Cell phone forensics is a major area of criminal law that involves collecting and analyzing data from cell phones to build criminal cases against alleged or proven suspects or in instances where victims cannot be located. Most instances involve criminal actions committed on personal phones, however, cell phone forensics also include cases involving alleged crimes committed on cell phones belonging to public officials. In cases involving a suspected crime on a cell phone belonging to a public official, law enforcement agencies rely heavily on cell phone forensics to develop evidence against the suspect. In many instances, cell phone forensics specialists work closely with detectives from the police department in developing digital “manuals” for crimes involving public officials as well as digital images of the crimes. Cell phone forensics experts have even provided testimony in courts regarding the extraction of deleted text messages from cell phones belonging to witnesses in trials related to civil suits involving public officials and employees.
Cell phone forensics professionals analyze digital evidence that may include photographs, videos, caller ID logs, email logs, address books, contacts and other details that may be located on cell phones. This evidence is then processed by expert computer scientists. Cell phone forensics examinations are often referred to as “text lookups” or “digital fingerprinting.” Digital fingerprinting methods work through the use of electromagnetic impulses triggered by hand motion or movement of a device on the opposite side of the communications network. The signal is decoded and the code used to unlock the device is deciphered. Once this has been done, the user is able to gain access to the digital data stored on the cell phone.
Many private investigators utilize cell phone forensics to aid their clients in finding information or to gather evidence against an individual who may be committing a crime that they need to prove. In some instances, private investigators may also utilize cellular tracking systems to track people that they have been investigating. There are many companies that provide cell phone forensics services for both individuals and businesses.
Some of the common procedures followed by a private investigator include the following: fingerprinting, optical character recognition, manual storage extraction, digital signature extraction, cellular location, and logical extraction. These methods can be broken down further into two types: digital fingerprinting and optical character recognition. Digital fingerprinting involves using a digital database called the cellphone Traces, which contains information such as the phone’s registered owner, their address, carrier, along with any controlled numbers associated with their cellular account.
Optical character recognition is an extremely complex method of cellphone forensics and involves using sophisticated equipment to decode information from voice, SMS, and other digital communication devices. This method requires the use of state-of-the-art equipment and highly trained personnel. Cell phone forensics experts utilize known technology to unlock the digital code of digital locked cell phones. The logic extraction method utilizes a smart phone’s stored login to access and read text messages, contact lists, incoming and outgoing calls, and other digital data.
As more cell phones are being manufactured with GPS chips, forensic examination of these phones has become more difficult due to the need to recover deleted text messages, call records, address book entries, and other data that may have been inadvertently deleted from cellular phones. The importance of recovering deleted text messages from cell phones cannot be understated. It is commonly used as evidence in a court case, especially in child pornography cases. A reputable company that specializes in digital forensics can assist a private investigator in recovering deleted text messages and other data.
Cell phone forensics experts can also utilize data from call history and address book entries to identify a person. It is commonly used in connection with child exploitation cases, wherein the suspected predator will delete text messages and address book entries. Many private investigators offer this service and can successfully recover deleted text messages and other data from various types of mobile devices.
Data extraction from mobile devices can be accomplished in two different ways: via passive and active methods. Active methods involve hacking the device physically by physically removing physical partitions or installing a key logger program that enables them to retrieve information from the device’s memory. The active method involves writing to the memory of the device and searching for relevant content via the internet, a directory, or other retrieval methods. Cell phone forensics experts use both passive and active methods to accomplish their tasks, depending on the nature of the data that they need.