Digital Forensics For Private Investigators

What is Digital Forensics?

Digital Forensics is the terminology used when digital artifacts are collected from a computer system in a forensically sound manner. In other words, digital artifacts such as documents, spreadsheet, pictures and email can be retrieved from a computer, PDA or any other type of digital device with storage capability. The material is then analyzed and preserved. This operation can often be done even if the data has been intentionally erased. Digital Forensics procedures will allow the forensic examiner to reveal digital evidence, and display the exact time and date the information was created, installed, or downloaded, as well as when it was last accessed. Although the first computer crimes occurred in the 1970’s, computer forensics is still a relatively new field. While we now have more PC and mobile device users then ever, the demand for Digital Forensics is quickly increasing. Laptop computers, PDA’s and mobile phones with the capability of storing pictures, connecting to the Internet and e-mails, more and more often require the need of Digital Forensics to determine the action to be taken in criminal litigation cases, corporate espionage, and accusations of child pornography, Likewise, acts of terrorism as well as the practices of disgruntled employees and the behavior of cheating spouses, all have one thing in common: they frequently utilize computer systems and mobile devices to assist them in their unethical actions and crimes. The evidence that these activities leave behind is readily detected through the procedures of digital forensics.

Digital Forensics or Computer Forensics?

In the past, computer forensic investigations have had PC and Laptop systems as their primary target for examination. Within the past years, the computer forensic field has been forced to broaden its scope, tools and investigative techniques in order to keep abreast of the personal technology being used by common citizens. Equipment such as Cell phones, PDA’s, Blackberrys and GPS systems are used on a daily basis, and can contain vital information from sms test messages, emails, phone logs and previous GPS destination coordinates. Therefore the term Digital Forensics is becoming very popular as the computer forensic field expands and incorporates the digital analysis of new technological devices.

What can a skilled Digital Forensic Examiner do?

A skilled digital forensic examiner can recover deleted files from a computer. He or she can view which websites have been visited from a specific computer even after the browser history and cache have been cleared and deleted. A digital forensic examiner is able to review previous communications sent and received via an instant messaging and chat application such as yahoo instant messenger and msn messenger. The forensic process will also restore deleted or hidden pictures and email messages. In addition the forensic examiner is trained to analyze and re-create deleted text messages and call logs from cell phones, PDA’s and Blackberry devices.

How the Private investigator can benefit from Digital Forensics

Digital Forensics can assist the private investigator in many ways principally by identifying vital information and saving cost and time. Often 2-3 hours of digital forensic examination techniques are able to expose more evidence then several days of surveillance and dumpster diving. Deleted data from digital devices such as cell phone text messages and other acts are often recoverable; for example, did your client’s spouse have an instant messaging conversation? Are those deleted emails recoverable? What websites did the suspect visit?

Several examples below elaborate how Digital forensics can assist the private investigator in specific cases and tasks:

Adultery cases:

Online chats or sms text messages are often used to arrange meetings and provide covert communication to avoid suspicions by the spouse.

Fraud Cases:

It is often possible to determine when and if a document was altered. Unless the document was produced by a typewriter, there always is or at least has existed an electronic copy somewhere. In addition the most common word processor, “Microsoft Word” which is part of the Microsoft office suite embeds Meta data into each document. This Meta data can provide vital information such as the identity of the author and the computer on which the document was composed. The same applies to Microsoft Excel spreadsheet applications.

Tailing a suspect:

When tailing a suspect, imagine how informative it could be to know his/her previous destinations, prior to starting the assignment. Impossible you say! This is not necessarily so especially if the individual had traveled by automobile and used a GPS (Global Positioning System). Some of the most recent advancements in Digital Forensics allow for the retrieval of information from the most common GPS systems.

Harassment cases:

There are many different types of harassment. It is often the case that your client may not only be receiving harassment in person, but also via phone, and/or email. A Forensic Examiner can preserve logs of phone calls received from cell phones and present them as evidence by strictly maintaining a chain of custody. Every email sent from a given source to a specific destination leaves information embedded in that email. This information is referred to as the email header. The forensic examiner can analyze the email header and trace it back to the origins of the IP address from which it has been sent.


When considering surveillance, most think of traditional techniques such as: tailing, stakeouts and video surveillance. However, modern computer techniques can also be a valuable asset to the private investigator. There are such devices as spy ware programs and keystroke loggers that will provide real time information about what, where and when things have occurred on a suspected computer.

Who has the right to search a computer or Digital device?

The Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure only applies to government entities such as law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment does not apply to private searches. A private search can be conducted or authorized by anyone who has a legal right to the data stored on the computer, such as employers or spouses. Since computers are common property, spouses can give consent to a private search of the computer


In the dynamic world of Private Investigation, it is vital to adapt to new technologies and be able to provide your clients with competitive services of the highest degree. Most importantly it is essential to keep your clients in your domain for all of their investigative needs. Therefore training private investigators in the art of Digital Forensics or partnering with a Digital Forensic expert is a necessary step in securing not only the stability and longevity of your business but assuring that it is prepared to meet the requirements of the technological exigencies of the future.

