Magnet 8TipsforPresentingDigitalEvidence .pdf
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8 Tips for Presenting Digital Evidence in Court
Digital evidence is playing a progressively more important role in criminal investigations, from fraud to intellectual
property theft to child exploitation. As our world becomes more “connected”, digital evidence is becoming relevant
to more and more cases.
But digital data is easily manipulated. If an investigator leaves undocumented gaps in their acquisition or analysis
process, their evidence can easily lose credibility. Without adequate chain of custody documentation or proof of data
integrity, digital evidence can become inadmissible in court. And, even if this evidence has been properly handled,
investigators often encounter challenges when trying to present technical data to an audience unfamiliar with digital
Preparing to effectively present digital evidence starts long before the court date. Although you’re sure to encounter
tough questions when presenting or testifying, we’ve provided some tips to consider when presenting digital evidence
and forensic reporting in court. In this resource, we’ll walk through each step of the process, from seizing the device
to delivering an accurate testimony. Keep in mind that although these are prudent recommendations, you should still
consult your agency’s legal counsel for clarification or more in-depth advice.
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From Physical Device Seizure to Evidence Presentation: 8 Tips
Examination & Analysis
Physical seizure of device
Appropriate physical seizure of device
Tip 1: Ensure that you have legal authorization to examine data on the device seized
Although this may seem obvious, it’s crucial to ensure that you have a search warrant or other legal authorization to
look at the data from the seized device. If you happen to come across additional, unrelated data for which you do not
have a warrant, you should consult the prosecutor before proceeding with your search of the evidence.
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Tip 2: Record the chain of custody for any device in your possession
When handling evidence following the seizure of the device, make sure to record proof of continuity. It’s important to
understand who had access to the device at any point in time to establish credibility for the evidence it contains. Many
investigators will keep a log to demonstrate that there are no gaps in the chain of custody for the physical evidence.
Depending on your jurisdiction, this can be a useful resource when pulling together a report for court.
Tip 3: Maintain data integrity
When acquiring raw data from a hard drive or mobile phone, always access the device through a write-blocker or a
tool that protects the device from being altered. Write-blockers enable read-only access for the viewer and prevents
data from being added to or changed on a hard drive. This helps back-up the integrity of your data, adding credibility
to your acquisition process.
Calculating a hash value for the hard drive is another important way to demonstrate that the data has not been
modified since seizure. Hashing algorithms provide a unique value for a particular sample of data, similar to a
fingerprint or DNA sample. If anything is changed on the hard drive, this value will change.
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Examination and Analysis
Tip 4: Validate your results
Before reporting on or presenting the results of your digital evidence analysis, you need to validate all results. Typically,
investigators won’t have full confidence in the digital evidence until they’ve double-checked the original data source,
because there is always a possibility that the data at that location is slightly corrupt or there’s been a software bug.
Although it’s best to verify the evidence for every case, this becomes especially crucial when one piece of evidence
carries significant weight for an investigation. For example, if an investigator found a confession in a message from a
mobile chat app that shed light on the perpetrator of a homicide, it would be important to double-check these results
since they may have a substantial impact on the verdict.
In case you are asked how the software gathers data, use the glossary from the software provider (when appropriate)
to prepare to describe what the artifacts present and where they are located. For reference, you should also record
the software version numbers used for searches.
Although some may claim that the tool they use is court-approved and doesn’t require validation, the reality is that
no such certification exists. The best way to verify your results is by either running a second tool, or by verifying the
data manually by checking the original location to confirm that it matches your original results. This ensures the
court-admissibility of your evidence, so you can stand behind your results with confidence.
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Tip 5: Develop a thorough reporting format that emphasizes key findings
Having finished recovering and analyzing artifacts, you’ll need to pull together a report detailing the evidence analyzed
and explaining your process and findings. Although formats may vary slightly case-by-case, creating a template for
presenting reports will establish consistency and allow courts to grasp the contents of reports more easily over time.
Here are a few helpful general considerations on report-writing
from forensic consultant Melia Kelly.
Include an executive summary detailing your results.
This section should also give context to the evidence
List every piece of evidence analyzed, including serial
numbers, hash values, photographs, etc.
Write thorough descriptions for photographs, including
information on the camera type, date, timestamps and
Clearly show the steps taken to collect and analyze
artifacts, including listing any software or hardware used to
extract and analyze data.
