By Tim Greene
April 23, 2010
Non-traditional communications devices such as smartphones and game
consoles pose a particular problem to law enforcement agencies trying to
milk them for forensic data that reveals criminal activity, attendees
were told at the 2010 Computer Forensics Show in New York City.
"Forensic tools for cell phones are in their infancy," says Stephen
Riley, a forensic examiner with the FBI's Computer Analysis and Response
Team. "There's lots of different carriers, different phones, different
cables - just try to keep up." Smartphones can communicate via SMS, MMS,
mobile e-mail, mobile internet access, VoIP and traditional cellular
voice networks, Riley says, making each machine a potential treasure
trove of information but also a nightmare maze of possible proprietary
technologies to unlock it.
Retrieving SMS messages can depend on the model of phone, the carrier,
the time of day, even the country in which the phone is used. SIM cards
removed from phones carry potentially useful forensic information, but
unless it is associated with a particular phone's PIN, it's
inaccessible. Perhaps the personal unlock feature controlled by phone
manufacturers could release the data, but that requires knowing the make
and model of the phone, he says.
The ready availability of cell phones is also a problem. Searches of
suspects' residences can turn up drawers-full of cell phones that are no
longer used but never thrown out. Yet they can demand valuable forensic
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