Lake County investigators have a new tool to get information from electronic devices

  • Upgrades to the cyber lab operated by the Lake County State's Attorney's Office will include new software to improve investigators' access to electronic devices.

    Upgrades to the cyber lab operated by the Lake County State's Attorney's Office will include new software to improve investigators' access to electronic devices. Courtesy of Lake County State's Attorney's office

 
 
Updated 1/6/2022 2:40 PM

New software will enhance access to information from electronic devices during investigations of violent or white-collar crimes in Lake County.

The Lake County State's Attorney's Office secured a $123,940 federal grant to purchase GrayKey forensic analysis software. It will allow investigators and analysts to quickly extract information from more devices than is currently possible, officials said.

 

"With a judge's warrant, we'll be able to get into many more cellphones and laptops than we were before," State's Attorney Eric Reinhart said.

The Smart Prosecution-Innovation Prosecution Solutions Grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance runs through Sept. 30, 2023. It covers the cost of software and a dedicated high-capacity computer to run it.

Rinehart said investigators in his office's cyber lab can analyze only 70% of phones or devices. In 2021, 792 devices were analyzed but going forward that number is expected to increase, Rinehart said.

"This was critical to upgrade our (cyber) lab," he said. The software will allow analysts to "crack more and new phones," he added.

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Investigators retrieve and analyze text messages, video files and geo-data from phone laptops and other digital devices.

Besides reducing crime, the grant will help reduce a backlog of cases as courts and attorneys await forensic analysis, according to the state's attorney's office.

About 45% of the devices analyzed in 2021 involved child victims, Rinehart said. Information gleaned from cellphones or laptops also is used in a variety of other criminal investigations, Rinehart said.

People involved in murder, shootings or other violent crime, for example, often have their devices with them, he noted.

"When we have a suspect, (analysis) helps us narrow in and it gives us more evidence," said Rinehart adding, "as many as one-third of felonies may have a cyber element to them."

The Cyber Crimes Unit has two full-time employees who examine electronic devices for 35 Lake County law enforcement agencies. The new software will be an important part of an overall upgrade, according to Rinehart.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're completely reorganizing and standardizing the lab," he said.

The project accompanies the recent establishment of a Violent Crimes Unit within the state's attorney's office in which prosecutors work with law enforcement to quickly develop complex evidence.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant is a first for the state's attorney's office and one of five secured in the past year by Rinehart's office for various uses. A pending sixth grant would bring the total grant funding, including from the American Rescue Plan, to just over $2 million, said Rinehart, who was elected in November of 2020.

"Our new administration is being more creative and aggressive than ever before," he said. "We're going to go six for six."

The Lake County Board on Tuesday is expected to officially accept the grant with funding to be in hand by February.

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