BY MELANIE WADE –
Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner of the 18th West Judicial District attended the National Computer Forensics Institute recently and brought back much needed knowledge of cyber crime that will help authorities delve deeper into investigations of all sorts. Riner traveled to Alabama to attend the week long course – an all-expense paid trip by the United States Secret Service.
Riner said he attended the event to help investigators know what to look for and how to retrieve information from modern technological devices. “There is a lot of proof of crimes on people’s personal handheld devices. Most conversations now are shared through electronic means. Sometimes that helps us prove that someone did something and sometimes it proves that someone didn’t do something they have been accused of, if we know how to approach the technology correctly.”
Riner cited a case that brought a lot of attention in the county, “a case that generated a lot of anger.” He said the timeline of the crime was very important. A witness in the case had cited a time he believed he had been in an area and how long afterwards that a house had been set on fire. However, after checking his phone records, investigators learned the witness’ timing was off by around 30 minutes. “Digital evidence doesn’t get distracted,” said Riner. “A machine can’t lie, it doesn’t have the ability to make a mistake. Everything is time stamped and date stamped.”
To be able to check those handheld devices, it takes training and knowledge, and the courses Riner attended in Alabama provided just that. Only 26 people from across the nation were chosen to attend, providing a close setting to learn the practices.
Riner feels the most important thing he learned at the institute was it let him know what’s available, “It showed me what types of information that can be gathered from a digital medium. Things that we wouldn’t customarily think were out there and present in digital media.”
“So many times we’ve said to law enforcement officers, ‘dump that computer and get me everything off of it,’ but that’s not feasible. When you are talking about a terabyte of memory, that’s 50 million pieces of information to go through. A course like this helps you focus your investigation and know what to look for.”
He said that just knowing the terminology and how to communicate with an investigator made the trip more than worth it. “The most important thing that I learned is when you have a digital investigation, to communicate with the investigator… find out who is qualified to do an investigation into digital media and communicate with them about what could potentially be contained on that digital device and let them know what you are looking for, instead of just ‘dump that phone and get me everything off it’… there’s too much.”
The Supreme Court recently ruled that a cell phone or a computer is fundamentally different from any other thing that law enforcement searches for evidence. “They let us know so much about what people are thinking, where they have been, what their state of mind is on certain subjects. They are tremendously helpful.”