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Manhattan DA Announces New High-Tech Lab to Fight Cybercrime

By Jill Colvin | August 14, 2012 4:30pm | Updated on August 14, 2012 5:46pm

CITY HALL — Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is upping the ante against cybercrime, with a new, state-of-the-art lab where analysts will root out child porn, identify identity fraud schemes and comb hard drives and cell phones for criminal evidence.

The new “High Technology Analysis Unit lab,” set to be completed by the end of next year, will bring experts together in one place so they can more efficiently sort through the terabytes of data they often have to analyze, officials said.

“In this day and age, we need to be as sophisticated as the criminals are, using every tool we can,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who said the Internet has become “the new crime scene of the modern age.”

Roughly $4.2 million in Council funding will be used to fund construction of the new lab inside the current DA’s office in Lower Manhattan, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Additional funding is still needed to purchase new equipment for the lab, Vance said, but a spokeswoman for the office refused to comment on the total estimated cost.

Among the additions will be a specially-shielded room where analysts will be able to process cell phone data without the interference of cell phone signals. Today, staff who want to access the data need to plug phones and stick their hands inside of a small, shielded box, David Szuchman, chief of the DA's cybercrimes unit said.

Cybercrime and identity theft are some of the fastest growing crimes in the country, with an estimated 50 percent spike in Manhattan over the last five years, according to Vance.

That has created a huge increase in the amount of data processed by the office, which saw a 200 percent jump in the number of computers it analyzed from 2010 and 2011, with roughly 1,000 cell phones now processed by the office each year.

Vance pointed to several recent schemes, including the discovery of advanced devices installed in ATMs that skim credit card numbers, and online peer-to-peer music-sharing networks, which perps have used to share images of child criminal sexual assaults.

He added that, at this point, virtually every crime has some sort of cyber component, from perps discussing their exploits online, to investigators being able to use cell site technology to track whether suspects may have traveled to the scene of a crime.

"When your cell phone is on, you essentially leave digital breadcrumbs which show where you’ve been,” explained Vance, who said the signals can be “critical to finding where someone was or wasn’t."

Vance also revealed that for him, cybercrime is personal.

He said he was looking through documents as part of an ongoing case earlier this year when he  suddenly stumbled on his own name and social security number on the list.

And just last Sunday morning, he said, he decided to scan his credit card bill and discovered four fraudulent charges in the previous 48 hours, with purchases at Dunkin' Donuts and Trader Joe's he never made.

Quinn said her wife, Kim Catullo, had a similar experience, and recently discovered expensive one-way plane tickets to London and Abu Dhabi that she never bought and American Express failed to flag.

“Any business who doesn’t think that they are at risk for this kind of cyber intrusion is a business that doesn’t realize that it is either already happened and they don’t know it, or it’s happened and they are starting to address it,” said Vance.