Within just six months, Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis tool has saved the Boulder Police Department hundreds of hours in investigative time.Cell phones have become an invaluable tool to not only the people who use them, but to law enforcement officers conducting investigations.
While devices seized by police can offer a treasure trove of data, the challenge becomes how to sort through all of that information in a timely manner to make the most impact on a given case.
Detective Chuck Heidel from the Boulder Police Department said that within just six months, Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis tool has saved the department’s 25 detectives hundreds of hours in investigative time by integrating the tool into the forensics workflow.
“There’s so many cell phones that we seize now, or that we examine, and (forensics analysts) don’t have time to look at the data, and they probably don’t look at the data as far as the numbers or the subject matter inside of those phones anymore,” he told Officer.com. “They download the data and then it goes onto a shared secured server that we use, and then we go on and access that data for our specific case and use whatever we want off of it. We’re the end consumers as far as you’ve got all of the data, now what do you do with it?”
The challenge is finding a way to pore through all of the data in a timely manner, taking into account that it often takes hours overnight to download data from a given phone.
“That’s where the Cellebrite analytic comes in,” he said. “That’s what it does.”
The data first gets downloaded from the phone by forensic into the UFED format and then is uploaded from the desktop of a desktop into the Cellebrite software so that the data can be analyzed.
“It shows it in a couple of ways,” he said. “First, it will show it in a spreadsheet format showing it in a timeline of incoming and outgoing calls, text messages and instant messages. It will download photos. It will download GPS information.”
The software also allows users to take another target cell phone, upload it and it will look at both of those targets together and see what the common links are. Heidel said that the ability to compare the data on multiple phones is paramount and that he’s compared as many as six phones at once.
The department had a case in which there were multiple heroin overdoses and detectives were trying to find out who the source of the drug was. Armed with the phones of the victims of the overdoses and phones of suspected dealers and suppliers, they were able to combine all of the data into one database and perform a link analysis.
“What the link analysis did was go through all of those records and find out what the common links were,” Heidel said, noting that while it would be possible to do it manually, it would eat up a lot of man hours.
“I couldn’t do that, nobody could. You could, but I’m just one person and to go through all of those records . . . it is a big time saver.”
He said that another nice thing about the software is being able to use DNR records from cell phone companies and then combine that with data already collected. While the records complied by members of the forensics team are individually relatively easy to look forward in spreadsheet format, but can quickly become a daunting task.
“Where it becomes difficult is when you have multiple phones or multiple records that you are looking at and then you are trying to combine those,” Heidel said. “That’s what this software is good at. It combines all of these cell phone records while still keeping the individuality of each target. It combines the records so you can see what the common threads are between the cell phones.”
The software also compiles a timeline of all the cell phone records that can be both sorted and filtered.
“In order to do that manually, I would have to somehow combine those in Excel, which isn’t easy. It takes time,” he said. “This does it for you. There it is.”
The software also allows photos of suspects and victims to be added to establish links in the timeline. When ultimately attempting to compile enough evidence to lead to a conviction in a criminal case, Heidel said that the simplicity of the information presented is of the utmost importance.
“When you are trying to explain this in court or trying to explain these cases to a DA, it’s easy to show them what’s going on.”
Click here to learn more about Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis