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Digital Forensics Go Mobile

June 14, 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

Digital-data investigators have a new tool in their arsenals as they try to capture bad guys' information before they can harm others. The device enables immediate, on-scene triage of devices, eliminating the need to send equipment back to a laboratory while saving precious time and resources.

Dell released its Mobile Digital Forensics solution to build upon its original Digital Forensics offering. As devices such as computers, smartphones and even gaming consoles with storage capabilities grow in popularity, they become increasingly critical sources of information. Joe Trickey, rugged and digital forensics brand manager at Dell, says the number and capacity of these platforms result in a digital tsunami. Investigators need methods to more quickly process the data they collect to counteract this overload. In some cases, faster evidence collection could enable catching criminals or stopping attacks.

Chris Townsend, rugged solutions manager at Dell, explains that the mobile solution was designed for the layperson, not forensics specialists, to use. It requires no specific skills to operate as it reviews content, finds fields and key words, and helps maintain security. The solution has applications in a range of areas including intelligence-community and defense operations. For example, a warfighter out on patrol could use the tool to collect information from a house and send the findings back to experts to identify actionable intelligence. The solution also can be configured to help private companies detect problems such as insider trading.

Law enforcement agencies also are major users of Digital Forensics and Mobile Digital Forensics. Trickey shares a story in which law enforcement officials were tracking a gang-related case and were able to collect information about a hit made in Las Vegas when the guilty party discussed the crime via a friend's gaming station. One of the most common applications for the device is in cases of crimes against children such as kidnapping or exploitation.

Detective Kent Andrel, the system administrator for the Plant City Police Department in Florida, says his organization has been using the Dell Digital Forensics for about a year. Before that, the department submitted its digital evidence to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), facing a backlog of 12 to 18 months. With the internal laboratory capabilities, Plant City can process evidence in a more timely manner. After procuring the solution, it asked FDLE to return what it had previously submitted and then processed the evidence internally for around the same costs incurred when using FDLE's resources. Andrel says the department has conducted approximately 14 forensics investigations in the last year, making a total of four arrests, at least one of which would have been impossible without the resource.

The quick turnaround can be critical when children go missing. Law enforcement officers sometimes can use information from electronic devices to help determine where a missing person might have gone or with whom they recently communicated, Andrel explains.

The addition of the triage mobile device allows officers to collect information on-site without having to remove each device containing digital evidence. Moving forward, such capabilities will become even more important. "Digital evidence is not going away," Andrel says. "It's just going to get bigger."