Crashing Phones, Solving Crimes: How Crime Solving Advances With Mobile Phone Technology The news

It is an evolutionary component to crime.

The endless game of cops and robbers has always had a back-and-forth nature, with both sides trading leads as they learn how to one-up the other while avoiding that same fate.

But as technology, including cell phone technology, has progressed, so have the cyber and cyber elements of crime and investigations into those crimes.

“It’s always a foot race,” said Gillette Police Detective Cpl. Dan Stroup. “But it’s a competition with us and the bad guys, and it’s a competition with us and the tech companies.”

As crimes have evolved, so have the investigations to solve them.

Technology has always played an important role in this evolutionary process. As cell phones became more entrenched in everyday life, their ubiquity helped police solve crimes with evidence that was once inaccessible.

Phone information could lead the survey into simple but often difficult-to-answer questions about who, what, when, where, and why. Perhaps a photograph proves that a person was or was not in a particular place at a precise time. Or, perhaps the geolocation of that photo contradicts an alibi.

Perhaps, as in a series of robberies that took place in Gillette in 2016, the suspect’s phone could provide the search history of Google, which revealed that he was looking for “The Robbery of Gillette Police Department Domino” shortly after the crime took place, but before it was publicly reported.

“We could say‘ We don’t know if he was there, but we know his phone was there, ’” Stroup said. “No one goes anywhere without their phones.”

Or in the 2016 3-year-old homicide, when cell phone data showed the suspect was conducting Google searches around the time the crime occurred, asking detailed questions about specific possible injuries.

While researchers may know that crucial information sits within the memory chips and cloud-based servers associated with a mobile phone, obtaining permission to search and having the ability to break in makes the task difficult.

Stroup began working with the Gillette Police Department’s computer forensics unit when he joined the force around 2008. Since then, the role of cell phones in committing and solving potential crimes has changed dramatically.

“As time went on, it was a little simpler and harder at the same time,” Stroup said. “When we started doing all this, there were a lot of different kinds of cell phones.”

The Motorola, Kyocera, Blackberry and many other phone brands have come with their own personal protections, making accessing each their own unique puzzle to solve but also much less complicated than modern phone security.

There are now two, much more complex, phone systems: Android and iOS.

“As that got simpler, the devices themselves became more complex,” Stroup said.

When he started working in computer forensics, which encompasses cell phone forensics, the information available from cell phones was relatively rudimentary.

Phone records could provide call logs, text messages, and contact lists that helped with drug investigations and some other crimes, but have moved away from the information wells that people carry in their pockets now.

It’s just a matter of tapping them.

“On the old phones, there was no such thing as a lock,” Stroup said. “Now, with some of the devices, they are almost unbreakable. Getting access to devices has been a real challenge. “

For police, there are several obstacles to gaining access to the contents of a suspect’s cell phone.

Obtaining permission to search telephone records is the first hurdle.

Detectives must build a link of probable cause, providing reasons to explain why they believe the phone contains evidence linked to the alleged crime at hand.

“That’s how (phones) are now, you’re packing around a file cabinet, your gun safe, all your photo albums – you’re packing everything on this phone,” Stroup said. “The intrusion on privacy really, really needs to be examined.”

Search warrants are sought in the majority of serious cases that come through the Gillette Police Department, Stroup said.

“And we’re very concerned about that,” he said. “We don’t want to lose any evidence because there’s such a good evidence on some of those phones.”

Then there is the challenge of getting into the locked phone itself.

“I can get a warrant all day, but if I can’t unlock the phone, I can’t do much with it,” he said.

Stroup referred to a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where Apple denied federal police access to the iPhones belonging to the perpetrators. This served as an early example of the ongoing dilemma of balancing the protection of personal privacy with what can sometimes be a question of public safety.

That’s why the footsteps between criminals, police and technology companies.

Although they may not receive much help from technology companies, advances in privacy protection and encryption have been met with increasing knowledge and ability to overcome these barriers.

“There are a lot of different ways besides just a password to enter a phone,” Stroup said.

Beyond the officer and detective booths housed inside the Gillette Police Department, a soft hum comes from behind a discreet door.

The room behind that locked door looks like a closet, sounds like a fan, and is home to the high-end computing power and advanced software that cracks and filters through the thousands of information contained within phones and hard drives.

“Everything happens here,” Stroup said.

Stroup and Officer Jeremiah Wagner, who both make up the computer forensics team, are the only ones with keys to the modest lab where a large computer tower and two screens sit on a table. The rest of the room is storage for older machines, packed and almost full hard drives, and old computer manuals for older versions of Windows and iMac.

Once they get the phone and permission, they start figuring out how to sift through all its contents.

“Most of the time, you don’t attack the data from the front,” Stroup said.

First they migrate the data from the phone to the computer, the Forensic Recovery Evidence Device, or FRED, then it’s about sifting through what can sometimes be hundreds of thousands of pieces of information. These nuggets, known as “artifacts,” include everything from phone contacts and pictures, to past Bluetooth networks, and geolocation of photos taken.

Even the ridiculous comics avatars of mobile phone games downloaded, deleted and forgotten enter the ocean of intellect drawn from the device.

It is a mountain of work for the detectives trained in processing it, which makes it even more daunting for the other officers or detectives working the case. Before it makes its way back to them, it goes through Stroup first.

“I’m the filter,” he said.

The software they use, from Magnet Forensics, collects these artifacts and creates a searchable database to narrow the field down to points of interest for the survey.

Stroup and Wagner look at and classify the information from a desktop screen. The software is capable of filtering the information and data points into all sorts of buckets, marking artifacts recognized by keywords such as “gun” or “drugs” or “bedrooms”.

“It’s scary accurate,” Stroup said.

There is a keyword function to narrow down the relevant messages or even credit card numbers, and a filter that checks for flesh colors, taking photos that may be related to child exploitation cases.

Once compiled, the verified information can be condensed into “portable cases” given to the officers working the case or to be presented as evidence. “Portable cases” can be printed as paper reports or displayed similarly to websites, to present videos or other evidence.

Criminal cases have been won and lost on the basis of the tedious search through these thousands of pieces of information, often collected and kept unknowingly while sitting in someone’s pocket.

Both criminals and police have adapted to the high-speed rail technology developed over the years. Meanwhile, as mobile phones have become more integrated into everyday life, they have doubled as repositories for the tiny details of the existence of their users.

Whether in the cloud or on the phone, that information is hard to hide.

“More often than not, the adage ‘Once it’s out there, it’s out there,’ is true.” Stroup said.

Over time, that adage evolved. It is true that once digital information is created, it is often out of the control of its creator.

But now more than ever, when it’s out there, it can be found.

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