August 9, 2008

Computer Cops Train on Macs to Ferret Out Evidence

By Jill King Greenwood

When Macintosh laptops began showing up more often at crime scenes in Pittsburgh this year, police Sgt. Michael Delcimmuto knew he had to do something.

Delcimmuto, who oversees the city police unit that investigates computer crimes, said 95 percent of the computers most police agencies forensically analyze contain Windows-based operating systems.

But Mac computers, made by Apple Inc., are increasing in popularity, particularly among users in their teens and early 20s. Many police aren't trained to take apart and analyze Macs, said Patrick Cranston, of Apple-certified Cranston Consulting & Media in Robinson.

"We have a lot of colleges and universities in Pittsburgh" where students use Macs, said Delcimmuto, a 19-year veteran of the department. "We might not be coming across a ton of Macs right now, but we're steadily seeing more, and we needed to be proactive."

This week, 15 officers from various law enforcement agencies attended a seminar designed to give them tools to dismantle and examine Macintosh products.

Delcimmuto consulted employees at the Apple store in Shadyside, which led him to Cranston, who consults for businesses using Mac and Windows operating systems. Cranston helped train the officers, along with representatives from Apple and a California-based Mac software company.

Now when Macs land in the hands of Pittsburgh police investigators, most of them can perform a preliminary analysis of the machine but then consult Apple representatives or troll the Internet for information on dismantling the computer, Delcimmuto said.

"It's not like we get a Mac and say 'Oh well, guess we can't do anything with this one,' " he said. "We will get into the computer; it just might take us longer. I'd like to see us be more efficient about it. Every time we get a Mac, we have to go looking for help."

Delcimmuto said city police have analyzed about 10 Macs this year, twice the number that came through the department by this time last year.

Sales of Apple products -- including the iPhone and iPod -- are brisk. In July, market research companies International Data and Gartner projected that Apple sold more than 1.3 million Macintosh computers in the United States in the second quarter of this year, permitting the company to climb into third place among PC makers, behind Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

State police Cpl. John Stepansky, who is based in the bureau of criminal investigation in Butler, said the agency has computer crime investigators across the state -- some more familiar with Macs than others. Stepansky said knowing how to analyze a Mac will help when investigators testify in court.

"It's easier to articulate something if you've actually used it," Stepansky said. "If a defense attorney brings a Mac computer into court and tells me to go to the 'My Documents' folder and I can't do it, what does that make me look like as an investigator? It's important to stay on top of all technology, especially if it's becoming more popular -- and Mac computers are."

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