How to Become a Digital Forensics Investigator

Background

Digital forensics involves the using the scientific method for investigating and examining information from electronic media so as the information can be used as evidence in the courtroom. Investigating computing devices involves obtaining computer data without compromising it, examining suspect computer facts to figure out the particulars, such as, source and substance, displaying computer based facts to courts, and applying laws to digital findings. Digital forensics investigates data that has been retrieved from a computer’s hard drive disk or some other memory media. Digital investigators retrieve data from a working laptop or a computer or its networked locations. The information you retrieve might already be on the hard disk drive, but it is not very easy to find and interpret. In contrast, network forensics yields information about how a perpetrator obtained entry to a computer network.

Education

It will help you to get a computer science degree, however that’s not a necessity. You will need to have both professional education and several years of practical experience in the profession. It is helpful to get law enforcement training, nevertheless, that’s generally not required. The majority of digital forensics experience is self-taught. The greatest digital forensics experts are insatiably interested in how and why personal computers function. They invest a lot of their hard work studying about software programs, electronics, additionally, they live for the pleasure of knowing the way everything works collectively. Each situation is unique, therefore the solution you wish is probably not in the articles, the discussion boards or CSI. Occasionally, you must experiment with your own well thought-out hypotheses. The capacity to develop insightful investigations as well as persistence to elicit the information is a necessity of an experienced digital forensic examiners. To understand how a file or meta data transforms once an individual performs a certain thing, you’ll be ready to confirm when you’ve verified your hypothesis by skilled testing.

Realities

In the event that you’ll be employed for/with law enforcement organizations, you will want a clear conviction record. Although you may only intend to be concerned with civil cases, if you’ll be testifying in a courtroom, anything in your history that anyone can use to harm your integrity is going to be grasped upon by the opposite lawyer.

No matter if you begin in the Information Technology area or the law enforcement area, a quality digital forensics expert, you need specific characteristics. Like with all investigative professional, you need an inquisitive character – one which takes you to want to seek and make inquiries and persevere until you finally decide the solutions. To be a successful computer forensics investigator, you ought to be well-organized, because you’ll be handling a lot of information but you still have to be capable of recognizing patterns and notice correlations. It is best to have exceptional observation abilities, and be able to notice both the fine details as well as the “big picture”. You still need to be unbiased, allowing you to draw conclusions that aren’t contingent upon your preconceptions or prejudices. Ultimately, you must be capable of systematically documenting your own investigations and often to be capable of delivering them to other people who don’t have your professional understanding. This means you will need equally great writing ability and great language capabilities.

Basics of Digital Forensics and Evidence

The science of forensics is essentially the study of legal issues and pursuit of answers to legal questions by applying scientific knowledge using technology. There are two specific cases where legal system becomes involved are; first, is when a private party, such as a business, requires facts to support a civil action like a lawsuit. The second instance occurs when a crime is suspected or has been committed. Now, in both cases, a forensics investigator, or rather a practitioner of forensic science must check the current available resources to find facts that are supported by the available resources. And more so, the facts help answer the questions expected or asked by the legal system.

Forensics Investigations

There are differences between investigations initiated within the private business sector differ much from investigations initiated by public officials for criminal investigations. The most significant difference is the potential impact from the investigation. Private sector investigations potentially result in any or all the following events:

  • The loss/gain of money or goods
  • The loss or retention of employment
  • Potential disciplinary actions
  • Criminal charges

The most frequent cause for an investigation in the public sector is criminal activity which has the potential to incarcerate private citizens. In very few cases, a public investigation will involve the liability of public officials in issues involving public safety and these investigations can result in the loss of public taxpayer funds, or may influence new legislation. Since most public investigations involve crimes and the criminals that commit them, the term public investigation will be used synonymously with criminal investigation in the rest of the text.

The monetary costs associated with legal action are notable motivators for forensics in investigations. In public investigations, prosecution can take years and cost millions of taxpayer dollars in court costs. Suspects in the prosecution must legal defense which comes at a cost and, even if ultimately proven innocent, defendants in legal cases may suffer loss of reputation and employment. If the prosecution fails to successfully convict, the suspect entitled to restitution for losses to reputation or wages. To make matters worse, the suspect will likely have to pursue a private legal action to recoup damages which result in yet more costs.

