Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, August 3, 2021

University Researchers Join Fight Against Crime

Dr. Jacob Petersen using a Micro-Raman spectrometer in the Engineering and Mining Experiment Station at South Dakota Mines. High-tech equipment like this will be employed by the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy at university research labs across the state.

South Dakota Mines researchers are leading a fight to understand and disrupt illegal criminal networks that are responsible for everything from ransomware attacks to the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit goods, to illegal narcotics, to poaching. Mines researchers will combine their expertise in material science, including counterfeit identification and supply chain security, with a multidisciplinary team of faculty and student researchers at South Dakota State University (SDSU), Dakota State University (DSU) and the University of South Dakota (USD). The team will work together as part of the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy to discover, understand, and thwart criminal activity and illegal trade on the dark web and other networks.

“There have been pirates for thousands of years on the open ocean. In this effort, we’re going after modern day pirates,” says Jon Kellar, professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at South Dakota Mines. Dr. Kellar will lead the new center. “These pirates use technology exceedingly well, they use the dark web, they use the regular web, they use social media incredibly effectively, they rely on encrypted technologies to communicate, and they use crypto currency for transactions.”

One of the challenges the team must overcome is that criminals deliberately obfuscate their activity. This means it’s often difficult to tell the difference between legitimate trade and illicit actions on the internet. Regulators are challenged in implementing controls that stop illicit activity online but that allow for the flow of legitimate trade.

“Our first goal is to better understand the criminal networks that are out there, how they communicate and how they operate – then we can come up with measures to counteract illegal and harmful activity,” says Kellar.

The creation of the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy is thanks to a $3.9 million grant from the state Research and Commercialization Council through the South Dakota Governor’s Research Center completion.

South Dakota Mines has spent several years on research and development of anti-counterfeiting technology. The effort has been primarily focused on securing supply chains to stop counterfeit parts in things like passenger jets and ending problems of counterfeit drugs from showing up in pharmacies. Mines researchers also specialize in identifying counterfeit goods, such as bogus Native American art, which is sometimes manufactured overseas and then labeled sold as authentic tribally-made works of art.  This illegal practice hurts Native artists in places like South Dakota, who make a living selling their own authentic work.

The collaborative effort includes:  

  • Dr. Brian Logue, an SDSU professor and expert in bioanalytical chemistry. Dr. Logue’s team is focusing on tracking counterfeit pharmaceutics. 
  • Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, vice president for research and economic development at DSU. She will lead a team of cybersecurity experts who will explore the dark web and other networks used by criminals. 
  • Dr. C.Y. Jiang at USD is focused on security inks and the development of new inks that can be printed on authentic parts to track their path through the supply chain, thus limiting the possibility of counterfeit goods landing in an end product. 
  • Dr. Grant Crawford at Mines will join Dr. Kellar to lead a team of materials science researchers in identifying fake and counterfeit goods.



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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