Login | July 23, 2018

UA’s computer forensics lab helps BCI, FBI

Technology for Lawyers

Published: July 14, 2017

Stanley H. Smith is a busy man. The 63-year-old visiting assistant professor at The University of Akron has followed a long career in law enforcement, where he was in on the ground floor of computer forensics, with an equally lustrous career teaching computer forensics at the university.

Beyond that, Smith runs a state-of-the-art computer forensics lab and was key in the development of the university’s new cybersecurity degree.

Smith was working in computer forensics before there was even a name for the field.

A native of Cleveland’s east side, he has received a bachelor’s degree and a masters in public administration from UA, as well as degrees from Cuyahoga Community College, graduating from the police academy, and courses with the DEA, on his way to being a recognized leader in the field.

“I was taking classes while I was working as a police officer,” said Smith, who started work as a narcotics undercover officer “right out of police academy” around 1980.

After a few years of that, he said he moved to the investigations subdivision where he took a DEA course, and then to what was called at the time the “data processing unit,” where he developed and trained the staff in the then-new Microsoft Office suite.

While he was involved with that, he trained himself on both coding and building computers from scratch.

“While I was in narcotics, I developed a database to do data analysis,” which was a first for the department, said Smith. As he helped develop and upgrade the department’s computer capabilities he said that he “needed more access and more privileges” over time. He kept rising through the ranks.

After a time, Smith was reassigned to the Intelligence unit and in 1998,= he said, “Frank Martucci and I started the department’s high-tech forensics unit.”

That unit is still active, said Akron Police Department spokesperson Lt. Richard Edwards. (Both Smith and Martucci have since retired).

“Smith moved into the forensics world in its infancy collaborating with every agency at every level,” he said. In 2000, Smith helped found the Ohio chapter of the nascent, worldwide High Technology Crime Investigations Association (https://htcia.org), as a founding officer.

The new department’s first computer forensics case involved child exploitation,Smith said.

The police had seized a computer, he said, but did not know how to retrieve the data stored on it. Although he was appalled by what he saw, Smith found the photos that made the case.

It would not be the last time that he had to extract those kinds of images.

“I have seen some shocking stuff,” he said, including working on the infamous John Lockhart case, where a local attorney spent a year on the run trying to escape child exploitation charges.

But Smith left the department behind in 2010, retiring and taking a year off before coming to the university in 2011 to implement a $500,000 DOJ computer forensics grant.

“The purpose of the grant was to buy equipment to support and collaborate with the BCI state lab in Richfield and provide services to local, county, state and federal law enforcement,” Smith said.

BCI has computer forensics labs in Richfield, Youngstown and London.

Out of that grant came The University of Akron’s High Technology Laboratory and Research Center, which features top-of-the-line equipment that Smith said is equal to any of the state’s “official” crime labs.

The lab’s equipment includes mobile forensics units from Cellebrite that Smith said are “the latest devices for extracting all types of data from mobile phones.”Equipment from Ocean Systems and Avid Technology analyzes video data and the lab utilizes software from Digital Detective and other sources.

The computer hardware is also state-of-the-art, said Smith, and includes a $3,000 write blocker that isolates computer drive evidence so that it cannot be tampered with (for chain of custody purposes).

Smith said that the lab is available for no charge to law enforcement, who use it extensively “at every level,” women’s shelters, as well as private entities (for a fee).

The learning lab, where the university’s forensics students study, contains about 30 new computers capable of any forensic analysis.

So in his second career, Smith is not slowing down.

“I still have work to do here,” he said. “We have the new degree and I’m working on curriculum, certifications and degrees, supporting the department and offering programs, as well as continual support for cybersecurity.

“I am really looking forward to working with the students—they are hungry for this.”