Legal actions in the private sector are not exempt from monetary motivators. Private sector legal action can extend over several years and cost millions in private funds. Besides the potential monetary costs, private sector cases often bear a high cost in time and inconvenience for all participants.The likelihood of successful legal action whether it be private or public increases substantially as the confidence level in the facts of the investigation increase.

For example, private sector cases are often examining facts to assess if a company policy or employment contract violated. With very few exceptions, public sector investigations that involve law enforcement such as investigations that result from a crime occurring or in cases where a crime is suspected to have occurred.

Private investigations have the potential of revealing criminal activity. Though the technology and tools for gathering facts are the same or similar in private and public sector cases, the procedure to gather the two will differ much. Even though they differ, the two rules are rarely incompatible; but do need agreement with all private parties including the forensics investigators, and private sector attorneys as well as local law enforcement and public attorneys to keep up confidence levels in the facts of the investigations.

Forensics Investigators

Forensic investigators is trained to be a professionals who apply the science of forensics. They apply skills to many sciences and disciplines such as geology, physics, chemistry, toxicology and many more. Therefore, forensics can be defined as the application of diverse scientific disciplines to the answering of legal questions. The first function of a forensics investigator is to assess the legality and appropriateness of collecting evidence. The nature of investigations requires that evidence collection and analysis be performed in full compliance with the law. Both public and private investigations must respect the rights of private citizens.

Once probable cause is established, a call for is issued. With call for in hand, law enforcement is granted the right to search for only specific evidence of a crime but is allowed to collect any evidence in “plain sight” that is clear and telling that any crime has been committed.

Another function of the forensics investigator is to support an exact “chain of custody” of all evidence gathered in a case. The chain of custody is a simple record of what the evidence is who gathered it, when it was gathered, and who accessed it. An exact chain of custody is required to prevent contamination or even the appearance of contamination of the evidence. The chain of custody is equally important in both public and private investigations.

Evidence

Whether public or private, the facts of a case emerge from evidence in an investigation. Evidence is best defined as anything real or ephemeral that reveals and objectively proves the facts of an investigation. Evidence is generally used to prove the facts that a crime was committed; the suspect committed or did not commit a crime, the order of events during the commission of a crime, the motive:

The forms of the evidence can be either; blood evidence, material traced evidence, finger prints, private or personal records, public records, drug content, surveillance evidence, confession and testimony.

During an investigation, two very different roles emerge in the field of forensics. The first role is that of evidence collection. This role requires relatively limited experience, training, and qualifications. An investigator in this role will often travel to the scene of a crime or can be called to prepare evidence for the second role. The second role is that of evidence analysis. Here, evidence is reviewed, assessed, and analyzed for facts and conclusions.

Digital Forensics For Private Investigators

What is Digital Forensics?

Digital Forensics is the terminology used when digital artifacts are collected from a computer system in a forensically sound manner. In other words, digital artifacts such as documents, spreadsheet, pictures and email can be retrieved from a computer, PDA or any other type of digital device with storage capability. The material is then analyzed and preserved. This operation can often be done even if the data has been intentionally erased. Digital Forensics procedures will allow the forensic examiner to reveal digital evidence, and display the exact time and date the information was created, installed, or downloaded, as well as when it was last accessed. Although the first computer crimes occurred in the 1970’s, computer forensics is still a relatively new field. While we now have more PC and mobile device users then ever, the demand for Digital Forensics is quickly increasing. Laptop computers, PDA’s and mobile phones with the capability of storing pictures, connecting to the Internet and e-mails, more and more often require the need of Digital Forensics to determine the action to be taken in criminal litigation cases, corporate espionage, and accusations of child pornography, Likewise, acts of terrorism as well as the practices of disgruntled employees and the behavior of cheating spouses, all have one thing in common: they frequently utilize computer systems and mobile devices to assist them in their unethical actions and crimes. The evidence that these activities leave behind is readily detected through the procedures of digital forensics.

