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GCN : July 2014
GCN JULY 2014 • GCN.COM 19 The information you could expect to get from a phone was a contact list, some text messages and calendar entries. "Today they are computers, and we are getting everything off of them that we would expect from a computer. You have a great picture of what a person is doing and is interested in." But the sheer volume of data and de- vices can be overwhelming. Forensics labs within law enforcement agencies and in the private sector have backlogs from six to 24 months and are struggling to keep up with the pace of technical change in the devices being examined. And it's not just a matter of Android or Apple phones. Forensics professionals es- timate there are more than 10,000 mod- els of mobile phones being used today from as many as 3,000 manufacturers. About 150 new phones were released in April alone. COURT-FRIENDLY DATA Forensics is the science of developing or extracting information for use in investi- gations and in civil or criminal court cases. Digital forensics involves getting that in- formation in a digital format, usually from a computer or some form of electronic media. It requires getting access to the de- vice, locating the data, copying it and ana- lyzing it to turn the data into information. What's more, if the resulting informa- tion is going to stand up in court, each step has to be documented, and care has to be taken not to alter the data being gathered --- or the original data. Digital forensics has been around for decades, but forensics on mobile digital devices is a relatively new and rapidly changing field. Although the two share similarities, "they are very different," said John Carney, chief technology officer of Carney Forensics, which helps attorneys and investigators gain insights into their cases by retrieving digital forensic evi- dence. The most obvious difference is that mo- bile devices are --- well, mobile. "Mobile phones are far more aware of their sur- roundings," Carney said. Many have loca- tion functions using GPS, which can leave traces on the phone or on applications loaded onto it. Mobile devices also often have multiple networking options, including cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which can keep track of available local networks even if they are not connecting, and providing another picture of where the user has been. The re- sult can be a detailed picture of the owner. "Mobile phones are a lifestyle," Carney said, more so than a desktop or laptop computer. INVESTIGATIVE CAVEATS However, such connectivity can pose a threat for investigators --- or at the very least block access to devices by forensic analysts. Security tools intended to protect the device can let a remote administrator wipe or lock up a phone remotely. Although this is common in organizations that issue phones to employees, so far it is little used by consumers. But the California state senate has passed a bill that would require all smartphones to have a kill switch or shut-off function. The goal is to make the phones less attractive to thieves, but public and private investiga- tors worry that it also could put evidence at risk after a phone has been seized. To keep a phone from being wiped, locked or otherwise changed after it is seized, investigators now use a Faraday bag, a portable version of the 19th century Faraday cage that uses a mesh of conduct- ing material to block radio signals and stat- ic electric fields. Carney isolates phones in a bag using three different metal oxides to block cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals. "Now we actually examine them inside a Faraday bag," Carney said, by connecting a USB cable to the phone while it is inside the bag to extract data. Some issues facing forensic analysts are mundane. Keeping track of the USB and other format connectors used to access power and data ports on different makes and models of phones is surprisingly diffi- cult. In fact, Joe Trickey, federal marketing manager for Dell, said that can be the big- gest challenge in mobile device forensics. "The interpretation of the device -- that part Forensics labs within law enforcement agencies and in the private sector have backlogs from six to 24 months and are struggling to keep up with the pace of technical change in the devices being examined.