Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Review: “Cell Phone Investigations” by Aaron Edens

Until now, if you wanted to learn all about cell phone investigations you would be cobbling together knowledge in scavenger hunt fashion. Your trek might include:
  • seminars, given by a few universities and forensic software vendors; 
  • technical law enforcement newsgroups where tips are swapped; 
  • articles and white papers ferreted out on a topic by topic basis;
  • and a lot of personal trial and error.
Times have changed.

All the basics one needs to know is clearly laid out in this book. Each chapter is packed with many interesting sub-chapters like: caller ID spoofing, cell site dumps, storing and preserving evidence. The Table of Contents shows the important bases covered…

  • Chapter 1: Search Warrants
  • Chapter 2: Phone Records
  • Chapter 3: Tools for Examining Records
  • Chapter 4: Cell Towers and Cell Sites
  • Chapter 5: Cell Phone Forensics
  • Chapter 6: Digital Evidence
  • Chapter 7: Types of Examinations
  • Chapter 8: Using Cell Phone Forensics
  • Chapter 9: Locked Devices
  • Chapter 10: iPhone Backup Files
  • Chapter 11: Sample Search Warrants
  • Templates
  • Appendix

Law enforcement investigators will particularly appreciate Mr. Edens’ street tips. 

Example 1: Arresting officers need training when it comes to electronic evidence collection. If 12 gang members are arrested you are likely to get a bag o’ phones without knowing which suspect owns what phone. “Without a doubt if they had seized 12 firearms the process would have been completely different. The firearms would have been photographed in place to precisely document the location at which they were found, and to establish dominion and control.”

Example 2: The five errors law enforcement officers make when using cell site information. Most of these apply to private investigators and attorneys as well. “Investigators will commonly refer to the cell phone and the target of the investigation interchangeably. I strongly recommend you avoid this dangerous habit,” and goes on to explain the important reason why.

Strip away the some of the law enforcement only information and you have an excellent book for the private sector with fascinating CSI tidbits tossed in. Say the phone you want to examine is soaked in blood or some other yuck biohazard. What can / should you do? Hint, don’t try cleaning it with soap, water and your electric toothbrush. Nah, I’m sure you knew better about the toothbrush. Try alcohol in an ultrasonic tub instead.

New devices like smart watches, and breadcrumbs from the Internet-of-things, are bringing new opportunities and challenges continually. Updates and revised editions of this book are to be expected, and a companion web page with late breaking news would be a welcome addition.

Having all the information in one place has been accomplished very well. Transferring the knowledge to the reader – easily – will take a little more finesse.

In its current form, Cell Phone Investigations is a tiring read. Some basic visual communications tenets were overlooked. Lines of type stretch across 6.5 inches of an 8.5 inch page, averaging about 113 characters per line. This makes focusing difficult. To compound the visual felony the text is entirely sans-serif type, making reading even more challenging. The solution for future editions is simple. Use two columns per page, with no more than 55-65 characters (including spaces) per line. Use serif type for the text. Save the sans-serif type for titles and headlines. These typographical shortcomings should not deter you from this edition, however. Just expect you won’t be reading this cover to cover in one sitting.

“Cell Phone Investigations” (238 pages) is perfect for law enforcement, attorneys, and students entering either field. If it was written only for private investigators, security directors and people who deal with the public answering questions about cell phones, it would just be fewer pages. In the end, all groups get the education they need in an accurate, well written, well organized manner, with illustrations and charts appropriately sprinkled throughout. ~Kevin