Today’s criminal investigations often rely on digital evidence residing on mobile devices. During investigations, it’s the mobile forensics investigator’s responsibility to extract and collect that digital evidence. There’s no one “right path” to becoming a mobile forensics investigator. In fact, Grayshift Digital Forensics Director, David Smalley, began his career with a non-conventional entry into law enforcement. You can learn more about Smalley and his career path in this Full Access podcast episode.
With that in mind, internship season in full swing, and a host of new high school graduates anticipating kicking off their college careers in the fall, we thought it’d be fun to let our own Digital Forensics team answer some questions and share some advice about becoming a mobile forensics investigator.
Australian Digital Forensics Specialist Gary Coulthart and US Federal Digital Forensics Specialist Jay Varda sat down to answer some common questions about how to become a mobile forensics investigator in the interview below.
Who Is A Digital Forensics Investigator?
“Digital Forensic Investigators (DFI) are also called Computer Forensic Experts, Electronic Evidence Officers, Digital Forensic Specialists or other titles including Cyber Forensics. They are employed at all levels of government intelligence, investigation, governance, and compliance agencies. Employment can also be in private companies either supporting government agencies or being engaged to investigate matters for private companies and court matters.” – DFS Gary Coulthart
What Does A Digital Forensics Investigator Do?
“A digital forensics investigator is responsible for acquiring, processing, analyzing, and reporting on digital evidence. Acquiring digital evidence can include extracting data from mobile devices, imaging hard drives from computers, collecting volatile data from computers and networks, retrieving information from vehicles, or simply copying files to a thumb drive. After the collection, the investigator processes the data with the use of automated software tools. Processing usually renders the data into an analysis tool that the investigator will utilize to gather facts and form opinions. The report should be factually based void of any inferences or bias and include any evidentiary or exculpatory artifacts.” – Federal DFS Jay Varda
Building on Varda’s answer, Coulthart went on to say that “One of the most important duties of a DFI is to explain data that has been gathered or could be gathered and what that data means to the matter being investigated. This is often informally through meetings or phone calls but also in formal reports. The report that is produced by the DFI is intended for the audience, e.g., for criminal courts, the report would need to be in the format required by that court and contain all relevant information admissible for that adjudication body, if for an internal organization matter the report may be in a different format altogether.”
Is A Degree Necessary To Become A Mobile Forensics Investigator?
“A degree is often a requirement to gain an entry level position, but it is not a necessity to perform the duties of a Mobile Forensics Investigator. Specialized training in mobile forensics is necessary whether an individual has a degree or not. Experience can also be of greater value than knowledge gained earning a degree.” – Federal DFS Jay Varda
“To be accepted by courts as an expert witness the individual must show that they have appropriate skills, knowledge, experience, and training in relation to the evidence that they are testifying on. As a DFI, depending on the country and/or agency you work for you may not need to be accepted by courts as an expert. Degree or not, a DFI must complete specific training on the forensic tools and software that they will use. This is usually achieved with external vendor training as well as in-house training.” – DFS Gary Coulthart
If I Want to Pursue A Degree, What Degree Should I Pursue?
“There are several different degrees and post graduate offerings for the Digital Forensic Industry around the world. The best courses are ones that are linked to the industry body qualifications and vendor training in addition to the academic coursework. These allow the gaining of industry body, vendor, and degree or post graduate qualifications at the same time.” – DFS Gary Coulthart
“Many universities have started BS degrees with an emphasis on computer forensics, with even some advancing to the Master’s level. Any type of computer field degree would be helpful. Writing scripts, reverse engineering apps and even understanding the bits and bytes of the data itself. For the more hands-on person, a degree in electrical engineering may be an avenue into the forensic world, encryption has been a detriment to physical bypass and acquisition methods, but all the highly technical computer forensics labs still maintain the capabilities.” – Federal DFS Jay Varda
What Skills Do I Need To Become A Mobile Forensics Investigator?
Coulthart suggests honing the following skills if you’re interested in becoming a mobile forensics investigator:
- Communication Skills – Formal and information, report writing, record keeping
- Technical/Computer Skills – Aptitude for research and technical ability which may include reworking boards, soldering etc. goes a long way
- Reading Skills – Continually reading updates for operating software and developments in the mobile industry is important
- Investigation Process Skills – Knowledge of rules of evidence and court procedures
- Analytic Skills – Being able to identify patterns and put pieces together from different data sets
- Time Management Skills – The ability to prioritize work and deadlines is critical
And according to Varda,
“A mobile forensic investigator should be detail-oriented, technically inclined, communicative, and motivated to learn. Detailed notes are a must in mobile forensics, every step taken must be documented. There are many trainings, but if an individual is not technically inclined or afraid of technology, then they will struggle to learn the nuances of mobile forensics. A good mobile forensics investigator will be able to communicate their findings, written and orally. And lastly, with the ever-changing technology, continual learning and research are necessary.”
What Can I Do To Advance My Mobile Forensics Career?
“Keep current with developments with technology and forensic tools and software by attending industry recognized training and professional development conferences.” DFS Gary Coulthart
“Continuously learn, whether through training or research, mobile forensics is ever-changing, and mobile forensic investigators need to understand the technology. Also, continuously learn new skills, apply them, and sharpen them with testing and validation. Try and become a member of any listservs or social media sites that cater to mobile forensics.” – Federal DFS Jay Varda
Take advantage of training provided by vendors and work. Grayshift offers customers the opportunity to learn and participate in training through Grayshift University. All you need are login credentials to get started. In addition to the free training offered through Grayshift University, interested law enforcement can study for and take an exam to become a Certified GrayKey Operator. You can learn more about obtaining your certification here: How To Obtain Your GrayKey Operator Certification.
The Need For Mobile Forensics Investigators
According to the “Digital Forensics Market – Forecasts from 2021-2026,” the market is expected to surge in the coming years due to rising digital crimes worldwide. In the report, an example addressing fraud and digital evidence by the Herjavec Group says “Digital forensics experts and professionals have been imperative in addressing fraud and identity theft. They can obtain and get hidden or encrypted data, recover deleted files stored on digital devices, and do other related work. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States had stated that they received around 4.8 million identity theft and fraud complaints in the year 2020, with a rise of 45% in the year 2019…”
Law enforcement professionals and mobile forensic investigators often turn to a tool like GrayKey to help process mobile devices used in fraud cases and other types of criminal investigations that require the extraction of encrypted data. You can read examples of how mobile investigators use GrayKey on the GrayKey Use Cases page.
If you’re interested in learning more about mobile forensics and you’re looking for an internship, or you’re interested in working at Grayshift, please keep an eye on our current open positions.
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