Dublin science sleuths develop low-cost crime scene evidence gatherer

14 Nov 2013

Lero researchers at UCD (from left) Lee Tobin with Dr Pavel Gladyshev

Lero researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) have developed a low-cost device that can help police forces in developing countries or with limited budgets capture digital and computer data at crime scenes.

The research team, led by Dr Pavel Gladyshev at the Digital Forensics Investigation Research Laboratory (DigitalFIRE) based at UCD’s School of Computer Science and Informatics, is part of Lero, the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre.

FIREBrick is a modular platform that allows law-enforcement departments to implement an evidence pre-processing solution.

The device costs US$199 compared with commercial rivals that could cost 10 times as much.

Features include autonomous disk imaging at speeds of up to 5GB per minute with storage mirroring and encryption and free open source firmware.

Gladyshev, who holds a PhD in digital forensics, has been working with law enforcement since 1998. While completing his PhD at UCD, he helped to design the first training course in cybercrime investigation for An Garda Siochana. He directs the MSc programme in Digital Investigation and Forensic Computing at UCD. His current research interests include forensic analysis of IT cloud environments.  

The value of digital data

“Digital data at actual or suspected crime scenes has an increasingly important role to play in building evidence against criminals or terrorists,” Gladyshev said.

“Our device helps law-enforcement agencies access and copy data on hard discs at a fraction of the cost of commercial systems.”

Lero researcher at UCD Lee Tobin added: “At one time, fighting cybercrime was the sole preserve of specialist police squads but it has now become routine for regional and district police squads to become involved in the detection and analysis of this type of crime. But funding has not kept up with this development.”

Gladyshev, who serves on the INTERPOL steering committee on IT crime, added: “Our new device FIREBrick, which is an open-source alternative to commercial hardware write blockers and disk imagers, can be assembled from off-the-shelf mass-produced components with just a screwdriver for a total cost of around US$199, whereas a commercial system could cost up to 10 times this amount.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years