South Dakota scientists bring their expertise to the fight against crime

RAPID CITY, S.D. — A team of scientists are the newest allies in the fight against crime.

Researchers across four South Dakota universities working as part of the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy,  combining their expertise from a variety of disciplines to identify and disrupt criminal networks.

Dr Jon Kellar

Dr. Jon Kellar, professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at South Dakota Mines, is leading the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy

“It involves four universities: the School of Mines, Dakota State, South Dakota State, and the University of South Dakota,” says Dr. Jon Kellar, professor of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering, School of Mines.

Mines researchers – from material science and chemistry to computer science and forensic analysis – working to understand the illicit economy, which includes ransomware attacks, counterfeit goods, and narcotics.

The team using the internet, data analysis, and high-powered microscopes to study everything from how these networks operate to the packaging used to ship products.

Counterfeiting is a multi-billion-dollar industry – and not a victimless crime.

“A lot of the proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods go into fund terrorist networks,” Dr. Kellar says.

While identifying fake makeup or knock-off handbags might not seem like a priority, counterfeit electronics pose a major threat to national security – where components like circuitboards and chips can be compromised.

Dr. Kellar says, “You can put malware and a lot of bad things on it, and so the Department of Defense is very concerned about that.”

The popularity of cryptocurrency adding a layer of difficulty in identifying these networks.

“Everything is encrypted. You can go to the dark web and you’re completely anonymous; you can purchase with cryptocurrency – which is completely anonymous,” Dr. Kellar says. “It just facilitates all this.”

South Dakota isn’t immune from the impact.

“In South Dakota – it’s here. Actually, right now, it’s really here up in Sturgis, cause there’s just…the human trafficking…which are all part of this network…the illicit drugs,” Dr. Kellar says. “I mean it’s here in plain sight.”

Criminal networks operating near and far creating a challenge for regulators wanting to stop illegal activity without limiting legitimate trade.

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