The use of and need for computer forensics has grown as fast as the widespread use of personal computers. Computer forensics began in the 1980s as a new tool to help both law enforcement officials and civil litigators gather and present evidence. The use and variety of both computer and other digital devices has grown exponentially, especially in the last decade to the point where almost everyone has their own personal data device that they carry with them at all times. While this growth has been a boon to telecom industry and to the lives of individuals, it has also created significant and, some think, massive challenges to forensic investigators.
Thirty years ago, a personal computer had two 5 1/4 inch floppy drives, maybe a 300 baud modem, and 128K of memory. Those devices were simple, the storage was simple, and committing some online crime was not easy at all. Today, it seems like everything has gone digital.
We have GPS devices, vehicle data collectors, smart phones, and even game stations — all of which may provide relevant information in an investigation involving the use of forensic technology. There is digital everything including cameras, video cameras, and music players, and let’s not forget the myriad of smart phones and PDAs which are now part of life.
What this means is that computer and digital forensic experts can be overwhelmed with work, especially in the criminal area. In addition, there is so much data coursing through Internet Service Providers’ systems that the forensic trail can grow cold as those providers overwrite data.
The reality, too, is that offenders are becoming more savvy and sophisticated in concealing both the devices they use and the information they contain. Instead of a hard drive, an offender may use a two gigabyte MicroSD card, no larger than a finger nail.
Software to erase hard drives meeting Defense Department specifications is free or easily purchased. An individual up to no good can find anti-forensic resources online, such as encryption software, and steganography (which hides illicit files inside innocent looking ones).
If these challenges and problems were not enough, the case backlog for computer forensic experts is generally long and significant. There is just not enough time to examine everything that needs to be examined digitally. Some law enforcement computer forensic scientists can take two years to get to a new job.
Despite these challenges there are people who can help you if you need it.
Contact Prudential Associations Investigations and Digital Forensics for advice on your computer forensics challenges.