Computer Forensics: Privacy Wars
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Computer Forensics: Privacy Wars

A huge cache of personal information including e-mail messages, contact lists, search information, pictures, videos, downloads, research, confidential files, and full transcripts of private chats and postings on social network sites is recorded on the storage media of your computer, cell phone, and other electronic devices. Contrary to public belief, this information is never completely deleted or destroyed and is discoverable by forensic experts and others knowledgeable regarding computer investigation.

Forensic Computer Investigation

The forensic evaluation of computer data is designed to search, preserve and analyze information on computer systems in order to investigate and prosecute crimes. Computer forensics is becoming a standard investigative tool for a wide range of criminal activities including cyber crimes, hacking, child pornography, organized crime, tax evasion, murder, extortion, and terrorism. Usually, police detectives are required to secure a warrant to search a suspect's electronic devices, storage media and their IP records for evidence. The warrant must be based on reliable information showing probable cause and include where detectives can search and what sort of evidence is included.

Forensic investigators follow a standard set of rigorous legal and technical procedures to gain access to and document evidence from computers, cell phones, and related devices and storage media. Typically, investigators utilize specialized or proprietary software to make an exact copy of the hard drive, searching hidden folders and unallocated disk space for copies of deleted, encrypted, or damaged files. Any evidence found on the digital copy is carefully documented in a "finding report" and verified with the original in preparation for legal proceedings that involve discovery, depositions, or actual litigation.

Countermeasures

Privacy concerns have given rise to a variety of counter measures designed to thwart computer forensics. Examples of these anti-forensic methods include:

  • Encryption which codes the data using cryptographic keys.
  • Cleaning or overwriting storage media by replacing files with random information.
  • Disguising files under false names, directories and file types.
  • Physically destroying storage media.
  • Utilizing programs that destroy data when unauthorized access is attempted.

Computer Profiling

Heightening privacy concerns is the recent development of psychological profiling from stored computer data. Considered together, privately archived data is indicative of an individual’s personality, values, interests and behaviors. In fact there are currently algorithms that analyze this information and generate profiles as accurate as standardized psychological tests. The interpretation of these data can be used to make predictions about the individual’s behavior with or without the owner’s knowledge or permission.

Summary

The forensic evaluation of computer data is designed to search, preserve and analyze information on computer systems to investigate and prosecute crimes including cyber crimes, hacking, child pornography, organized crime, tax evasion, murder, extortion, and terrorism. Privacy concerns have given rise to a variety of counter measures designed to thwart computer forensics. Heightening privacy concerns is the evolution of computer based profiling from stored data which can be used to generate accurate predictions about the individual’s behavior. The looming threat is that knowledgeable individuals with computer skills can access and interpret your personal information with or without your knowledge or permission.

For more articles on psychology and crime see James W. Siddall on Facebook.

Image courtesy of Pixabay under the creative commons license 2.0


Street Talk

Yes, probable cause is required to have a warrant issued. However, we see these warrants casting a wide net to include all electronic devices, peripherals and storage .media

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Psychological profiling from stored computer data? Wow, I'm glad that a warrant is required before your computer data is accessed by investigators.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
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