Police departments are forced to collect more and more digital information during the course of a criminal investigation. Today, digital forensics encompasses almost every aspect of criminal offenses including terrorism, homicides, kidnapping, fraud and drug-related crimes. This digital information needs to be managed and processed quickly to uncover relevant evidence over the course of the investigation - and that need is growing exponentially.
The growing need to collect and analyze digital evidence, combined with budgetary pressures due to austere government spending, means law enforcement needs time-saving and cost-effective solutions to concurrently address both of these very different issues.
The ubiquity of digital information means that law enforcement is facing an absolute deluge of data. It comes not only from computers, tablets, smartphones, storage drives and flash drives, but even things not normally associated with digital information like refrigerators and cars. PCs and laptops can contain hundreds of gigabytes of storage. That is more than most super computers were able to contain at one time.
With the average individual generating a terabyte of data annually, the volume of digital information has and will continue to grow. During criminal investigations, all this data needs to be evaluated and analyzed with speed, accuracy and fidelity, then subsequently copied and stored to be used in criminal prosecutions.
Currently, police seize all electronics at a crime scene in order to process this evidence at their lab. As people own more devices capable of storing digital information, this practice is becoming unsustainable. Especially as the sheer volume of data expands rapidly, law enforcement officials must be able to target only the information that is relevant to the case quickly, efficiently and intuitively.
Quite simply, processing digital evidence needs to be less time-consuming so cases can be handled more efficiently. Furthermore, labs need to be properly equipped to accommodate this data growth as the amount of digitally based evidence increases, there needs to be capacity to securely process, archive, and ensure accuracy in order for this information to be admissible in court.
Finally, crimes can span across several jurisdictions and critical information may not always be easily shared. Investigative data may be contained at different law enforcement organizations that could potentially assist in any given case, yet there is no simply way for investigators to easily access this data and properly "connect-the-dots" with evidence from various sources and agencies.
Cases can often take months for resolution of the investigations and complete analysis of all the collected information. There needs to be a better way-data needs to be processed faster without sacrificing accuracy through the chain of custody and to make sure data is evidentially sound.
These complex problems require elegant solutions. Digital forensics investigators need an all-encompassing end-to-end solution. Dell's Digital Forensics suite offers tools that will help investigators manage data efficiently, use evidence effectively, and enable collaboration across agencies despite geographic location.
To handle the volume of data and the numerous devices at the crime scene, Dell's rugged laptops with Spektor forensic software technology allow for data "triage" where initial analysis of pertinent information related to the case can be identified for further analysis. The Spektor software allows evidence collectors to simultaneously gather data from different devices, which significantly decreases wait time and allows for rapid on-site collection.
Forensic software suites then enable analysis of the digital information and shifts the burden of processing into the data center. Data intensive analysis, which requires a heavy amount of computer processing power, can then be spread across multiple servers. This creates speed and efficiency in data processing that will save time and reduce case backlog as technicians focus on finding evidence.
Once stored, the archived data is preserved for case back-up and restoration. This allows investigators to run searches of evidence over time-enabling them to find correlations between past data and new evidence. Dell's network allows secure remote viewing, which enables sharing evidence among different agencies across the globe, enhancing cross-agency collaboration where investigators can connect different evidence to the same case or make links that identify common criminal patterns.
Law enforcement agencies already use Dell's Digital Forensic solutions to fight crime in the 21st century. The Plant City, Fla. Police Department is one such example. A town of 38,000 with 68 officers, the police department lacked the technology necessary to fully investigate digital forensic cases. They had to collect digital devices on scene and send them to a larger city's police department for analysis.
At that time, the Plant City PD was waiting as long as 12 to 14 months to get their digital data evidence processed, analyzed and returned. However, once they implemented Dell's Digital Forensics solution, their case work could now be handled "in house" securely and efficiently, cutting the time needed to process digital evidence to a matter of weeks.
Plant City adopted Dell's mobile Digital Forensics unit, enabling its officers to pull data from multiple electronic devices while on scene. Rather than improvising using different equipment as it had in the past, Dell gave Plant City an all-in-one solution that cut processing time. Evidence remained in house, cutting bureaucratic red tape and chain-of-custody issues when sending data to different jurisdictions.
Dell's digital forensics solution allows investigators to stay ahead of the curve as crime becomes more sophisticated and data volume rises. Case times get reduced, evidence can be collected with speed and accuracy, and correlation with different evidence can be found through inter-departmental collaboration. Departments save on costs as Dell's services reduce complexity and solve difficult problems.
Joe H. Trickey III is the Rugged Mobility & Digital Forensics Marketing Manager at Dell, Inc.