Science and Technology News

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Massively Parallel Sequencing: Application to Forensics



Abstract:

Massively parallel sequencing (MPS), also called next-generation sequencing, is an exciting technology that holds promise for enhancing the capabilities of forensic DNA laboratories. However, several challenges confront the implementation of an MPS system in a crime laboratory.

This report not only provides forensic DNA scientists with one comprehensive resource  which covers the fundamentals of current platforms and chemistries, but it also summarizes a series of MPS related webinars hosted by the FTCoE in conjunction with the University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Institute of Applied Genetics.

This report is a product of an NIJ-funded project but is not published by the Department of Justice.

Criminal Justice Technology in the News



Law Enforcement News

Michigan State Police to Update AMBER Alert Procedures
Bedford Now, (12/114/2016)

The Michigan State Police is changing the criteria for issuing an AMBER Alert. Effective January 1, AMBER Alerts will only be issued in Michigan for cases of child abductions involving victims under the age of 18. An alternative notification method to the news media will be used for other missing child instances. Previously, in addition to abducted children, AMBER Alerts were authorized by police for missing children with severe mental or physical disabilities who had wandered away. Missing child cases that don't meet the revised AMBER Alert criteria will be eligible for a new notification called an Endangered Missing Advisory, for which there is no age restriction.
Link to Article


Lafayette Police Rolling Out Body Camera Program
The Advocate, (12/15/2016), Richard Burgess

The police department in Lafayette, La., is equipping 20 officers with body cameras for a test run before issuing the devices to every uniformed officer in the department. The department has about 60 body cameras and another 90 are on order. The expectation is that officers will use the cameras to record most of their interactions, with the exception of responses that don't involve a complaint of criminal activity.
Link to Article


Havasu Police Department's New App Leads to First Arrest
Havasu News, (12/16/2016), Haley Walters

More than 400 people have downloaded the new Lake Havasu City Police app, which allows users in the Arizona city to submit anonymous or identified tips and pictures of suspected criminal activity from their cell phones. Police recently used the app to distribute information on a suspicious person believed to be connected to a series of damage reports, and made an arrest three days later. Police also use the app to release information on missing persons, stolen items and press releases.
Link to Article


Lawmakers Undergo Police Training Simulation
CBS4, (12/16/16), Shaun Boyd

Colorado lawmakers recently experienced police training with a simulator to help them understand how the laws they pass affect law enforcement officers and the judgment calls officers have to make on the job. The police training simulator brought to the state capitol featured a series of videos. The lawmakers were given a fake gun and presented with visual mock situations including an active shooter at a school and an armed robbery at a warehouse.
Link to Article


911 Technology Cuts Time for NC Dispatchers
The High Point Enterprise, (12/20/2016), Natalie Stewart

The High Point 911 Communications Center in High Point, N.C., recently installed new technology that is helping dispatchers work more quickly and efficiently. The new system processes calls digitally, allowing for faster speeds. The new system also allows for High Point 911 call-takers to get police dispatched to an alarm call more quickly.
Link to Article


Chief: Drones Could One Day Replace Tucson Police Helicopters
Arizona Daily Star, (12/19/2-016), Joe Ferguson

The Tucson Police Department is considering drones as a possible option to police helicopters. Police Chief Chris Magnus noted that keeping the department's two helicopters is costly. Typically, drones are equipped with cameras and flown by someone on the ground using a control pad, and could be a way to augment the current aerial program. The department continues to gather information, and no decision has been made.
Link to Article


Corrections News

Why Are State Prisons Closing? 92 Detention Facilities Have Been Eliminated Since 2011, Saving $333 Million, Report Says
International Business Times, (12/14/2016), Lydia O'Neal

Ninety-two state prisons in 22 states in the U.S. have been closed since 2011, reducing states' capacities by nearly 48,000 beds and their government expenditures by $333 million, according to a new report by The Sentencing Project. California had the most closures, followed by Texas. Some state facilities have been sold to private entities to repurpose them. Or state governments have simply transferred the newly vacant properties to city municipalities working to transform them into projects that support their local economies.
Link to Article


Fentanyl a Danger Inside Prisons, Union Says
Calgary Herald, (12/14/2016), Yolande Cole

Correctional officers at the Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alberta ,Canada administered naloxone to a fellow officer after he collapsed due to suspected fentanyl exposure during a search for drugs, according to a union official. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. Naloxone is use to reverse the effects of opioids. The officer is recovering. Correctional officers saw a spike during the summer in overdoses among inmates at Bowden and the Drumheller Institution in Drumheller, Alberta, with many of them related to fentanyl. In two weeks during the summer at the Drumheller Institution, there were 21 inmate overdoses.
Link to Article


Governor Rauner Signs Bipartisan Legislation to Reduce Recidivism
Positively Naperville, (12/17/2016)

