Full Access to Stephen Coates

Episode 20

Full Access to Stephen Coates
Episode Summary

This episode is part of a series to help listeners and customers learn more about Grayshift, the company mission, and the people who carry out that mission. This episode’s guest is Stephen Coates, Digital Forensics Specialist at Grayshift. He comes from a long career in law enforcement as an officer, digital forensics examiner, and trainer in Northern Ireland.

The way people interact and use devices has dramatically changed over the years. Phones can now store impressive amounts of data that need to be processed. Likewise, computers nowadays typically have at least two or four terabyte drives. The challenge is the time required to move data into a format that can be analyzed. When investigating officers are up against the clock, and a serious incident just occurred, they need that data as quickly as possible to act on it.

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Show Notes

[03:13] Profile of this episode’s guest: Stephen Coates, Digital Forensics Specialist – Grayshift 

  • Stephen’s career began in the Royal Military Police when he was 17 years old
  • He used his experience with the Royal Military Police as a way to join the local police
  • In 2005 Stephen was accepted into what was known as the Computer Crime Unit
  • Digital Forensics Examiner and Trainer in Northern Ireland


[09:52] The development of digital forensics

  • In 2005, many people didn’t understand that mobile phones were computers
  • Stephen’s Computer Crime Unit was told to focus on computers and laptops and not mobile phones
  • The unit is now called the Cybercrime Center and can work with mobile phones, Sat Nav’s UAV, tracking devices, and gaming consoles


[15:55] Differences across countries in the digital forensics world

  • In the US, some forensic examiners who work for police agencies may or may not be sworn in, depending on the agency
  • The majority of the forensic examiners in Northern Ireland were police officers
  • Availability of personnel can influence what an agency decides is necessary


[20:25] The UK College of Policing and Stephen’s tenure there

  • The UK College of Policing is a national center that brings law enforcement together to keep people safe
  • Sets standards, provides training, and shares good practices among forces
  • Provides people a foundation so that they meet the criteria for evidence to stand up in court


[26:03] Stephen’s experience as a digital forensic examiner

  • Because they don’t have state, local, and federal departments like the US, Stephen’s department worked all crimes and all niches of investigations
  • As an examiner, he was always aware of the impact he had on every single phone he touched and how that impacted individuals’ lives
  • Sometimes the most impactful cases were the ones that could be considered the most routine


[30:47] Graykey’s impact on Stephen’s investigations and processes

  • When Stephen had first heard about GrayKey, it wasn’t available outside of America yet
  • In June 2018, David Miles spoke at a conference about GrayKey. From that moment on, Stephen’s mission was to get GrayKey for the lab. He succeeded a few months later.
  • There was an iPhone the department had been struggling with for over a year. GrayKey recovered the phone in less than 24 hours after being plugged in.


  • [42:08] Best practices for seizing digital devices
    • For a long time, people were told to turn off seized mobile devices, but it depends on circumstances and what tools the agency has at its disposal
    • What to do with a seized device is less about keeping it on or off and more about making sure that the device is made safe
    • Making a device safe is essentially isolating the device from the networks to ensure that data is not lost
    • The onus is often on the specialists to keep themselves informed on the most up-to-date best practices
    • Search teams and tactical groups need to be kept updated through internal communication


    [55:43] Stephen’s transition from law enforcement and training to the private sector at Grayshift

    • After 32 years in policing, Stephen was considering retirement because he didn’t want to burn out, but he loved what he was doing and didn’t want to stop helping people.
    • In an out-of-the-blue chat, David Smalley put Stevie on a different path toward working for Grayshift
    • Stephen retired from the police on a Friday evening and hit the ground running the following Monday morning
    • Grayshift provided a way for Stephen to continue to help others by helping people who can help those who need it


    [59:41] The biggest technology challenges facing law enforcement

    • One of the most significant challenges in digital forensics is obtaining and retaining the right caliber of people with the right attitude and aptitude for technology.
    • Getting the right people together with the right tools is a difficult balance to achieve
    • Communicating quickly with other invested parties in a timely, understandable manner


    [01:06:02] Features of Reveal by Grayshift

    • Now data can immediately start being decoded and available within minutes
    • Reveal allows end users to view the information with their own eyes rather than trying to describe something through spreadsheets that take time to create
    • That data can now be accessed on a mobile device

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