Peanut butter and jelly are the quintessential pairing – a true dynamic duo. The two are frequently found together as the lunch of choice because they complement one another and work together to make a tasty combination loved by people of all ages. It’s important to remember, however, that while powerful together, both peanut butter and jelly can and do exist as separate entities. There’s a time and place to enjoy one or the other on its own because each brings unique flavors to the table. Similarly, Digital Evidence Management and digital forensics make a great pair that is tried and true while also maintaining their own unique benefits and features that should be celebrated. Today, we want to discuss this peanut butter and jelly of the Justice world to explain how and why Digital Evidence Management and digital forensics come together, and how they can differ and thrive on their own.
First, let’s define Digital Evidence Management and digital forensics
It’s important to understand what the ingredients are prior to mixing them or using them in recipes. So, let’s take a moment to define Digital Evidence Management and digital forensics:
- Digital Evidence Management is the process of collecting, storing, organizing, and managing multimedia evidence files for use in Court. Multimedia evidence includes videos, audio recordings, cellphone/laptop data exports, digital images, scanned or digital documents, CCTV footage, bodycam footage, and more. Digital Evidence Management makes it possible to manage these files from a centralized location for easy access during hearings and trials.
- Digital forensics is the process of uncovering and interpreting electronic data. Similar to traditional forensics, the goal is to use evidence to determine timelines, motives, suspects, etc. Digital forensics looks at videos and other files to see how they relate to a case and what stories they can tell. In addition, digital forensics teams can do the digging to find new files, breakthrough encryption, recover deleted information from devices, and otherwise collect evidence in digital formats.
How do they work on their own?
Now that we have a basic understanding of what both Digital Evidence Management and digital forensics are, we can take a look at them on their own to discuss how they aid in the Justice System. It’s important to note that there is a significant overlap between the two, but they do have their own unique benefits as well.
- Digital Evidence Management
- Digital Evidence Management is useful for anyone who deals with evidentiary files in a Court case. When working through a system like Vault (ImageSoft’s Digital Evidence Management solution), all files can be housed in a centralized location. This is the best way to ensure nothing gets misplaced or forgotten, and it grants access to all authorized users whenever and wherever they need it. Vault is cloud-based so it works seamlessly in remote, in-person, or hybrid environments. All files are kept securely within the database and nothing needs to be downloaded or exported, even to be shared outside of the organization. Digital Evidence Management also includes the ability to review files as needed to build a case. Vault can normalize nearly any file into a streamable or viewable format directly from the platform. This makes it possible to play videos, audio files, review documents and images, and more from a single device – typically a laptop or computer.
- At its core, Digital Evidence Management is meant to….well, manage multimedia files. Court cases feature digital exhibits more often than not these days, and the traditional methods of managing aren’t applicable. After all, you can’t exactly store cell phone data in a filing cabinet unless you plan to print out HUNDREDS of pages of data. Instead, Justice System personnel are opting to upload directly into a system like Vault so they know exactly where all exhibits are and can access them with just a few clicks. A few other features of note when it comes to systems like Vault include:
- Automatic audit trailsSecure sharing internally and externallyEasy indexing for easy searchingSimple integration with existing systemsUser access options for improved security
- Exhibit annotation with various visibility settings
- Digital Forensics
- Digital Forensics is a field of study that is becoming more valuable to the Justice System with every case. There are instances where digital evidence is obvious and readily available, but some cases are tougher to crack. Digital Forensics focuses on identifying, acquiring, processing, analyzing, and reporting on data stored electronically. Those in the field are responsible for uncovering data from suspect’s devices such as cracking into social media pages, finding messages (even those that have been deleted), accessing email accounts, uncovering hidden documents or folders, or reviewing internet search history. These things are typically not something to be found with a quick once-over of the device and are usually protected by passwords, have been deleted in an attempt to remove evidence from the device, or are hidden deep within the device specifically to prevent outside parties from seeing them. Using a variety of methods, Digital Forensic professionals can recover this data and help determine what they mean for an investigation.
- Because Digital Forensics is still an emerging field, many laypeople don’t understand the value it brings. People have been convicted based on digital evidence uncovered by forensic teams, and cases almost always involve some type of digital exhibit these days. A few of the more notorious cases solved with the help of Digital Forensics include:
- The BTK Killer: After evading arrest for decades, the BTK Killer’s habit of taunting police was the very thing that got him caught. After sending a Word Document to the police station on a floppy disk, Digital Forensic experts were able to trace the metadata within the disk to identify the Killer as Dennis Rader who was quickly arrested and charged for his crimes.
- The Craigslist Killer: Back in 2009, one woman was murdered and another was assaulted and their connection was a man named “Andy” from Craigslist who they were set to meet with. Digital Forensic experts traced emails between the victims and the killer via IP address. This led to the arrest and charging of Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old medical student.
When they come together, they are unstoppable
Clearly, Digital Evidence Management and Digital Forensics are extremely useful in their own rights and have a place in the Justice System as independent entities. However, like peanut butter and jelly, bringing the two together can be a game changer. In many cases, evidence is only useful when both services are utilized. Let’s break down an example that will quickly help you understand the value of partnering these two services up.
A criminal investigation is underway for a person suspected of selling goods on the dark web. The very nature of the dark web is to allow people to be anonymous and participate in less-than-legal activities. In order to prove the man in custody is guilty, prosecutors need evidence. This man is no dummy and has his laptop locked up tight with VPNs, firewalls, encryption software, etc. Unlike other cases, it won’t be so straightforward to collect evidence. There will be things that are less protected (social media and personal email for example) that can be collected via traditional search and seizure methods. These files can immediately be uploaded into a Digital Evidence Management system like Vault for storage, safekeeping, and accessibility to the Prosecution. In order to get to the more damning evidence, a Digital Forensics team will need to be called in. Using various technologies, code computing, secret software, and more, these professionals will be much more likely to access the parts of the suspect’s computer history that he tried so desperately to keep hidden. As the forensics team finds new evidence, they are able to make savable copies (screenshots, recordings, copy/paste, documents) and upload into Vault. Rather than finding ways to take what is originally digital and convert it into a physical, tangible exhibit, the forensics team can turn to a system like Vault and upload as-is to save hours of time. Digital Evidence Management systems will then make these files accessible to authorized users through normalization, ensuring that each exhibit can and will be reviewed and considered in building a case.
When the two systems work hand-in-hand, there is a clear channel of sharing, communication, organization, and protection for sensitive and confidential information. Delays are drastically reduced because uploading takes just minutes and does not typically require any special conversion beforehand. By combining the best parts of both services, the Justice System has a process that takes a fraction of the time and is far more secure.
So, is your Justice System missing the peanut butter to its jelly? Digital Evidence Management is an essential piece of the puzzle and can benefit anyone from Prosecutors to Judges to Insurance Firms who deal with claims. If you’re interested in learning more about Vault, please visit https://imagesoftinc.com/courts/digital-evidence-management/. Contact us with any questions or to schedule a free demo with our team!