The new frontier in digital evidence

With cell phones ringing everywhere, agencies need to know how to answer this new call of duty


HTCI also offers online training (www.hightechcrimeinstitute.com).

Pearson, who has been doing cell phone forensics for three years, says it's important to qualify the trainers and the company.

"A good training company uses investigators that are or have been recently in the field," he says. "That's very important to have that newness and awareness of the technology."

At the HTCI, cell phone forensics is a course that's part of an advanced track, the Certified Computer Forensic Technician. In all, four certification tracks are available and explained in detail at www.hightechcrimeinstitute.com/courses/xcertification.htm.

Cell phone forensics technology

Recognizing that the frustrations associated with cell phone forensics, such as multiple operating systems and changing technology, were not going to go away and that the need for analysis was only going to increase, Teel Technologies started a Web site for users and content providers. Mobile Forensics Central (www.mobileforensicscentral.com) is a free Web site to help examiners determine the tools available for analysis. Teel Technologies is a solution provider for many of the tools found on the site.

Trained forensic examiners essentially are working with a moving target, describes Teel.

"When they get a cell phone, they don't know which model or version of a particular operating system they're dealing with," he says.

That's largely why Mobile Forensics Central was built.

"We knew examiners were getting phones they didn't know what to do with," he says. "Even though they might have three different tools in their lab, examiners still were having a hard time quickly identifying which tool to work with and then what to expect to get off that phone."

At Mobile Forensics Central, examiners can enter a model number to determine which software and cables they can use, and what kind of results they will experience from these tools.

Phone software programs can be found on the Web site. If a phone isn't listed, Teel recommends asking about it — a supplier may not support a phone because it hasn't had a chance to test it. Just because a software solution is not listed doesn't mean an agency shouldn't try it, he adds.

The Web site, which launched in January, does not replace manufacturer literature, which agencies also should reference to reach conclusions, Teel says.

Phone specs and the Examiner's Exchange, where examiners share their knowledge, offer additional information.

"The Web site is a tool to help examiners get closer to determining what they need to do with a phone," Teel says, "but it's not going to take them the entire way."

An examiner may analyze a phone with a specific forensic tool and try to do the same three months later only to find out he has more of a challenge — or he can't analyze the phone — because the firmware or a component has since changed.

Mobile Forensics Central's Product Updates section provides information on new versions and enhancements, bug fixes, and phone support updates.

Teel will continue to update and expand the site to include information on charging and adaptors. He also plans to offer all the data on the site as an offline tool.

A new frontier

"Cell phone investigation is a new frontier in electronic evidence," according to Thomas, who adds it's only a matter of time before more and more law enforcement agencies develop their own units and expertise in the field.

Working together, Pearson says agencies could pool their resources to obtain the people, training and technology to examine a majority of cell phones.

Because cell phones are such a big part of everyone's lives, he predicts 15 or 20 years from now every law enforcement officer in the country will need to know how to examine a cell phone for digital evidence.

Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer who specializes in law enforcement topics living in Wisconsin. She can be reached at kanable@charter.net.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.