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Computer Forensics

Published on Apr 02, 2024


The proliferation of computer use in today's networked society is creating some complex side effects in the application of the age-old greed, jealousy, and revenge. Criminals are becoming much more sophisticated in committing crimes. Computers are being encountered in almost every type of criminal activity. Gangs use computers to clone mobile telephones and to re-encode credit cards.

Drug dealers use computers to store their transaction ledgers. Child pornography distributors use the Internet to peddle and trade their wares. Fraud schemes have been advertised on the Internet. Counterfeiters and forgers use computers to make passable copies of paper currency or counterfeit cashiers checks, and to create realistic looking false identification.

In addition, information stored in computers has become the target of criminal activity. Information such as social security and credit card numbers, intellectual property, proprietary information, contract information, classified documents, etc., have been targeted. Further, the threat of malicious destruction of software, employee sabotage, identity theft, blackmail, sexual harassment, and commercial and government espionage is on the rise.

Personnel problems are manifesting themselves in the automated environment with inappropriate or unauthorized use complaints resulting in lawsuits against employers as well as loss of proprietary information costing millions of dollars. All of this has led to an explosion in the number and complexity of computers and computer systems encountered in the course of criminal or internal investigations and the subsequent seizure of computer systems and stored electronic communications.

Computer evidence has become a 'fact of life' for essentially all law enforcement agencies and many are just beginning to explore their options in dealing with this new venue. Almost overnight, personal computers have changed the way the world does business. They have also changed the world's view of evidence because computers are used more and more as tools in the commission of 'traditional' crimes. Evidence relative to embezzlement, theft, extortion and even murder has been discovered on personal computers. This new technology twist in crime patterns has brought computer evidence to the forefront in law enforcement circles.

Computer forensics is simply the application of disciplined investigative techniques in the automated environment and the search, discovery, and analysis of potential evidence. It is the method used to investigate and analyze data maintained on or retrieved from electronic data storage media for the purposes of presentation in a court of law, civil or administrative proceeding. Evidence may be sought in a wide range of computer crime or misuse cases.

Computer forensics is rapidly becoming a science recognized on a par with other forensic sciences by the legal and law enforcement communities. As this trend continues, it will become even more important to handle and examine computer evidence properly. Not every department or organization has the resources to have trained computer forensic specialists on staff.

Computer Forensic Process

As in any investigation, establishing that an incident has occurred is the first key step. Secondly, the incident needs to be evaluated to determine if computer forensics may be required. Generally, if the computer incident resulted in a loss of time or money, or the destruction or compromise of information, it will require the application of computer forensic investigative techniques.

When applied, the preservation of evidence is the first rule in the process. Failure to preserve evidence in its original state could jeopardize the entire investigation. Knowledge of how the crime was initiated and committed may be lost for good. Assignment of responsibility may not be possible if evidence is not meticulously and diligently preserved.The level of training and expertise required to execute a forensics task will largely depend on the level of evidence required in the case. If the result of the investigation were limited to administrative actions against an employee, the requirement would be lower than taking the case to court for civil or criminal litigation.

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