In Cameroon, cybercrime is common, but few judges, police officers or lawyers understand the inner workings of today’s technology and the potential evidence devices contain, says Scott Inch ’86, professor of mathematics, computer science and statistics. Cases have been thrown out of the country’s courts simply because officials do not grasp the technology involved.
But the number of Cameroonian officials with a basic understanding of digital forensics is expected to grow significantly within the next year, thanks to interactive online training created by Inch in partnership with Michael Grube ’13/’15M.
Inch developed most of the courses in BU’s bachelor’s degree program in digital forensics, which began nearly 10 years ago. A popular undergraduate major, digital forensics is an evolving field that teaches students to retrieve information from computer hard drives, cell phones, tablets and other devices to fight cybercrime and use in legal proceedings. Major crimes in Cameroon include terrorism, drug violations, human trafficking and scams originating inside the country and in neighboring nations, with Nigeria as the worst offender.
“The law hasn’t caught up to technology,” Inch says. “Cameroon is experiencing a lot of cybercrime, including scams, because people don’t understand technology. Cameroon is a cash culture and citizens wire money to make purchases, rather than use a credit card as we would. There is no recourse when their purchases do not arrive.”
Inch learned of the scarcity of knowledge from Ali Joan Beri Wacka, often referred to as “Cameroon’s digital forensics expert,” through two years of email correspondence followed by a visit to Bloomsburg’s campus. Wacka earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, Nigeria. However, her efforts to pursue a doctoral degree in digital forensics were stymied until she met faculty from BU’s Institute for Instructional Technology (IIT), who were visiting Cameroon’s University of Buea, a 12,000-student institution that provides study abroad experiences for BU students. They put her in touch with Inch.
“She and I clicked,” says Inch, who now serves as an adviser for Wacka’s doctoral studies. “We spent the summer working on her dissertation and talking about future projects we could work on together.”
After Wacka returned home, she and Inch continued to develop the concept for training members of Cameroon’s legal community. Inch created the content and designed simple online training, but he wanted the training to be presented in a more innovative fashion than a PowerPoint presentation with a voice over.
Inch knew who could take the project to the next level: Mike Grube, whose undergraduate degree in digital forensics and studies toward a master’s degree in instructional technology made it a natural for his required 480-hour internship.
A native of Easton, Grube came to the project with a knowledge of computers gained not only through BU’s digital forensics program, but also as a professional video game player and, later, a professional online poker player. He admits he took his BU education more seriously after the U.S. Department of Justice shut down online poker in 2011, but says the skills he gained through gaming taught him to “read people,” a handy talent in determining clients’ needs for online training.
Grube “built the interactive modules upon the foundation of content I created,” Inch says, determining the necessary information, writing a storyline and creating activities to match the content. The self-paced online training contains information similar to that included in two core courses for BU’s digital forensics major, however college credits will not be awarded.
In the final stages of development, the program should roll out in January 2016, supported by a government minister’s financial backing and his endorsement of the partnership with the University of Buea. BU will control the grading and content and provide the technical support.
Grube says the project has provided insights for his career, including how to estimate the amount of time a project requires — he says he underestimated this one — and how to gauge the depth of training clients need. “What I love most is being able to use both of my degrees,” Grube says. “And to help the university.”
“And,” Inch adds, “Cameroon loves being seen at the forefront of technology in their region.”•
Bonnie Martin is editor of Bloomsburg: The University Magazine.