Mobile Forensic Investigations

by Lee Reiber

Reviewed by Scar de Courcier, Forensic Focus

The subtitle of this book is A Guide to Evidence Collection, Analysis and Presentation – a grand aim considering the scope of the subject matter. ‘Mobile devices’ these days is an umbrella term covering an overwhelming amount of evidence.

However, the book does it justice. It’s an in-depth guide and one that’s unusually easy to read for something so technical.The book begins by introducing the reader to the world of mobile forensics. Several non-technical challenges are discussed in the introduction, including the fact that mobile devices are so prevalent, and also that investigators often overlook them when gathering digital evidence, especially if a computer is also present at the scene. The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the book: a good mix between technical descriptions of how to go about analysing a device, and real-world applications that would be useful for even the non-technical field investigator or scene of crime officer.

The evolution of devices in terms of storage, data and size is also discussed in this chapter, which serves to give an overview of how much and how quickly the state of the technology has changed.

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Throughout the book there are grey boxes containing real-world examples, which are written in the first person and allow the reader to understand how the elements being discussed within each chapter can be – and have been – applied to investigations. As well as providing interesting back stories, these are also useful for the novice reader who may not want to focus so much on the more technical aspects, but instead look for an idea of what the life of an investigator looks like on a day to day basis.

There is an ‘Educational Resources’ section at the end of the introductory chapter too, which gives a list of websites, forums and places to look for further information.

One aspect of mobile forensics that is often overlooked in guidebooks is how it relates to computer forensics more generally. This is an important relationship, because the distinction between forensic methods is something every investigator should have at least a passing knowledge of, and Mobile Forensic Investigations provides precisely this.

The second chapter contains a list of common misconceptions about mobile forensic examinations. Interestingly, this is broken down into misconceptions held by seasoned computer forensic examiners, and those more frequently believed by first responders. Again, this highlights the book’s usefulness to a wide range of practitioners and scenes.

Following the introductory chapters are a few sections on the basics of what to do when arriving at a scene where mobile forensic data needs to be preserved. Data seizure, storage and analysis is described in some depth, covering various different operating systems and models. While there is a limit as to how much information can be contained within a single book that comes in at just under 500 pages, Reiber does an excellent job of not missing out any important information, as well as consistently providing resources and tips for readers who want to find out more.

Of course, no mobile forensic investigation would be complete without the use of various tools. Reiber promotes a multiple tool approach to a scene, and discusses some of the popular options within chapters five and six. Alongside the pros and cons of each there are screenshots to demonstrate the abilities of the software, as well as case studies to highlight how these tools have been used in the past.

These chapters, along with chapter seven, will be particularly useful for newly formed forensic companies or individuals who are looking to begin their digital forensics careers. Each piece of software is discussed fairly in terms of effectiveness for the investigation, and chapter seven talks about how to prepare the environment for your first collection. Despite covering all the basics, however, the guidebook remains useful for the seasoned examiner as well. After all, the world of mobile forensics is labyrinthine at best; having a guide through the maze is of use to us all.

Mobile Forensic Investigations then goes on to discuss the details of how to collect data from a mobile device, followed by analysis of SIM cards and then how to analyse data from feature phones, BlackBerries, and Windows phones. This is especially useful as these are often overlooked in books about mobile forensics. The table on pages 256-257 is an excellent reference point describing the locations of critical data in various feature phones.

iOS analysis is covered in chapter 11. Although there are whole books dedicated to this subject, if you’re looking for a surprisingly in-depth overview, this is a great place to start.

Chapter twelve – Querying SQLite and Taming the Forensic Snake – wins my accolade of favourite chapter title in a digital forensics textbook. It discusses how examiners can automate the process of obtaining information from smart device file systems using custom-built SQLite queries or Python code. This is an accessibly written chapter – even if you’re new to the subject of custom-built queries, you’ll no doubt be able to follow what is required. A handy guide to Python terminology is included on page 360, and the guides to data types and additional terms will also prove useful to the less experienced examiner.

The following chapter deals with advanced Android analysis – again, a subject on which whole books have been written, but covered well in this guide. I was continually impressed throughout this book at the balance between detail and accessibility that Reiber manages to strike – not an easy line to walk!

The book’s final chapter discusses the presentation of mobile forensic data, including a section on how to become a mobile forensics expert. Further reading suggestions are once again given towards the end of the book.

On the whole, therefore, I certainly recommend Mobile Forensic Investigations as a practical, readable and highly useful guidebook for new and experienced investigators alike.

Mobile Forensic Investigations: A Guide to Evidence Collection, Analysis and Presentation is available on Amazon.

About the author

Lee has been actively involved in the digital forensic community for over 15 years as an examiner, lecturer, and author. Lee's expertise in mobile forensics has not only been recognized in US federal, state, and local courts, but around the world. Previously to his current role as COO of Oxygen Forensic, Inc., a global leader in mobile forensic software, he was the CEO of Mobile Forensics Inc. and also a law enforcement officer and investigator.

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