Waynesburg College could soon be ground zero in the fight against electronic crime because of a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department.
The Science, State, Justice and Commerce appropriations grant, made possible by U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Johnstown, will be used for research and to develop curriculum that will set a national standard for the investigation and prevention of electronic and digital crime.
"We're going to teach [investigators] how to handle evidence and investigations in digital form," said Richard Leipold, chairman of the college's mathematics and computer science department and professor of computer science.
Right now, Dr. Leipold said, digital crime training for police departments and military personnel across the country is spotty, with many smaller police departments lacking any training.
"They can't afford it," Dr. Leipold said.
The grant first would be used to research what training is available, then to develop a national standard that could be implemented by law enforcement and military. Personnel could attend training sessions eventually offered at the college, or through distance learning classes, Dr. Leipold said.
The college will develop a computer forensics lab, supplied with equipment and software purchased through the grant, and begin collecting data from government databases probably by January, Dr. Leipold said.
Later, the college will submit a report to the Justice Department and begin creating training modules for the program. The training would involve every form of digital media, such as PDAs, computers and the Internet. It would address digital evidence collection and preservation and teach techniques to properly manage digital equipment and data sources that may contain information regarding criminal or terrorist activities.
"We're probably looking at a year and a half" for completion, Dr. Leipold said.
"This program will serve as a prototype for a national training standard for the collection, preservation and analysis of digital evidence," Mr. Murtha said in a recent statement. "With more and more cases of electronic crime, this is becoming a very important field that would create solid job opportunities for graduates. And these same techniques can be helpful in detecting and tracking terrorist activity."
Serving in the lab as interns will be Waynesburg College students, some of whom will be majoring in the college's computer forensics program. The institution was one of the first in the nation to offer such curriculum. It also sponsors a popular crime scene investigation program every summer that's attended by students nationwide.
Dr. Leipold said the college got the idea to apply for the grant this year when the Justice Department issued a wish list of items, including finding a way to standardize digital crime training nationwide.
"When we saw this in there, we thought, 'That sounds like something we could probably do,' " he said.
Janice Crompton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-223-0156.