In today’s world where computers are a part of our daily life, it is not surprising that many crimes are done using this technology or that the criminal-minded, unbeknownst to him or her, has left information relevant to a crime in their home or work computer. This is where computer forensics experts come in.
In simple terms, computer forensics involves the use of techniques to investigate and analyze computer data for the purpose of identifying possible evidence that can be used in legal trials. There is a broad range of computer-related crime investigations that can make use of computer forensics including fraud and intellectual property theft. Specialists on computer forensics can employ several methods to discover hidden computer files or recover data that has been erased, damaged or encrypted, all of which can help in investigations and litigations.
The evidence derived through computer forensics can be used in different types of civil and criminal cases. For example, incriminating information can be found in personal records or business files residing in the computer of a person suspected of financial embezzlement or similar fraudulent activities. Computer forensics is also used in child pornography cases, harassment or even homicide.
Experts in computer forensics are also often hired by insurance agencies to investigate possible fraudulent benefits claims or by corporations to determine if an employee is leaking out confidential information or stealing the secrets of their trade. A computer can also bear information that can support cases of discrimination in the workplace.
Computer forensics experts carefully perform various steps to find and try to retrieve any potential evidence residing in a suspect’s computer. First, they make sure that during the process the computer will not be damaged or infected with a virus or any malicious file and that files will not be altered or corrupted in any way. They are knowledgeable in the proper handling of extracted files to ensure protection of data.
It is the job of a computer forensics expert to locate all files residing in the system, including files that have been deleted, hidden, encrypted or protected with the user’s password. The expert will try to retrieve as many deleted computer files as possible and uncover files in hidden folders. With legal permission, the expert will access personal or business confidential files.
A computer forensics expert is able to access areas in the computer’s storage space that an average computer user may not even know exist and that which holds data that can prove to be useful evidence. Once all the data has been analyzed, the expert will produce a hard copy of the computer analysis that includes a list of possible relevant computer data. The expert will also offer his opinion with regards to the layout of the system, the structures of the discovered files, the author of the files, and any effort to destroy or hide files that may be incriminating or relevant to the case. A computer forensics expert may also be required to provide testimony in court.
The expertise of a computer forensics specialist is beneficial to the process of gathering evidence because computer files, unlike paper documents, may have different versions. The same data can exist in various file formats and these can be easily identified by an expert. Additionally, there are instances when investigators are not able to seize or make a forensic copy of a computer disk and can only examine the system on-site, in which case an expert will be able to locate files more quickly and thoroughly.
Indeed, computer forensics makes a great contribution to law enforcement and with computers becoming more ubiquitous, there is a greater need for the study of this discipline.