The police have turned to computer games to find the places criminals hide digital evidence in their fight against cybercrime.
The game which has been developed by Police Scotland, Abertay University and Droman Crime Solutions simulates the way that someone moves around the average house or flat in virtual reality and alerts the trainees to the devices that could harbour vital evidence.
“The universal presence of digital devices these days means that a crime scene can be continually changing, even if it does not look like it.
“Evidence is imbedded in texts, emails, social media and on network devices. Information is being constantly changed and transferred. First responders need to know how to engage, recognise and secure the digital evidence within them,” says Paddy Tomkins, former Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland and the current chairman of Droman Crime Solutions.
Computer games to turn up hard evidence
The game has been developed with funding from the Scottish Council’s Interface Scheme and can be run on desktop PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. It aims to train officers regardless of experience.
Abertay University has a reputation for computer gaming and this is part of an ongoing trend of using computer games as a teaching tool – a trend that is being extended into many different industries and sectors to train staff quickly.
“From Abertay’s perspective we see a huge potential in the gamification of training. Whether it’s applying that to cybercrime incident response, or other opportunities that afford themselves to serious games,” said Dr Nathalie Coull, a lecturer in computer security at Abertay University and a non-executive director of Droman.
As trainees move around the simulation they choose from multiple choice options and are assessed in real time on the decisions they make and given immediate feedback, so that they develop hands-on knowledge of situations.
The video game has already been hailed a success by the police with over 90 officers successfully trained so far. Just as in real life, the trainees must deal with the people who live in the households and decide how to act in line with legislation. The game also teaches the officers when to call for expert advice and what support to offer victims.
Useful first steps – but more work to do
However, some experts have questioned how useful such training will be in finding the digital evidence hidden by hardened criminals: “One of the issues that the police are facing is the miniaturisation of technology and the fact that you can hide data on virtually anything now,” said Professor Andrew Jones, head of Hertfordshire University’s cybercrime centre and a noted expert on computer forensics. “For crimes that involve little planning, crimes that have taken place on the spur of the moment and ones that are not well thought through this will be a useful initiative. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but for top high-tech criminals they will be hiding data on micro SDs, on networks and on other people’s computers. That is going to be the next challenge.”