As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, computers are continually being used to commit or plan crimes. I also have mentioned that many of today’s cellular telephones share some or many capabilities as your run-of-the-mill personal computer. For this article I am focusing on hard drive duplication, but keep in mind that cellular telephones can function much the same as personal computers, and can therefore have data duplicated much like the hard drive in a personal computer.
A hard drive is actually the brain of the computer. It holds the digital information such as the operating system, electronic documents, and digital photos and so on.
Most police officers and detectives are aware that criminals use computers for criminal activity. Some will use computers promote and arrange meetings with Prostitutes, arrange criminal activity through a social web page like Facebook or My Space. They may even may be involved in some forms of illegal pornography. The fact is the criminal has changed methods of committing crimes. Now the computer is used for advertising and passing messages along to prospective “clients” or other like-minded people.
Once a computer has been seized or is to be investigated, two things may give us access potential digital evidence. We either:
1. get consent from the owner, or,
2. get a warrant.
Warrants are usually the best route because most people are leery of anyone looking into their computer habits, so getting permission could be difficult at best. A word of caution: ensure you are able and/or certified to gather digital information. Most states require a person gathering digital evidence to be certified to do so.
Digital information can be gathered by just about any digital equipment; cameras, cellular telephones, CD Rom’s, flash (thumb) drives and possibly even your in-car computer.
Be careful gathering web page information because that information can be easily altered and therefore possibly ruining your evidence.
For example, once you have your warrant and are ready to gather information you must think of a method to gather it. One way is keeping the hard drive in the computer case and navigate through the computer or use ghosting software to duplicate data.
Or you can invest in a hard drive duplicator.
The disadvantage to Ghosting is that you need to prepare and start the computer you’re investigating then you must either have a password to enter the system or hack into it. This method can be time consuming and you lose vital evidence due to time constraints.
Duplicating a hard drive is much easier because you can take the hard drive out of the computer without having to start it. There are hard drive duplicators available on the market. Some have several bays and are mainly used for mass media duplication.
For police investigations a single bay should suffice. Duplicators range from $180.00 up to several thousand dollars and are available online or any computer retailer.
Most if not all duplicators can duplicate accommodate laptop 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch hard drives in both the Serial ATA (SATA, or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and the old PATA (Parallel ATA), better known to some people as IDE connections.
The least expensive and most user-friendly duplicator I found is the Star Tech Duplicator. This duplicator will accommodate both types of hard drives, is hot swappable. Meaning you can switch drives without turning the device off and is only about $180.00.
The Star Tech has an onboard LCD screen that lets you monitor its progress and can transfer data up to 72 Mega bytes per second. It is small compared to other more expensive duplicators on the market and can be easily hooked up to a host computer to see hard drive contents without actually installing the hard drive to your computer. This ability let’s you determine if it worth the time to duplicate the hard drive.
The Star Tech duplicator can also copy from a SATA to IDE or IDE to SATA without any complications and can be used as an external hard drive.
As I have mentioned before, computer investigations is a fast-growing element in law enforcement. Be sure to consult with your department regarding any investigation that includes searching computer files.