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Computer Forensics As A Growing Tool In The Arsenal Of Policing

15 October 2010

Forensic analysis has long been an important tool in policing. From the analysis of gunshot trajectories to the DNA testing of materials at crime scenes, forensics play an increasingly important part in gathering the evidence needed to solve crimes. But with the rise of the computer age, e-crime has become a growing problem throughout the world and with it a new form of forensics has been developed.

E-crime refers to any criminal offence where a computer or other electronic device is used to help commit the crime. A large proportion of e-crime involves the internet. Such crimes include: distributing or downloading extreme hardcore pornography; hate crimes, such as sites designed to incite racial hatred; and ‘hacking’ attempts, where a person attempts to access another person’s computer without permission.

Often, people think that deleting a file, saving over it or even ‘wiping’ the hard drive will remove all traces of evidence from their computer. But increasingly, police are turning to computer forensics experts to help recover this supposedly erased evidence.

Computer forensics involves the analysis of computers (and Mobile Phone Forensics is obviously the analysis of mobile phones) in order to produce legal evidence of a crime or unauthorised action. The sort of evidence extracted from a computer might include earlier versions of files, deleted data or websites visited online. Once extracted, this evidence can be used in a variety of ways, including being presented at employment tribunals to lend weight to action against an employee, or to provide information about the source of a breach in a firm’s internet security.

Computer forensic analysis can also reveal vital clues that can help police solve cases. In 2008, computer forensic analysts helped lead the police to two men who were robbing people at gun point after they responded to motorcycle adverts. The analysis revealed that one computer had been used to place dozens of ads on the listing site Craigslist. The analysts were then able to direct the police to the suspects’ home where they were arrested. This is just one example of how computer forensics has become a vital tool in the fight against crime.

Computer forensic evidence is also often used in a court of law as proof in support of, or against, an accusation of guilt regarding crimes such as fraud, breach of data protection or even murder, where a computer might have been used to carry out research about the crime. In such cases, a computer expert witness would be called to testify as to what evidence had been revealed as a result of the analysis. Such evidence can make or break a case. In the trial of Mohammed Atif Siddique, a Scottish man who was accused of collecting and distributing terrorist related information, computer forensic analysis of his laptop and mobile phone provided vital evidence in securing his eventual conviction.

As more and more people rely on computers, mobile phones and the internet to collect and distribute information, it seems that computer forensics will become an increasingly crucial tool in the fight against crime.

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