After receiving a donation of $350,000 from University of North Texas alumnus Steven Holmes, the UNT Criminal Justice Department will open a cellphone cybersecurity lab at the UNT New College at Frisco later this month.
The cyber laboratory, the first for the area, will be dedicated to assisting police departments and federal agencies in investigations by analyzing cellphone data from devices used in criminal activities.
“One of the issues we have found with law enforcement is the analysis of cellphones and cellphone data,” cyber lab director Scott Belshaw said. “So what our lab is going to do, [since] we purchased the equipment and hired the personnel, is we’re going to analyze cellphones for law enforcement.
“The police department will come in and give us a cellphone and say, ‘We need all the information extracted from this cellphone and put into a format that the prosecutor as well as a police officer can use for their investigation.’”
Holmes funded the new lab through connections with the UNT Kuehne Speaker Series, stating he wanted to fund the project for the impact it will have on all of North Texas.
Holmes also wanted to facilitate the investigatory need to help solve crimes.
The new cyber crime lab will allow students in the College of Criminal Justice to attain experience with law enforcement and the justice system, as well as offer them training with more advanced technology.
“Right now, the research department has already begun,” Belshaw said. “They’ll develop new technologies, as well as examine in two, three, five years from now, what the technology will be like in cyber-forensics. We’re also working with other entities such as the North Texas Crime Commission, which is the consortium of law enforcement agencies in North Texas.”
Students who want to become a part of the new crime lab will be selected after applying.
Undergraduate and graduate students, depending on what role they will have in the lab, will be assisting the senior analysts, Belshaw and law enforcement agencies.
“It’s no different than if you went down and did an internship at a police agency. It’s the same thing,” Belshaw said. “It won’t be where anyone can come because of the sensitivity of the information and what we’re gathering. We’re handling very sensitive cases when dealing with cellphones.”
The Frisco location was chosen for the new crime lab because it acts as a hub for technology for UNT.
It also offered UNT proximity to the future partners and companies that will work with the crime lab.
“The president’s goal has always been to have technology down in Frisco, and he has this vision to be able to grow Frisco as UNT’s technology hub,” Belshaw said. “I saw it as a perfect marriage. We could put our facility down there, and we had the space for it. Space here in Denton is very hard to get when it comes to on campus, but down in Frisco, it was great because we have that space.”
Involvement in the Frisco crime lab will come at no cost for students thanks to the initial donation, which covered the cost of its creation.
The lab also will receive additional funding from the classes it will offer for UNT students, as well as from law enforcement and federal agencies who pay the lab for its service in assisting in criminal investigations in the years to come.
“There are a couple of labs in the North Texas area, and the problem is that right now, when a police officer brings a cellphone to one of these labs for analysis, it takes between eight and nine months for a cellphone to get back to them,” Belshaw said. “What we’re trying to do at UNT and at the Frisco cyber lab is that we’re trying to take some of that pressure off some of these labs to help prosecute and put more bad guys in jail.”