The Value of Mobile Data in Criminal Investigations

By Miller, Christa | Law & Order, June 2013 | Go to article overview

The Value of Mobile Data in Criminal Investigations


Miller, Christa, Law & Order


CASE STUDIES ARE PROOF OF THE VALUE.

SUMMARY

The best way to understand the power of mobile forensics technology is to see it in action. The following four examples underscore the value of mobile forensics technology, and allowed professionals to crack the cases without compromising stringent Constitutional requirements:

Today, carrying a smartphone is com- monplace. According to Pew Research, 88 percent of American adults rely on cell phones to text, take photos, send e-mail, and access their social networks. What does this mean for law enforce- ment professionals? When it comes to uncover- ing, analyzing and submitting evidence in today's criminal investigations, mobile phones play a more critical role than ever in bringing criminal offenders to justice.

Mobile forensics technology can assist law enforce- ment by enabling the most technologically advanced extraction, decoding, analysis and reporting of the data found on a wide range of smartphones, legacy and feature phones, tablets and GPS devices. Much of the time, this can even include deleted and hid- den data-often invaluable evidence in both civil and criminal proceedings.

In addition to accessing data directly from a device (e.g. text message or e-mail), law enforcement can find value in the personal information stored within mo- bile applications. A 2013 Nielsen report indicated that the average smartphone user has approximately 41 apps stored on a single device. According to John Car- ney, Chief Technology Officer at Carney Forensics, "The ability to extract critical data stored in apps will become the new measuring stick by which investiga- tors gauge the superiority of mobile forensics tools.'

There is no better way to understand the power of mobile fo- rensics technology than seeing it in action. The following case studies-including a homicide conviction believed to be one of the nation's first for texting while driving-highlight the work done by authorized investigators in the field of mobile data ex- traction and analysis using Cellebrite's Universal Forensic Extrac- tion Device (UFED). All four cases underscore the value of mobile forensics technology, and allowed professionals to crack the cases without compromising stringent Constitutional requirements.

Cell Pictures Provide Critical Evidence

In Columbus, Ohio, Detective Zane Kirby, a forensic examiner for the Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, helped to convict a 23-year-old man accused of trying to solicit an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl. The case breaker was lewd photos of the perpetrator found on his phone and sent to the victim.

Originally recovered from the victim's home computer, the images later turned up on the suspect's phone, together with de- leted call logs and the girl's name listed in the suspect's contact list. The usage of mobile data provided strong enough evidence to result in a guilty verdict for the defendant.

Mobile Forensics Exonerate Falsely Accused

For investigators, clearing the wrongly accused is just as im- portant as convicting the guilty. When an incoming Norwich University freshman was accused of inappropriate communi- cations with an underage female, Peter Stephenson, the univer- sity's chief information security officer, needed an accurate way to prove or disprove the allegations-specifically, whether the student was calling and texting the girl to solicit sex.

During interviews, the accused student denied knowing the girl and stated that he was only con- nected to her through a shared Facebook Group. In charge of the school's digital investigations, Stephenson needed a way to con- duct an objective, scientific ex- amination of the student's digital devices. The student voluntarily surrendered his phone for the in- vestigation.

Although the student's phone was an older device with a primi- tive operating system, Stephenson analyzed the phone and SIM card using Cellebrite's UFED. …

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