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Investigation Technology: Digital Forensics is Just the Next Stage

Rapid changes in forensic tools requires constant training for investigators

Posted by Dawn Lomer on December 11th, 2013

An investigator’s job has always been to find out the truth. Whether it’s identifying the person who committed a giant accounting fraud, figuring out how criminals are laundering drug money or determining whether Harry harassed Sally, the aim has always been simply to find out the truth. But the investigation technology and tools investigators use to find the truth have changed dramatically over the years.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of digital forensics. Both the tools to gather digital evidence and the products from which the evidence is gathered are changing so rapidly that technology that is just a few months old can be out of date.

And while this may seem like an educational nightmare for those who need to keep up this this technology, it has also opened up new ways of gathering evidence that can make a knowledgeable investigator’s job much easier. A trained forensic investigator can find out information about a suspect that was previously inaccessible. This translates into fewer bad guys getting away and fewer innocent people being convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

Same Stuff, Different Day

While the rapid development of investigation technology and the capabilities of digital forensics may make it seem like the investigator’s world has changed in ways never before imagined, some would say it hasn’t changed at all.

“Historically, going back in time forever, we have always had new technologies come out. And it’s always been the job of a good investigator to understand the technology of the day and understand how to use that technology of the day to get the results that they need or the evidence they need,” says Adam Wandt, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and researcher with John Jay College’s Center for Cyber Crime Studies.

Investigation Technology Through the Ages

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“In ancient Egyptian times it was very common to shave the head of a slave and tattoo a message on their head, let their hair regrow and then send them to another town or kingdom,” says Wandt. “That way, if the slave was captured you didn’t see the message under his hair. An investigator of the time would have had to know – their ‘scalp investigators’ would have to know – that it’s not enough to search the suspect, it’s not enough to look through his clothes. You have to shave his head.”

“It’s the first rule of evidence handling, the gathering of data, knowing what data to gather” says Abraham Rivera, an investigator, former ED of IT and investigative operations and law enforcement officer for the City of New York, and teacher of digital forensics at John Jay College. “But once you’ve gathered the data, you have to be able to do the data digging, and actually know what to look for,” he says.

Evolving Schemes

In the 1950s and 60s, during the Cold War, digital communication didn’t exist, says Wandt. “So the CIA and the KGB were installing microchips or microdots in the teeth of their operatives.” The investigators of the time would have had to know that if they arrested someone they thought was a spy, they had to x-ray their teeth to find the evidence.

“Go forward another 20 years to the 1980s, when cocaine trafficking from Latin America was already a big problem,” says Wandt. “You had a lot of people ingesting cocaine in condoms, bringing it into the country. Now the investigator had to know how to find that information too.” A custom’s officer would have to know to x-ray the suspect or to detain him or her until the evidence passed through his or her system.

“Technology will always change; it will always increase. The sophistication of criminals will always change and will always increase,” says Wandt.  “To me, digital forensics is just the next stage in keeping our investigators properly trained and up-to-date.”

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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