Create a timeline. It’s helpful to create a visual that
demonstrates the chronological sequence of events in a way that’s easy for readers to grasp.
Remember to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. What questions might you have about the evidence
if you were in their position? If you can adequately answer these questions in your report, you may be released
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Tip 6: Be confident in the reliability of your evidence and your credibility as an examiner
If you are required to present your report and testify in court, make sure you’re able to both validate the credibility
of your data and the reliability of your tool. It’s also important to ensure that you have a comprehensive list of
credentials and certificates to support your training in digital forensics. Be able to tell the court how long you’ve been
doing forensic analysis and perhaps even how many computers and mobile devices you have examined.
If you’ve been diligent in acquiring, analyzing and validating the evidence, you can deliver the results with full confidence.
Keep in mind that lawyers may try to ask compound questions, trying to get one answer for two questions. Make it
clear that you are answering one question at a time.
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You should also be prepared to answer the following questions, according to digital forensic practitioner
How was the tool/technique/equipment used?
Are there alternative explanations?
Who was it used by?
Has this acquisition or analysis technique been
Where was the data found?
How was the data validated--either manually or with
a secondary tool?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the
What is the known or potential rate of error of the
Has this technique been subjected to peer review?
Is this technique generally accepted?
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Tip 7: Interpret data to tell a story
When you’re presenting abstract concepts and technical evidence to an audience with little (if any) background in
digital forensics, you can’t simply display raw evidence and expect that they will read between the lines and understand
Without oversimplifying your findings, your role is to present the data in a manner that is clear and concise. When
possible, try to interpret this data to tell a story. One of the best ways to lead a judge and jury through your evidence
is with visual aids. Often, separate illustrative presentations may be required to give context to complicated evidence.
Tip 8: Use visuals whenever possible
Use visuals as often as possible to help the judge and jury
grasp the context and relevance of your digital evidence.
There are a variety of analysis and reporting tools that can
help reconstruct search history and create timeline and
geolocation visualizations. Complex, technical data can be
hard for the audience to understand, so leveraging these data
visualization features can be indispensable for examiners
preparing to present in court.
Although this is more of a logistics consideration, ensure the court room is equipped with the right gear to present
digital evidence in a meaningful way. Some meaning may be lost in attempting to print digital evidence on paper vs.
presenting an HTML report on a display.
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When evaluating digital forensics tools, look for
one that helps:
Recover history records, dates and times of
Rebuild web pages as the viewer saw them
when they conducted their search.
Plot recovered timestamp data on a visual
timeline, so the judge and jury can quickly
grasp a chronological series of events.
Rebuild chat messages in threaded view,
similar to the format of the original chat
messaging application. For an audience who
doesn’t examine raw data regularly, this gives both context and visual clarity to the evidence.
Plot recovered geolocation data from mobile messaging apps and photographs on a map.
Our Internet Evidence Finder (IEF) has become one of the most widely used digital forensics tools for the recovery of
Internet evidence. IEF can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your investigation by:
Automatically searching for artifacts in unstructured data sources such as unallocated space, pagefile.sys, and
volume shadow copies.
Aggregating data from time of events, location, sources and artifacts to create a fully interactive timeline that
can be exported as a HTML, PDF or TLN file.
Enabling the investigator to conduct a thorough and efficient analysis of the collected data through searching
and filtering, or using visualization techniques such as mapping, rebuilding webpages and chat threads.
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With the right tools and techniques, digital forensics analysis can yield valuable evidence that can significantly impact
a criminal investigation or legal dispute. Proper artifact recovery and reporting methods are the key to ensuring that
digital evidence is court admissible. It is also absolutely relevant that an examiner’s findings are properly conveyed
to the court in understandable terms, as even the most experienced expert can easily be misunderstood if too much
jargon is used. Finally, using visuals to present digital evidence is a great way to help the audience interpret the story
from the facts.
Ready to learn more?
Watch this case study to learn how geolocation data and timeline analysis can provide valuable insight
into a digital forensics investigation.
Find out how to create and export reports in Internet Evidence Finder.
Learn how to use hash analysis to identify and categorize photographs using Internet Evidence Finder.
For more information call us at 519-342-0195
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2014 Magnet Forensics Inc. All rights reserved. Magnet Forensics®, Internet Evidence Finder™ and related trademarks, names and logos are
the property of Magnet Forensics and are registered and/or used in the U.S. and countries around the world.
All other marks and brands may be claimed as the property of their respective owners.
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