The city is pouring millions into a state-of-the-art cybercrime lab, giving New York's law enforcement unprecedented new abilities to pore through suspects' computers and phones.
The Council announced $4.2 million in funding today to expand the Manhattan district attorney's High Technology Analysis Unit, a cybercrime lab that already exists but will now be bigger and more powerful.
The money will also allow prosecutors to dramatically increase the number of smartphones they can pore through in the hopes of crime solving.
“In this day and age, we need to be as sophisticated as criminals,” Speaker Christine Quinn said.
Smartphones are increasingly being used to help nab criminals. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said his office takes in more phones than they have time to analyze as quickly as they would like.
The number of computers analyzed by the D.A.'s Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau increased 200 percent from 2010 to 2011, and the office investigated 1,000 phones last year, Vance said.
Just last summer, he said, the ability to sift through private computers helped them create a case against 26 defendants accused of trading photos of children being sexually assaulted. In fact, nearly every case the D.A.'s office prosecutes has some type of cybercrime element – from identity theft to checking the GPS history on a murder suspect’s smartphone, Vance said.
“You essentially leave digital breadcrumbs,” he said.
Giving investigators greater ease to troll through personal phones quickly is important, Vance said. He noted that after an arrest, prosecutors have six working days to indict someone or release them.
“Speed matters,” he said.
Officials said they hope new technology in Manhattan will be a model for police around the county.
The new part of the lab is expected to open by next year.
How does the souped-up new lab work?
The cybercrime unit’s chief, David Szuchman, said one huge improvement will be efficiency of analyzing phones.
When analyzing smartphones, they must be offline so they cannot interact with the provider, he said. Right now, investigators put their hands and the phone into a box outfitted to block access to the phone. In the new lab addition, he said, they can build an entire room that shields the phones.
How to avoid being a victim of identity theft
Identity theft is rampant, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance said. Here are some tips New Yorkers can use to prevent becoming a victim:
Look at your bills carefully – make sure all the purchases are ones you have made.
When you go to an ATM, look at where you’re sliding your card in – some thieves use “skimmers” that they attach to the ATM to steal your info. They will have, for example, fake buttons.
Put your hand over the keypad when you enter your PIN.
Officials victims of cybercrime, too
Vance and Council members recounted instances they had been cybercrime victims. Upper West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer told of seeing unfamiliar purchases on her bill and going to the Bronx to confront the thief, which turned out to be a false address. Washington Heights Councilman Robert Jackson said that just this morning at 3 a.m., he received a hoax email from a friend purporting to be stuck in Europe and asking him to send money. Quinn said her wife noticed someone had bought expensive plane tickets to London and Abu Dhabi. And even Vance said he saw in his bill 10 days ago charges to Dunkin' Donuts and Trader Joe's that he had not made.