by Scott Hettinger
Scott’s Journey to Digital Forensics
From a very early age, I was always interested in the work of law enforcement officers. I often found myself watching shows or movies about police, and every time I saw a police officer, I was so interested in what they were doing and wanted to know more. I looked up to police officers and always thought the job was exciting and interesting, with the benefits of making a difference in the community and the people who loved and visited my community. As I grew older and my parents knew of my aspirations, they let me know law enforcement was in my blood with multiple people in my family in some capacity in law enforcement.
One day, my parents gave me a book called “The Onion Field,” a story written about two Law Enforcement Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, one of whom I was distantly related to, Karl Hettinger. After reading the book and ultimately watching the movie about the incident, I found myself even more interested in police work and wondered what I would do in that situation. I knew the second I was old enough to become a law enforcement officer I would jump at the chance. I entered the police academy and never looked back, with my first job as a patrol officer. I found the job very rewarding and exciting, and became interested in investigations. This is where I found my love for using digital evidence to further my investigations.
Digital Forensics and Carolina Beach
My passion for digital forensics started ten years ago while working as a Vice/Narcotics Investigator. I found terrific value in viewing the communication, media, and historical connections for the subjects in my investigation. The information I gathered through digital forensics allowed me to develop my criminal cases much quicker and more efficiently compared to investigators who were not using digital evidence at the time. Building and figuring out the integral network of criminal organizations is organically challenging, and digital evidence is often the key to investigators understanding the network or organization. As I began working in general investigations, it became more common for investigations to include some aspect of digital evidence. Digital devices are an extension of a person, and the evidence contained in those devices often makes the difference when it’s time for court.
Today, receiving or finding digital evidence is not only common. It’s expected. It’s rare in any case that a phone, computer, call detail records, or social media information aren’t submitted for examination or review in the attempt to locate case-related evidence. But working with digital evidence has its challenges, namely encryption, and backlog, which lead to the inability to get information to investigators promptly to further or complete investigations. “Normal” forensic software isn’t as useful or efficient when it comes to mobile devices as it used to be.
This changed when rumors began to spread about a special device called GrayKey. The release of GrayKey was a solution for a vast majority of devices we had in backlog during my time in law enforcement. The ability to gain same-day access to locked devices, under proper legal authority, is critical in providing complete, accurate, and actionable data to investigators or prosecutors assigned to a case. The GrayKey has proven repeatedly to be a valuable and necessary tool in the digital forensics lab.
In the case of the State of N.C. v. Titus Lee, the challenge was accessing a locked device. This device sat in an evidence locker for a long time as investigators built their case for court. After receiving a call from investigators on whether the lab could access the device or not, we were confident that GrayKey would be the forensic extraction tool we would use and result in a solid extraction of data. The ability for GrayKey to access the device in this case was extremely important. The extracted data provided evidence in the investigation that was paramount in the prosecution of the case.
When I met the team at Grayshift, I was surprised by their passion to help law enforcement and be a global partner that law enforcement could rely on to make their communities safer. I also saw engineers working tirelessly to provide support for the newest phones and software available. The Grayshift team is always working towards making the job of the investigator and examiner easier. When presented with the opportunity to join the team, I jumped at the chance to get involved and continue impacting the law enforcement profession and its mission.
The value of having digital evidence in a case is to have the whole picture of the crime. Watch how GrayKey provided critical evidence in State of N.C. v. Titus Lee case.
Watch the Video.