Just a few months separate Kim Cardona from late nights in the library and final exams, but she believes she already found her professional niche.

A December 2005 graduate of Sage College of Albany, N.Y., Cardona hopes her internship at the New York State Police Computer Crime Unit is the beginning of a career in computer forensics.

"I'd like to be right where I am now," she said of her occupational goal.

That's precisely the aim of the CyberScience Laboratory's Embedded Intern Program, which helped Cardona land with the New York State Police to develop expertise in the computer crime-fighting arena -- an area sorely lacking in trained personnel.

The National Institute of Justice's Office of Science and Technology established the CyberScience Laboratory (CSL) in 2000 to provide training and act as a resource for state and local law enforcement agencies for cyber-crime investigation and technological assistance.

Eventually CSL developed an in-house internship program and began embedding interns in cyber-crime labs -- hence the Embedded Intern Program. CSL places top-notch students at crime labs across the country each semester. Each intern is paid $12 to $15 per hour (based on experience) with funds from the National Institute of Justice, and is assigned special tasks or a specific project that helps develop an interest in pursuing a career in the field.

"We want the student to stay in the field," said Robert DeCarlo, economic crime specialist who runs the CSL program. "I know for a fact they definitely need more support in the law enforcement world in terms of technology and smart up-and-coming, eager people to work these areas. For every cyber-crime lab, there are probably several hundred law enforcement agencies that don't have a lab."

The program places students with a study interest that might lend itself to a career in electronic crime investigation. Students majoring in criminal justice, IT, computer science and newer programs, such as economic crime investigation and fraud investigation are targeted for internships.

CSL has placed interns from Stanford University, the University of Miami, George Mason, Carnegie Mellon, Dartmouth, Cornell and Columbia, among others. Several interns are embedded with one of the many U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Forces around the country near the students' schools, and some are placed in state crime labs.

"We really try to find somebody local and usually, that's not a problem," DeCarlo said, adding that there are a lot of great schools eager to place students into internships.

"The Secret Service feels that we have a unique opportunity to tap into this highly educated pool of students and prospective employees, and offer them an excellent means of hands-on experience," said Tom Mazur, a spokesman for the Electronic Crimes Task Force in Miami.

For the Secret Service, Mazur said, it's more a matter of gaining insight into future or prospective employees than a shortage of manpower. But the industry as a whole is in need of more trained personnel in the cyber-security field, according to Robert Hopper, computer crimes section manager with the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), which also has an intern program.

"There is a need nationally -- actually internationally -- but certainly within the United States, there's a big need," Hopper said. "There aren't enough computer forensics programs available to grow people in the profession. There just aren't."

Exponential Investigators

DeCarlo said the evolving technologies and ubiquitous criminal elements make developing electronic crime investigators imperative.

"We're not looking for code writers. We're looking for somebody who can bridge the gap between the physical, investigative, law enforcement world and the computer cyber-world," he said. "We're looking for a physical security-type person, but who also has the intellectual capacity to really understand their way around a computer

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor