Jad, 2020 was a challenging year in many ways. What operational challenges did Magnet Forensics’ law enforcement customers reflect were of particular concern? How did they pivot, and how did Magnet Forensics help them?
It definitely was a challenging year for all involved. When it comes to law enforcement, there are so many rules and regulations that are in place (and for good reason), that pivoting can be extremely difficult. In addition to working within the constraints of a highly regulated system, law enforcement is dealing with huge amounts of data — and working with that data sometimes requires systems more powerful than a laptop and a VPN can handle.
We did our best to help by providing different licensing options for our customers in law enforcement so they could have some flexibility afforded to them. We’ve also brought great developments to Magnet AUTOMATE, which is really taking a lot of the processing and imaging work out of the equation.
In particular, the year saw a sharp rise in technology-facilitated child exploitation and fraud cases as a result of uncertainty, fear, and lockdown. What have law enforcement’s biggest needs been in responding to and investigating those crimes specifically?
Because of the sensitive nature of the evidence in these cases, and how much time can play a factor in them, it can be a real challenge for investigators to be able to stay isolated while performing these investigations in a timely manner. It’s not exactly possible or desired to bring home this type of evidence, and when arresting a predator can rely on virtual communication, there are just more opportunities for challenges to arise. We’ve talked to so many customers this year about these types of challenges and they are definitely not letting any of those challenges stop them from doing the work they need to do.
In AXIOM this year, what turned out to be the most valuable feature(s) to law enforcement customers? Why?
Our engineers have been hard at work this year delivering value for our customers, and we’ve added dozens of new features and over 100 new and updated artifacts to AXIOM in 2020.
I’d say, of these, the new capabilities we’ve introduced in Magnet.AI, our industry-first machine learning technology, have been particularly well-received. Magnet.AI’s content-based image retrieval (CBIR) is a fantastic time-saving resource for investigators needing to find similar images based on a picture’s general attributes, especially when working with multiple pieces of digital evidence that could contain hundreds of thousands of images.
Law enforcement customers love the fact that AXIOM is an integrated investigation platform that supports computer, mobile, memory, warrant returns and cloud data and provides that single window into the data to make it easier for analysis and reporting. The time savings and time to evidence is really industry leading.
In addition to those new features in AXIOM, we’ve also gotten great customer feedback on our free tools designed to complement and enhance their investigations with AXIOM, like the Magnet Custom Artifact Generator and Web Page Saver. We’re also proud to offer Magnet SHIELD as a free tool, which empowers any officer to easily capture digital evidence from consenting victims and witnesses at the scene of the crime and then immediately produce a standardized report that can be shared with prosecutors.
We also introduced a new version Magnet OUTRIDER, our ultra-fast triage tool that empowers law enforcement and examiners to quickly and easily preview devices, on-scene or in the lab. OUTRIDER 2.0 included 30% faster scanning times, along with the ability to scan live systems to collect operating system artifacts, capture RAM, take a screenshot of the desktop, and obtain the external IP address for the system.
Social justice was also a key theme of this year as many people sought to find ways to get involved in their communities. Tell us more about the Auxtera Project — how is it going, and where does the name come from? Have you been able to match any applicants thus far?
This has been a project we’ve wanted to bring to fruition for a long time. I’ve seen so many worthy organizations in need of assistance with digital investigations that can’t get that support for funding reasons. That pursuit of justice is something that we’ve always felt strongly about, and we want to make sure it’s accessible for those in need.
The basic idea is that we’ve asked qualified DFIR folks to volunteer their time to help perform digital investigations for organizations that can’t afford to hire someone to perform it for them. We’ve seen a great reaction so far within the DFIR community, with a number of excited volunteers ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We’re currently working through selecting some beneficiaries of the service and how to get future applicants, and we’ll have more info soon!
Oh, and the name is a word we created as part of this project to describe a cadre of volunteers bound by the pursuit of justice.
Tell us more about the WePROTECT Global Alliance partnership, and what you hope to accomplish with Magnet Forensics’ unique perspective?
We’re excited to be able to join the WePROTECT Global Alliance — they’ve really done a great job of bringing together a group of likeminded people to fight to eradicate child sexual exploitation online. We’re aiming to help bring some of the knowledge we’ve accumulated along the way in fighting child sexual exploitation to help them with the cause. Unfortunately, the problem is spreading faster than anyone could anticipate, and we all need to work together to continue protecting the innocent.
The Magnet Forensics Scholarship Program launched in late 2018, and you’ve been following the winners and their experiences since. What do you most want 2021’s applicants to know about the program?
This is an exciting time to be getting into the world of digital forensics. There are so many great teachers in the field and so much to learn and share that wasn’t around when I started out in the field years ago. We’re proud to have a chance to give back to the community however we can — including the opportunity to get new examiners into the field where they may not have had the chance before. We’ll have more details about next year’s scholarship award in early 2021, so stay tuned!
More broadly, what’s going to be important to law enforcement customers going into 2021, and what do you want them to know they can expect from Magnet Forensics?
I think law enforcement agencies have experienced a lot of challenges over this past year. With increased pressure from certain groups to decrease funds from many (already under-budgeted) police departments, there’s going to be an additional focus on how their resources are being used. We’re constantly working hard to make sure that our solutions provide the best value for them and we’ll continue to strive for the best possible experience for our customers.
What New Year’s resolutions would you like to see customers make for 2021? What are some of your own?
I would love it if our customers’ resolution for 2021 was to make sure to find time to take care of themselves. The work that they do is so important and can take such a toll and it can be hard to set aside time to recharge, but it’s so important to maintain that wellness.
I suppose for myself, it’ll be a similar resolution: To be mindful of the good things in my life and celebrate them. To take time for myself and for those that matter in my life. And to keep bringing the same passion I bring into working for Magnet Forensics every day.