If you have visited our website in the past and/or read some of our previous blog posts, then you are probably already aware that we’re known for partnering with our international customers to effectively beat SIM Box fraud across the globe – mostly in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
But did you also know that we’ve been staying busy on the home front, specifically in the realm of cellular forensics and analysis? Today I’m joined on our blog by Tom Beiser, Lead Investigator for LATRO’s Cellular Forensics Lab in Easton, PA, to tell us more about how our proven expertise in cellular technology and analysis is allowing us to successfully serve our customers in the U.S. as well, including Law Enforcement.
STEPH VAN DALEN (SV): Thanks for joining me, Tom. I’m sure our readers would be curious to hear how you arrived in your current role as Lead Investigator in LATRO’s Cellular Forensics lab. Let’s start there.
TOM BEISER (TB): Sure, glad to be part of the conversation. I’m a retired police detective with over 10 years of experience in the field of cell phone forensics and cell phone records analysis. As a detective with the Easton Police Department, I worked with the Lehigh County Digital Forensics Task Force on a part-time basis as a Cell Phone Forensics Analyst. Before that, I served in the United States Navy for 5 years operating radar and electronic surveillance equipment as an Aviation Warfare Systems Operator. And in between the Navy and working with the Easton Police Department, I received my Associates Degree in Applied Sciences with a concentration in Criminal Justice. Currently, I’m also a member of the U.S. Federal Electronic Crimes Task Force.
Given my background, I began working with LATRO in 2016 after being approached by Lex Wilkinson, CEO of LATRO and previous owner of a security company I had worked for in the past. He had heard of my experience with cellular forensics and cell phone records analysis and was interested in opening a forensics lab. So, I came on board in the area of Business Development and here we are.
SV: I can see how you ended up at LATRO! So what does the term “cellular forensics” mean?
TB: Simply put, “cellular forensics” is the recovery of digital data from a cellular device in a forensically sound manner. In our forensics lab, we utilize the Cellebrite Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) to extract data from the flash memory of cell phones including but not limited to: contact list, text messages, videos, photos, call logs, web history, social media chats, notes and installed applications. The UFED also has the ability to recover some deleted information and search folders that may be hidden from plain view.
When we combine the forensic exam of a cell phone and its analyzed Call Detail Records (CDRs), we gain invaluable information to aid in an investigation. An example of this: John Smith’s CDRs will provide us with incoming/outgoing phone calls and text messages, but do not identify the people associated with those numbers. They also don’t provide us with the content of those text messages.
However, if I examine John Smith’s phone, I can compare the numbers found on his CDRs to the numbers saved in his contact list and start identifying people. During the forensic exam, I can also read the content of the text messages reflected on the CDRs. Additionally, iMessages (iPhone to iPhone) are nottext messages as this communication uses data on the network. So the CDRs from an iPhone won’t reflect the existence of these messages, but I can retrieve them during the forensic exam of the phone.
SV: Makes sense. Can you elaborate on what a cellular forensics lab entails?
TB: Our lab opened with the purchase of the equipment and software necessary to do both the cellular forensic exams and the analysis of cell phone extraction reports and CDRs. This equipment includes the Cellebrite UFED (equipment/software), and CellHawk CDR analytical software.
We take great strides in ensuring that any piece of digital equipment we receive for the purpose of analyzing (whether evidence in a criminal or civil court case or someone’s personal property) is kept secure. The building containing LATRO’s office is secured after business hours and requires a passcode to enter, and LATRO’s office is secured when no one is present, being monitored by video cameras 24/7. The lab itself, where all forensic equipment, evidence, property, and extraction files are kept, is also secured with limited personnel access as well. And digital equipment/evidence is kept in a locked safe when not being analyzed.
SV: Interesting. What cellular forensics services does LATRO currently provide, and what sets us apart from our competitors?
TB:There are many companies out there offering and advertising digital forensic services, which includes forensic examinations of both cell phones and computers. While LATRO is not offering computer forensic services yet, we are in a unique situation – we offer not just cell phone forensic services, but also CDR analysis and the ability to testify in court to both services.
This is important because cell phones and cell phone records have become an integral part of many, if not most, criminal investigations. In today’s world, almost every person has at least one cell phone. In fact, according to recent statistics, there are now more cell phones in use than the total population number.
As an overview, we:
- Conduct our own forensic examination of cell phones
- or Review and analyze cell phone extraction reports (reports/data provided by Law Enforcement after their own forensic exams)
- Analyze and map CDRs
- Prepare Expert reports for each service provided as required by the Court
- Testify as an Expert in the fields of Cell Phone Forensics, Cell Phone Records analysis, and Cellular Technology.
We have also conducted a training seminar for Law Enforcement on Basic Cellular Technology & Cell Phone Records Analysis, and are currently advertising a training seminar aimed towards attorneys on the same topics.
In addition, our Investigative Support Assistant, Crystal Smith, is spearheading a campaign to reach the community, and specifically parents, in an effort to raise awareness about the possible threats to children that exist within the cell phone world including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, online predators and suicide. Currently, we are reaching out to local area school districts in an attempt to speak before Parent Teacher Associations about the topic. Crystal also writes for our blog to further educate parents.
SV: That’s helpful to know. What about an example of a recent case you were involved with?
TB: In April, I testified in a case involving the homicide of a cell phone store employee after he was followed home from work, an attempted abduction the very next night of the manager of the same cell phone store after he was also followed home, the robbery of 5 cell phone stores and a jewelry store. Not only did I analyze and map the suspect’s CDRs, but I also conducted forensic exams of numerous cell phones. During those exams, I recovered several photos of garbage bags full of the items stolen from the stores. We also found notes in the “note pad” that contained a list of some of the phones stolen and a web search of different cell phone stores in the area (a possible target list of future robberies). The suspect was found guilty.
In addition to being hired in criminal cases for both the defense and prosecution, we also provide consultation to attorneys and cellular forensic services to numerous private citizens.
SV: Wow. It’s neat to hear how LATRO’s involvement helped to achieve the verdict. What do you enjoy most about your role as Lead Investigator?
TB: I enjoy putting all the puzzle pieces together to get a complete picture of the investigation and tell the whole story. In some cases, this requires finding the smallest piece that can make or break the case. The feedback I’ve received from testifying in court is that I’m able to explain to the jury how cellular technology works in a way they can understand. I enjoy being able to convey a lot of information in a logical manner so that it is makes sense.
SV: It sounds like satisfying work. What do you find most challenging about your job?
TB: When initially hired to provide analysis in a criminal case, we are provided with a tremendous amount of data to analyze. The most challenging part is knowing where to start. Sometimes I have to restart multiple times to get on the right trajectory.
SV: I can imagine that would be tough. What do you see as the future of cellular forensics for LATRO both in the U.S. and beyond?
With the growing importance of cell phones to criminal investigations, I believe that LATRO will be called upon even more to provide CDR analysis and cellular forensic extraction reports within the U.S. because few companies can provide all that we can. Our expertise in cellular technology including both cellular forensics and CDR analysis, as well as our ability to testify in court, makes us an invaluable one stop shop. As for a more global reach, time will tell. It’s definitely worth exploring further.
Tom Beiser Bio: Tom is the Lead Investigator for LATRO’s Cellular Forensics Lab in Pennsylvania. In his free time he enjoys spending his time with family and friends, watching football and remodeling his home.