The FBI has unveiled a distinctly low-tech weapon in the war against cyber crime an 18-month-old Labrador retriever named Iris.
The dog has been specially trained to sniff out hidden hard drives and other electronic storage devices that could contain damning digital evidence such as child pornography or terrorist connections.
Iris is the agency’s first electronic-detection K-9 and can uncover any device used to store memory, however hard a criminal tries to hide it.
She has been trained to key into a specific chemical used to cool memory chips in computers and went to work for the FBI this week after graduating from a pioneering programme run by Connecticut State Police.
‘She went into four weeks of imprinting class with them, where they basically just had her every day and imprinted her on the scent,’ Iris’s handler, FBI Agent Jeffrey Calandra told NBC in the US. ‘That chemical is unique to thumb drives, hard drives, really anything that’s electronic that can store memory.’
Similar to dogs trained to find explosives or drugs, Iris will sit once she’s found the device and then she’s fed.
‘She loves to play, she has a great personality but when it’s time to work, she loves to work she gets fed when she works,’ said Agent Calandra.
Iris will be used in counter intelligence, counter terrorism and child porn cases, as well as other investigations.
‘You can find thumb drives in earrings, cufflinks, pens, you name it,” added FBI Supervisory Special Agent Philip Frigm.
‘They are very small and are getting smaller so it’s very difficult for a human who is in the process of conducting a search warrant to find some of those devices.
‘Electronics are a part of everyone’s daily lives and they are everywhere,’ said Frigm. ‘Expectations are that she is going to be very busy in the near future.’
Iris is one of just four cyber-sniffer dogs. While still training the dogs in Kentucky, a black Lab named Bear was used to sniff out a hidden thumb drive containing child porn belonging to Jared Fogel, the jailed former spokesman for the Subway sandwich chain.
US firm Tactical Detection K9 discovered it was possible to train the dogs to detect electronic devices after asking scientists to identify the common byproduct used in external hard drives, SD cards, IPads, iPods and USB memory sticks.
The dogs are trained to ignore other parts of the mobile phone or computer and not to touch the batteries.
Michael Brodack, assistant special agent in charge of the Newark FBI office, said the ‘sky’s the limit’ for Iris.
‘It will make our jobs a little bit easier and it’ll ensure that we find all of the pieces of evidence that we need to find,’ he added.