations where data will be analyzed with specialized forensic software, which categorizes data found on computers and other digital media.

The lab also has investigative kiosks to extract data from cellphones, including text messages and incoming and outgoing calls. Investigators can hook the phone up to a kiosk and burn that information onto a compact disc in under 30 minutes.

If phones contain geotagged photos, the kiosks can generate the latitude and longitude of a suspect.

"Almost every case in the FBI now has digital components," said Jason Weiss, director of the Orange County regional lab. "With facilities like this we can help fight cyber crime in a digital age."

Nearly every computer confiscated by officials in Orange County will probably go through the lab for hard-drive analysis, Weiss said. Local law enforcement personnel will be trained in digital forensics on-site.

The lab will probably have two classes a week for interested agents from the seven counties that make up the Central California Division of the FBI.


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-- Nardine Saad in Orange County