Officials partner with Notre Dame to fight cybercrime

SOUTH BEND, Ind.- The St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office is partnering with Notre Dame and Magnet Forensics to create the first cyber unit of its kind in the country.

A new monitoring system can determine what kind of malware a computer has, where it came from, what it’s doing and how long it’s been there. Affected companies will now be immediately notified.

Malware attacks are nothing new to the computers people and businesses use every day, but about half of malware attacks are actively stealing data, according to research presented in a press conference Wednesday. Worse, only about 10 percent of companies know this is happening in their systems.

“The billions and millions of dollars that are stolen each year from this type of malware is staggering,” said Ken Cotter, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor. “We are the first not just cyber unit in the State of Indiana, but the first in the country to be able to do this.”

The goal, he said, is to be proactive to cybercrime, not reactive.

The unit has exclusive access to Magnet Forensics’ database, which monitors “threat feeds” that look for “indicators of compromise” in computers nationwide.

“These threat feeds can monitor that and determine what it is and then through the software from Magnet, they take this and put it on a map,” said Mitch Kajzer, executive director of the St. Joseph County Cyber Crimes Unit. “What we’re doing with the project is proactively monitoring this live map, looking for the computers that have been identified as being compromised.”

The unit is staffed by Notre Dame student investigators, who are also sworn law enforcement.

“If you don’t fully understand exactly what the malware is doing and how it got there, you can’t make sure that all of the doors that it opened are closed when you leave the system,” said Cydney Howard, senior student investigator.

The cyber unit will notify companies targeted by malware, but sometimes, a search warrant will be issued.

“We’re actually doing the search warrant to be able to see if we can trace back to who was the originator of this,” Cotter said. “Because this is a crime, what people are doing. So we’re going to be coordinating with law enforcement not only throughout the United States but throughout the world.”

In the past four weeks, at least four computers in St. Joseph County were taken offline or repaired for malware.

A new ransomware attack happens every two seconds in the country and poses a huge threat to people and businesses.

Cotter said they hope to expand the program in the future to continue their mission of proactive law enforcement.

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