Successfully Utilizing Forensic Animation in Courtroom Proceedings

As our society becomes increasingly saturated with technology, jurors will expect the use of more complex and accurate visual aids in the courtroom. Jurors, especially of the younger generation, have come to count on visual media to augment their understanding of a topic. Eyewitness perspectives, cognitive memory, and perception of events and time are subject to intense examination by attorneys. Experienced lawyers are adept at using rhetoric and verbal manipulation to produce doubt about a witnesses credibility. Without the use of visual aids, many participants feel lost in the unfamiliar process of courtroom proceedings. Most witnesses are not prepared to counter highly trained cross-examination tactics. Once an accurate and compelling visual is presented, this edge diminishes significantly. Properly prepared visuals can give a witness more control, which is why animations are so vigorously attacked by opposing counsel. Most media outlets have already adopted the use of computer animation to present visual concepts, and it is only a matter of time before the technology gains wide acceptance in the legal profession.

To successfully use forensic animation, think of the technology as an evolution of the chalkboard. To an experienced practitioner, the process is not complex. A forensic animator presents visuals based on documented evidence and expert consultation. The particulars of a case determine the type of expert needed, but one should be utilized. Flashy camera moves and undocumented assets jeopardize an animations admissibility. Nothing should be presented without a solid foundation. In fact, the majority of a forensic animator’s time is spent documenting process and foundation. A forensic animator only needs to be an expert in the software used, and must be able to demonstrate the accuracy of the animation both in space (dimensions) and time (frames). At trial, a forensic animator should not have an opinion on what actually occurred, only that an event is possible in space and time.

For the purpose of admissibility, a final consideration is to not confuse computer animation with computer simulations. Computer simulations are different in that they present the computer calculations as the expert, not the user. The results of a computer process are presented as the opinion. These cases are extremely problematic and should be avoided at all costs. It is impossible, unless you own extremely sophisticated and expensive software, to input all the possible physical properties of objects and interactions that take place in space and time. NASA and the military have shown that even these sophisticated algorithms are subject to fail.

To get the most out of a forensic animation investment, hire someone who is both experienced in 3D software and trained in classical animation. This may seem unimportant, but classically trained animators are adept at making any objects movement look “real”. If movement looks real to jurors, it will be perceived as such. The human eye can perceive the slightest error in locomotion. Classically trained animators understand how objects move through space and time, and more importantly, how the human eye interprets these motions. It is the precise interpretation of events, realism and accuracy that make a great forensic animation. It does not make sense to spend thousands of dollars recreating a scene only to have someone walking around like a robot.

When used correctly, forensic animation can be a highly persuasive tool. It is currently available and affordable to the masses. As with any new technological investment, be sure to thoroughly research the options available. Looking into the future, courtroom technology is headed quickly on a path toward full event emersion. The ability to immerse jurors in any situation will complete our theoretical evolution of the chalkboard and allow participants to experience firsthand any event or perspective.

Forensic Anthropology Is Used In…

Forensic anthropology is the study of skeletal or evidentiary remains in relation to a case in a court of law. Anthropology is the study of human beings in both as an animalistic (physical) form as well as the study of social and habits of humans, usually by a process of examination of physical remains. Forensic refers to any of a given number of sciences used in the process of an investigation or proceeding before a court of law. Forensic anthropology has a long history dating back to the mid sixteenth century, but like most fields, recent advances in technology have propelled forensic anthropology to a whole new level.

Forensic anthropology is normally used when evidentiary remains are found that indicate a crime did or may have occurred. Sometimes, when old buildings are torn down or when old sections of a town are converted for whatever purpose remains will be found among the ruins. Forensic anthropologists are brought in to thoroughly investigate the scene. With the use of forensic anthropology, they can often determine whether or not a crime was committed, and if there was in fact a crime, forensic anthropology can then be used to solve it. While much of what is commonly seen on television is as much fantasy as it is reality, many aspects of forensic anthropology are growing exponentially.

Many new chemicals have aided in the growth of forensic anthropology. Chemicals help forensic anthropologists to do their job better and more effectively by helping them to gather and study evidence. There are chemicals for the illumination of bodily fluids, chemicals which define chemical components of evidence, chemicals that cleanse and chemicals that aid in many other ways in the field of forensic anthropology. As science progresses, so too will the assistance available in the field of forensic anthropology.

Advances in microscopic technology have also helped in the advancement of forensic anthropology. Microscopes can help the forensic anthropologist to define the minutest details in regards to a crime scene. Whether the particles are of a particular type of dust, plant or other matter, in many cases of forensic anthropology, this can place certain individuals at given locations often during specific time periods. This has been used in many civil and criminal cases scoring many court room victories which are credited to those individuals involved in the field of forensic anthropology.

Advances in science and technology are constantly improving the tools available in the field of forensic anthropology. These are very exciting times for the forensic anthropologist.