4 min read

“The autopsy report details that the victim was wearing a Google Glass at the time of death.”

“So it looks like we’re through the looking glass on this one!”

“Be respectful detective, a man just died.”

CSI: Miami-esque exchange aside, the continual advancements made in wearable smart technologies, such as the Google Glass, smart watches, and other peripherals mean the expertise and versatility of professional analysts working in the digital forensics space will face ever greater challenges in the future. The original innovation of smartphones steepened the learning curve for forensic investigators and analysts, who have been required to adapt to the rapid development of mobile systems approaching the computing power and intelligence of desktop computers. Since then, this difficulty has only escalated with the constant iteration of new mobile hardware capabilities and updates to mobile operating systems. The velocity at which mobile technology updates makes it a nightmare for analysts to keep up to speed with system architectures (whether Android, iOS, Windows, or Blackberry) so they have the ability to forensically examine devices in a range of critical, sometimes criminal, investigations. That’s even before considering knock-off phones and those that may have been on the wrong end of a baseball bat.

For forensic experts, the art of data extraction is an imperative one to master, as crucial evidence lies in the artefacts stored on devices, and encompasses common system files such as texts, emails, call logs, pictures, videos, web histories, passwords, PINs, and unlock patterns, but also less typical objects stored on third-party applications. Geolocation data, timestamps, and user accounts can all provide key evidence to working out the what, where, when, how, why for an investigation. “Perishable” or anonymous messaging services such as Snapchat and Whisper add another dimension to the discoverability of data that is intended to be temporary or anonymous (although Whisper has come under fire recently for storing confidential data, contrary to the application’s anonymity promise). In cases where app data has been “destroyed” or anonymised, forensic technicians need to extract deleted data through manual decoding and even piece together the evidence, Columbo-style, to unravel the perpetrators and the crime. The sophistication of numerous third-party applications and the types of data they are capable of storing adds a considerable degree of complexity and demands a lot in terms of forensic method and data analysis.

Mobile forensics is a developing discipline, and with the rise of smart wearables, there is yet another dimension for analysts to get to grips with in the future. The smartwatch is still in the infancy stage of sophistication and adoption among consumers, but the impending release of the Apple Watch, along with the already available Samsung Gear and Pebble Steel ranges indicate that the market is going to expand in the next few years, and this makes it likely that smartwatches will become another addition in the digital (mobile) forensics space. The interesting kink in smartwatch technology is the paired interface they must share with phones, as the devices must effectively be synced in order to function, so that the watch receives notifications (texts, calls) pushed from the phone. The event logs stored on both devices when phone and watch interact may prove to be an important forensic artefact should they ever be the cause of investigation, and while right now, native apps on smartwatches are on the limited side (contacts, calendar, media, weather), greater sophistication in the realm of smartwatch apps cannot be far away.

A hugely intriguing layer for mobile forensics is brought by the Google Glass and its array of functionalities, as once it eventually becomes globally available it will become an important device for analysts to understand how to image and pull apart. The Glass can be used for typical smartphone activities, such as sending messages, making calls, taking pictures, and social media interaction, but it’s the ability to enable on-the-fly navigation and translation out in the real world, along with voice commanded Google search and access to real-time information updates through Google Now that make it particularly fascinating from a forensics standpoint. Even considering the familiarity experts will have with Android systems, the unique properties of the Glass in its use of voice commands and the search and geospatial information it collects will potentially provide crucial artefacts in investigations. Examiners will need to know how to pull voice command event logs and parse timeline data, recover deleted visual data, analyse GPS usage and locations, and even determine when in time a Glass was on or off. A student in digital forensics has even begun attempting to forensically examine the Glass.

At this point in time, Glass wearers are those select few chosen for the Explorer beta program, but we should fully expect—when the device becomes completely publically available—for it to become popular enough for it to make another significant addition to the field of smart device forensics. Apparently Google Glass carriers are split into two camps—‘Explorers’ and ‘Glassholes’. Whatever the persuasion, forensic investigators may be required to look through a glass, darkly, sooner than they think.


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