Cecil Community College has opened a CyberCrime Institute, specializing in computer security.
The class being offered provides training in forensic computer analysis and hard drive imaging to detect illegal activity on computers. Computer search and seizure, intelligence techniques, and personal and homeland computer protection are other subjects the facility hopes to teach.
Michael Estes of Elkton, an instructor at the institute and a member of the program's board of advisers, said that cybercrime has been a growing concern since the late 1990s but that the problem was brought to the forefront after the Sept. 11 attacks.
With a growing number of personal data devices and other sophisticated technology, criminals are becoming more able to conceal their actions, he said. As a result, the need for electronic crime education is growing.
"Maryland is ranked third in the country for the highest job density in information technology and information assurance," Estes said. "That tells you there's a lot of data [criminals] can go after.
The course has 10 students ranging from 17 to 50 years old. Some students work in law enforcement or large corporations, and others are looking for a career change, Estes said. Classes meet for four hours on Wednesday nights for 15 weeks and lead to certification in computer forensics based on national standards.
To become certified, Estes said, students must complete a hands-on exam requiring them to produce an image of information stored on a simulated hard drive, as would be required for evidence in criminal court.
Deborah Lindell of Port Deposit, a student at the CyberCrime Institute, has been working in information technology for 30 years. She is taking the course to enhance her skills.
"There is a lack of skilled people to do this kind of work," she said. "And there's definitely an important need for it. The police can't do it all."
Lindell said that after she completes her certification, she would like to work with the institute. The program seeks to draw students from Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware, Estes said.
Don Ayers, director of the institute, said he is optimistic about the program's future. To acquire the necessary equipment, however, it will need a lot of money and grants from various donators.
"[The institute] is snowballing all of a sudden," Ayers said. "It's going so fast, we're actually playing catch-up right now."
CyberCrime hopes to build an investigative lab - at a cost of about $250,000 - to which police departments and other agencies could send evidence to be examined securely, Ayers said.
Estes said he hopes the program will allow Cecil County to make its mark on the evolution of law enforcement.
"There's no reason why a rural Maryland area can't put their stamp on the map," Estes said. "We're trying to be a model for the rest of the state."