A look inside the FBI’s high-tech lab of digital and computer crimefighting

BOSTON — We all live in a world that grows more tech-connected by the second.

Inside Boston’s FBI headquarters, there’s a new lab with one mission that’s anything but simple.

“Sometimes people think cyber forensic refers to just cyber hacking type and that’s not the case,” said Bruce Hartung, FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Director, Regional computer forensic laboratory.

Murder, terrorism, and trade secrets are just a few of the crimes they investigate.

“Absolutely, all those things and more,” said Special Agent Hartung.

Hartung is the director of the FBI’s regional computer forensic laboratory of RCFL.

They work with police departments and law enforcement agencies all across New England to find the digital footprints bad guys leave behind.

“Smartphones, computers, of course, loose media like thumb drives, hard drives, and things like that. But we might also be looking at car infotainment systems, game consoles, GPS devices…occasionally a drone will come in,” said Agent Hartung.

They are busy.

Requests for help cracking into digital devices come in from detectives all day at the RCFL.

Deputy Sheriff Jim Schwab handles all those cases from Middlesex County.

Schwab has been digging into digital forensics for decades.

When he started it was all computers, not the computer we all carry in our pockets or purse.

From the moment we wake up and check out phones, the trail of digital exhaust begins.

“Love is fleeting the internet is forever,” said Detective Schwab.

It doesn’t end there.

“If you take your car, your average car. It tracks everywhere you have been; it tracks how fast you are going – it’s pretty crazy,” said Sean O’Hare, Task Force Officer, FBI Computer Forensic Lab

The FBI computer forensic team is part of at least half of all FBI investigations and it’s far from slowing down.

“I absolutely see it increasing, we do track how much work we do each year and it’s literally been exponential growth. We did about 60% each year more than we did the year before, it just keeps continuing and I don’t see that stopping,” said Special Agent Hartung.

Work that unfortunately will never stop comes with a need for top-notch team members

“One misconception is that people think anyone who is going have to have law enforcement experience, has to be a police officer or special agent beforehand. That’s not the case, we do hire a lot of civilian examiners – so anyone who has a degree in a STEM field – if they are interested in doing this sort of work, they should really look into it,” said Special Agent Hartung.

A possible place on a team on the front lines of the new digital world of crimefighting.

“One of the most important things is you wake up in the morning and know why you are going to work every day,” said Special Agent Bruce Hartung.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW