Computer thieves will be trapped by their DNA

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Detectives and forensic scientists are developing a new technique that will enable them to recover DNA from thieves responsible for the growing multi-million-pound trade in stolen computer parts.

Detectives and forensic scientists are developing a new technique that will enable them to recover DNA from thieves responsible for the growing multi-million-pound trade in stolen computer parts.

In future they hope to trap the organised criminals that are targeting banks and universities from a single fleck of skin or drop of saliva. During a nine-month period last year about £15m worth of equipment was stolen from universities, institutions and technology firms throughout the country.

In the City of London, where most of the largest financial institutions have their headquarters, thieves have stolen £2.7m worth of computer parts from one particular brand of machine in the past year. They have taken 850 computers, including portable models, during the same period. Each of the processing units stolen was worth up to £50,000.

Criminals have been stealing the computer chips - the "brain" of the machine - and selling them abroad. Police believe the computers have been stolen to order often by groups in former Soviet Union countries that are struggling to get round United States technology export bans.

Forensic experts are currently working on an anti-theft programme in which they can retrieve tiny DNA samples - too small to be seen by the human eye - from the computer casing left behind in the raids. Previously it has not been possible to obtain DNA samples from the hard plastic surfaces of computers.

Two researchers from the forensic science unit at the South Bank University are working with the City of London Police to discover the areas of the computer that thieves are most likely to touch and leave behind skin, saliva, and hair cells. The computers are swabbed with cotton buds and the DNA is recovered from the microscopic samples. This can then be matched with the DNA database of convicted criminals and other samples taken from the scenes of crimes.

Detective Inspector Phil Carson, head of scientific support at the City of London Police, said: "We have been teaching the researchers how to steal computers, so they can reconstruct the crime scene and analyse which areas the thieves come in contact with."

He explained that the thieves had to take off their gloves to remove some of the computer components and the criminals could brush against the machines.

He added: "We are talking about theft to order of very expensive pieces of equipment. The brokers in the city demand the latest and best computer equipment, which is being targeted by organised criminals."

Most of the sought-after parts are made by Sun Microsystems. Products made by Dell, Compaq and Cisco are also highly prized. Police believe those behind the thefts are part of a "pool of burglars" who started out attacking universities, which often have highly technical equipment but rarely the security to match, and have moved on to City banks and financial institutions.

Last October Deutsche Bank is believed to have lost 49 pieces of equipment valued at £1.6m to computer thieves. As a result of the robbery, Deutsche is rumoured to have suffered £25m trading losses. Four other banks are also understood to have fallen victim.

Comments