Illinois government officials have approved legislation recommended by the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to ensure a valid state ID card for individuals on release from a correctional facility. The law requires the state to issue a standard Illinois ID card to any person being released from a correctional facility who presents their birth certificate, Social Security card and two proofs of address. Officials say providing low-level offenders with identification will help them to secure employment, housing and establish financial stability.
Link to Article


Record Number of Convicts Under Supervision in Oklahoma
Associated Press via The Lawton Constitution, (12/20/2016)

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says it is overseeing 61,012 people, a record number of convicts. The number includes 26,619 in state and private prisons or halfway houses and 32,564 who are supervised by GPS monitors, community supervision, or by probation and parole officers. Another 1,829 are in county jails awaiting space in prison. The department said the total number is the highest in its 49-year history.
Link to Article


Utah Department of Corrections Joins Initiative to Reduce Number of Prison Inmates in Solitary Confinement
The Salt Lake Tribune, (12/19/2016), Mariah Noble

Utah and four other states will participate in the Vera Institute of Justice's Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative in an effort to reduce solitary confinement, also known as restrictive housing. A 21-month partnership between Vera and the state Department of Corrections is slated to begin in early 2017, funded by a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. Over the past year and a half, the percentage of Utah prison inmates in solitary confinement has dropped from 14 percent to 6 percent, and officials hope to reduce it further.
Link to Article

Friday, December 16, 2016

Three Romanian Nationals Indicted in $4 Million Cyber Fraud Scheme that Infected at Least 60,000 Computers and Sent 11 Million Malicious Emails



A 21-count indictment was unsealed today charging three Romanian nationals for operating a cyber fraud conspiracy in which they infected between 60,000 and 160,000 computers, sent out 11 million malicious emails and stole at least $4 million.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon of the Northern District of Ohio and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division made the announcement.

Bogdan Nicolescu, 34, Tiberiu Danet, 31, and Radu Miclaus, 34, were extradited to the United States this week after being taken into custody in their native Romania earlier this year.  They were each charged with 12 counts of wire fraud, as well as one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit service marks, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

“This case illustrates the sophistication and determination with which cyber criminals seek to harm Americans and American businesses from abroad,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “But our response demonstrates that, with effective international cooperation, we can track these criminals down and make sure they face justice, no matter where or how they try to hide.”

“These defendants stole millions of dollars from people in the United States through a sophisticated fraud conspiracy they operated in Eastern Europe,” said U.S. Attorney Rendon.  “Cybercrime is an ever-growing threat.  We will continue to work with both our partners in law enforcement and in the private sector to evolve with the threat and protect our networks and national security.”

“This indictment and subsequent arrests reveal the dynamic landscape in which international criminals utilize sophisticated cyber methods to take advantage of and defraud unsuspecting victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony.  “Despite the complexity and global character of these investigations, these arrests demonstrate the commitment by the FBI and our partners to aggressively pursue these individuals and bring justice to the victims.”

According to the indictment, Nicolescu, Danet and Miclaus collectively operated a criminal conspiracy from Bucharest, Romania, which began at least as early 2007 with the development of proprietary malware used to infect and control more than 60,000 computers, primarily in the United States.  The co-conspirators allegedly used the computers to harvest personally identifiable information, such as credit card information, user names and passwords; disable malware protection; and solve complex algorithms to accrue valuable cryptocurrency for the financial benefit of the group, a process known as cryptocurrency mining.

To spread their malware, the defendants allegedly activated files that forced infected computers to register a total of over 100,000 email accounts with public email providers, according to the indictment.  The co-conspirators sent a total of more than 11 million emails containing the malware from these accounts to email contacts copied from victim computers.  When victims with infected computers visited websites such as Facebook, PayPal or eBay, the co-conspirators would redirect the computers to a nearly identical website they had created to steal account credentials.  The defendants then used stolen credit card information to fund their criminal infrastructure while concealing their identities.

In addition, the indictment alleges that the defendants placed more than 1,000 fraudulent listings for automobiles, motorcycles and other high-priced goods on eBay and similar auction websites.  Photos of the items were allegedly infected with malware, which, when clicked, redirected victims to fictitious webpages designed by the co-conspirators to resemble legitimate eBay pages.  The fictitious webpages prompted users to pay for their goods through a nonexistent “eBay Escrow Agent,” and payments would then be funneled back to the co-conspirators.  This scheme allegedly resulted in at least $4 million – though the actual total may be tens of millions more – in losses to victims, which the defendants laundered through wire transfers under the names of fictitious companies and then collected and delivered to the co-conspirators by “money mules.”

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI investigated the case with assistance from the Romanian National Police.  Senior Counsel Brian Levine of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duncan T. Brown and Om Kakani of the Northern District of Ohio are prosecuting the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in this matter.