Magnet Forensics, a digital investigation software company, recently announced two new capabilities.

Magnet Forensics is used by law enforcement–typically forensics labs–to recover digital footprints from smartphones, computers, and tablets. Essentially, Magnet Forensics’ solutions help law enforcement and forensics labs recover data stored on digital devices during an investigation. Magnet Forensics is known for its ability to recover data from all different types of applications and it helps forensics labs coalesce the data into a single place–which makes analyzing the data significantly easier for examiners.

The company this week launched Magnet AXIOM Cloud for recovering and examining digital evidence from cloud services and social networks. Magnet Forensics also released Magnet AXIOM 1.2 with Connections–a new feature that simplifies the discovery and visualization of relationships between files and artifacts and their activity.

Adam Belsher is CEO of Magnet Forensics. (Photo: Magnet Forensics)

In an interview with MeriTalk State & Local, CEO Adam Belsher discussed the challenges facing law enforcement and forensics labs and how Magnet Forensics’ technology can help improve workflow and efficiency.

MeriTalk State & Local: What are the technology challenges facing law enforcement and forensics teams?

Adam Belsher: The volume of data coming at them. The devices that people have now can store a lot more data than in the past, and most people have multiple devices. In any given investigation there might be eight to 10 devices with lots of different types of apps and data on the devices. The volume and the variety of the data is one of the big challenges. Encryption is another big challenge, whether that’s encryption on the mobile device or at the app level. Also, there’s a skills shortage. With traditional law enforcement, less than 1 percent of law enforcement agency personnel can handle digital evidence in most organizations, but yet every investigation has some sort of digital investigation. Whether it’s a homicide, child exploitation, or terrorism investigation, there’s almost always a digital element. There’s a real challenge of getting the skills needed within the agency to handle and investigate and use digital evidence. Additionally, once they find the skills and get them trained up, it’s a very competitive market, so retention is an issue as a lot of them get poached to the private sector.

MeriTalk SLG: What are the barriers to adoption for your customers? How do you help overcome concerns or work around issues?

AB: A lot of organizations have a certain workflow they’ve been using for years. A lot of the incumbent tools and solutions in digital forensics have been around for 20 years. You think back 20 years ago, most people didn’t really have a smartphone; the size of your hard drive was maybe 100 megabytes and now it’s a terabyte; and we didn’t have the communication apps we have today. Digital evidence was really an anomaly in terms of an investigation. Fast-forward to now and almost every investigation has some form of digital evidence. A lot of the challenge is getting agencies to reimagine how they approach this new world of digital evidence being in essentially every investigation. It is a mind-set and getting folks that are more progressive to say “it can’t be business as usual,” because the environment they are operating in has changed so dramatically. Digital forensics labs have a backlog, usually it’s a minimum of three months, and in a lot of cases it’s up to two years. In those cases they aren’t getting to the evidence and you have the potential of folks that should be prosecuted and be behind bars aren’t for some time. A lot of it is getting people to rethink how they need to approach it. It’s happening slowly, depending on the agency. Police departments are really focused on community policing, not necessarily working with technology. But now with the prevalence of the Internet, crime is becoming more digital. It’s about getting law enforcement agencies to change how they approach the new world, understanding how you police online crimes.

MeriTalk SLG: How can law enforcement and forensics teams streamline the digital forensics process?

AB: A lot of the agencies have the fundamentals–there’s a process that they go through where they collect, acquire, and process the data. Once it’s processed they can then analyze the data and produce reports to take to court. That workflow has been around for quite a while. In terms of streamlining, the opportunity is in we can save the forensics person’s time. What we’ve done is make it really easy to look at all the sources of evidence in one place. In traditional forensics labs, they have tools to look at different types of digital data, from phones, FitBits, and laptops, but those tools don’t talk to each other. There’s no way to easily understand the linkages and connections between the data. With our products, we’ve taken the approach to pull all those multiple sources of evidence into one place, to make it easier to uncover those key pieces of evidence. The other area we are helping in is reimagining the forensics workflow by providing tools that allow labs to leverage the broader law enforcement workforce to handle digital evidence. Like I mentioned before, typically it’s less than 1 percent of an agency that can handle digital evidence, but nearly every investigation has digital evidence. We have tools to help front-line officers acquire digital evidence in the field, preview it, and triage it. We are enabling the front-line officers to help reduce the case backlog that exists.

MeriTalk SLG: What tips do you have for law enforcement agencies looking to upgrade or deploy new technology?

AB: It’s about trying to future-proof where you can. Obviously, budgets are stretched in the public sector. As leaders look at the current crime landscape, to see how crimes are moving online, leaders need to consider whether there is a skills gap in their organization. They need to understand how you get people trained up to help with some of this work. Leaders need to work with partners that share their values and mission. A lot of our organization has been in the trenches with law enforcement and understand their challenges. Most of these solutions don’t work out of the box, so finding partners you can co-develop with is important. As they look at technology, law enforcement should try to find solutions that are interoperable. A lot of what we hear is organizations buying individual solutions that don’t talk to other technologies in the organization. Leaders need to make sure they aren’t totally locked in and have some flexibility with their solutions.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs