Every year since 2006, the Defense Department's Cyber Crime Center, known as DC3, has held an international, online event that challenges computer aficionados to pioneer tools for digital forensics.
This branch of forensic science involves legal evidence found in computers and on digital storage media, and it is a hot topic in Hollywood and on campuses worldwide, James Christy, the center's director of Futures Exploration, told American Forces Press Service.
During the 2011 DC3 Digital Forensics Challenge, which launched Dec. 15, contestants of all ages and skill levels will have a year to develop investigative tools, techniques and methods for the growing discipline.
"Within minutes, we had entries from 26 teams," Christy said. Each team can have up to four members. Earlier this month, officials announced the winners of the 2010 challenge, which attracted 1,010 teams from 53 countries.
Topics covered in the competition include file signatures, suspicious software, meta data, passwords, breaking encryption, finding concealed data, developing new tools and many more.
Six sponsors awarded 11 prizes that went to winners in overall, international, U.S. and U.S. academic categories.
Sponsors are the Defense Cyber Crime Center, the computer security organization SANS, the Malaysia-based International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats, the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, the John Hopkins Carey Business School, Cyber Watch, and the United Kingdom Cyber Security Challenge.
The overall prize went to a team from South Korea, and the same team placed first in the international category. Also in the international category, winners came from another South Korean team, an American team and a British team.
The center, based in Linthicum, Md., investigates criminal and counterintelligence cases that range from terrorism and espionage to child pornography and murder.
"We were established back in 1998 with a defense computer forensics lab and a training academy to train criminal and counterintelligence investigators in the Department of Defense in digital forensics and cyber crime investigations," Christy said. "And then we created the DOD computer forensics lab to actually work on criminal and counterintelligence investigative cases."
The center's clients include the investigative arms of the military services -- including the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Army Criminal Investigations Command, the Army's military intelligence branch, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and others.
The center investigates cases, and its Defense Cyber Investigations Training Academy develops and holds cyber investigation training courses for DOD organizations, defense criminal investigative organizations, military counterintelligence agencies, and law enforcement organizations.
In 1992, when Christy was director of computer crime investigations for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, one of his cases involved a man who had his wife murdered.
"When the man went to be interviewed by the OSI agents, he took a pair of pinking shears and cut up a floppy disk [that was critical to the investigation]. My deputy and I had to develop a technique to recover the data from the cut-up diskettes," Christy said.
"That was probably the first time the terms computer crime and forensics were tied together in the same sentence," he added.
The competitions encourage innovation from a broad range of individuals, teams and institutions to provide technical solutions for computer forensic examiners in the lab and in field.
The center also holds its digital forensics challenges, Christy said, to attract young people into the field and to infuse the discipline with new ideas, techniques and tools.
"We're trying to get younger folks excited about the career field," he said. "In all the [Crime Scene Investigation] shows on television, you see more and more cyber, and in the forensics field in general there's been an influx of new folks and new colleges and universities teaching forensics."
By Cheryl Pellerin
Related Research on ASDReports.com: