Social Security IG team plans upgrade of forensics app

When Guidance Software Inc. releases a new version of its EnCase Forensic software later this month, the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General will be one of the early upgraders.

Social Security's IG team decided it had to upgrade because of the agency's burgeoning caseload, said Sue Hermitage, a computer forensics special agent in the IG Office. She said Social Security number fraud cases have exploded, from 11,000 in 1998 to 73,000 last year.

Version 4 of the Pasadena, Calif., company's software will handle searches using foreign keywords and speed up searches, company officials said.

With Version 3, users can conduct searches only in English, although they can export foreign-language files using the application.

To speed up the app, the company has revised the search algorithm so that the new version can seek many words simultaneously when users do multiple-word searches. Version 3 makes repeated passes over a file for each word of a search.

'For example, a 20-term keyword search conducted on a 1G drive with EnCase Version 3 took over 13 minutes. The same search run with EnCase Version 4 took only two minutes,' according to a product white paper.

Besides typical criminal activities, Guidance Software officials expect the new version will help its government users investigate files created by terrorists, said John Patzakis, the company's president and chief legal officer.

The upgrade will cost $395 for government users of Version 3.0, which cost $1, 995. The company reports having 2,000 government users of EnCase Forensic.

SSA began using the app two years ago, Hermitage said. A recent incident convinced her that the upgrade would be worthwhile. When reviewing files on a confiscated PC, she discovered that they were all written in Korean.

Luckily, another SSA employee who could speak Korean was able to read through and search the files manually, Hermitage said. 'When I looked at it, I thought, uh oh, it's encrypted,' Hermitage said, before determining the text was Korean.

The computer forensics done by the IG Office at SSA will likely get more emphasis in the future. In his fiscal 2004 budget proposal, President Bush this month called for an 8.4 percent increase to $90 million for the IG Office to 'aggressively pursue' antifraud efforts.

Next year, SSA plans to create a Social Security Number Misuse Response Team that will identify and investigate abuse of Social Security numbers and provide assistance to SSA, Congress, the public and other law enforcement agencies.

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