Computers have gone from being a luxury to being an integrated part of everyday life. This means that they are also an ever expanding part of criminal investigations and every department needs to have at least a limited ability to respond.
When I first started in policing, personal computers were still considered a “fad.” Officers were still completing reports and associated paperwork by hand or on a typewriter, the Internet was limited to AOL on dialup connections and department websites were still something for the future. Fast forward almost 18 years and computers are an essential part of everyone’s life, both personal and professional, including police. We use them for day to day paperwork, as a go-to source for critical information and to provide a 24/7 link to the citizens. Most departments not only have a website but also a Twitter account, Facebook page and a presence on a host of other social media sites. But, do these same departments also have the ability to investigate crimes with a cyber-component? If not then you are not only behind the times, you are also failing to take full advantage of the available technology.
Unless you work for an extremely large department with vast resources, it is unlikely that you will have fully certified computer forensic experts on hand. Computer technology and operating systems are constantly changing; just think about how many times you have to update your iPhone through the course of a year, and maintaining the necessary training is a daunting task. But, this does not mean that the average investigator with a minimal amount of training cannot gain the skills necessary to point a case in the right direction and determine when the experts are needed.
Every department should have investigators with basic computer investigation skills capable of performing a few simple tasks:
- Social Media Awareness – knowledge of social media is a must in modern criminal investigations. A growing number of cases have involved tips, evidence or even confessions received via Twitter, Facebook and similar social media sites. Investigators must not only be aware of what social media sites are currently popular with different sections of society, they must also know what potential evidence is available from each site’s host and how to legally obtain that evidence.
- Open Source Intelligence – OSINT is intelligence collected from publically available sources and has become very popular within the law enforcement community, with NYPD being recognized as a leader in the area. Investigators utilizing OSINT must be familiar with how to conduct searches, steps necessary to protect their identity while doing so and the laws which dictate what can be searched and how that information can be utilized.
- Search Warrant Assistance – one of the more common areas in which cyber investigators can assist an investigation is with search warrant preparation and execution. Only a few short years ago, the inclusion of computer equipment in a search warrant was usually limited to white collar investigations or only the most sophisticated criminals. Not anymore. Today, everyone has a computer, tablet, smartphone or even a gaming console which is capable of accessing the internet and storing data. Each and every one of these items needs to be considered when preparing your search warrant, and a cyber-investigator can help determine what to include and how to justify its value.
The above list is but a snap shot of possibilities in cyber investigation, a starting point for departments just wading into the internet. The most important thing that you need to remember about cyber investigation is that it is always changing and investigators will need to change with it to remain useful. What was impossible last week will be common place next month and techniques that worked yesterday are already outdated. You must keep learning.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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