Digital Forensics or Computer Forensics?

In the past, computer forensic investigations have had PC and Laptop systems as their primary target for examination. Within the past years, the computer forensic field has been forced to broaden its scope, tools and investigative techniques in order to keep abreast of the personal technology being used by common citizens. Equipment such as Cell phones, PDA’s, Blackberrys and GPS systems are used on a daily basis, and can contain vital information from sms test messages, emails, phone logs and previous GPS destination coordinates. Therefore the term Digital Forensics is becoming very popular as the computer forensic field expands and incorporates the digital analysis of new technological devices.

What can a skilled Digital Forensic Examiner do?

A skilled digital forensic examiner can recover deleted files from a computer. He or she can view which websites have been visited from a specific computer even after the browser history and cache have been cleared and deleted. A digital forensic examiner is able to review previous communications sent and received via an instant messaging and chat application such as yahoo instant messenger and msn messenger. The forensic process will also restore deleted or hidden pictures and email messages. In addition the forensic examiner is trained to analyze and re-create deleted text messages and call logs from cell phones, PDA’s and Blackberry devices.

How the Private investigator can benefit from Digital Forensics

Digital Forensics can assist the private investigator in many ways principally by identifying vital information and saving cost and time. Often 2-3 hours of digital forensic examination techniques are able to expose more evidence then several days of surveillance and dumpster diving. Deleted data from digital devices such as cell phone text messages and other acts are often recoverable; for example, did your client’s spouse have an instant messaging conversation? Are those deleted emails recoverable? What websites did the suspect visit?

Several examples below elaborate how Digital forensics can assist the private investigator in specific cases and tasks:

Adultery cases:

Online chats or sms text messages are often used to arrange meetings and provide covert communication to avoid suspicions by the spouse.

Fraud Cases:

It is often possible to determine when and if a document was altered. Unless the document was produced by a typewriter, there always is or at least has existed an electronic copy somewhere. In addition the most common word processor, “Microsoft Word” which is part of the Microsoft office suite embeds Meta data into each document. This Meta data can provide vital information such as the identity of the author and the computer on which the document was composed. The same applies to Microsoft Excel spreadsheet applications.

Tailing a suspect:

When tailing a suspect, imagine how informative it could be to know his/her previous destinations, prior to starting the assignment. Impossible you say! This is not necessarily so especially if the individual had traveled by automobile and used a GPS (Global Positioning System). Some of the most recent advancements in Digital Forensics allow for the retrieval of information from the most common GPS systems.

Harassment cases:

There are many different types of harassment. It is often the case that your client may not only be receiving harassment in person, but also via phone, and/or email. A Forensic Examiner can preserve logs of phone calls received from cell phones and present them as evidence by strictly maintaining a chain of custody. Every email sent from a given source to a specific destination leaves information embedded in that email. This information is referred to as the email header. The forensic examiner can analyze the email header and trace it back to the origins of the IP address from which it has been sent.

Surveillance:

When considering surveillance, most think of traditional techniques such as: tailing, stakeouts and video surveillance. However, modern computer techniques can also be a valuable asset to the private investigator. There are such devices as spy ware programs and keystroke loggers that will provide real time information about what, where and when things have occurred on a suspected computer.

Who has the right to search a computer or Digital device?

The Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure only applies to government entities such as law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment does not apply to private searches. A private search can be conducted or authorized by anyone who has a legal right to the data stored on the computer, such as employers or spouses. Since computers are common property, spouses can give consent to a private search of the computer

Conclusion:

In the dynamic world of Private Investigation, it is vital to adapt to new technologies and be able to provide your clients with competitive services of the highest degree. Most importantly it is essential to keep your clients in your domain for all of their investigative needs. Therefore training private investigators in the art of Digital Forensics or partnering with a Digital Forensic expert is a necessary step in securing not only the stability and longevity of your business but assuring that it is prepared to meet the requirements of the technological exigencies of the future.