Digital Forensic Innovation and Training Center in Bangkok Post


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Digital footprints put cops on tail of careless criminals

University innovation is taking the crime fight into the online arena

With the usage of PCs, tablets and smartphones on the rise, police are coming to terms with the gadgets’ importance in providing clues to help them hunt down criminals.

Mahidol University electrical engineer Nopphadon Wanitchaworanan believes the university’s Digital Forensic Innovation and Training Centre will snare more criminals. WASSAYOS NGAMKHAM

Investigators are increasingly interested in the “digital footprint” which suspects leave behind through these devices because most people, including criminals, use them as part of their daily routine.

A digital footprint can be in the form of images or data that give clues that lead to the capture of criminals. It is the trail of documents and interactions we leave behind every time we use an electronic device or the internet, such as blog posts, chat messages, website visits and Facebook “Likes”.

Even if such data is deleted, all or some of it can still be retrieved by experts using the latest technology.

The Crime Suppression Division (CSD) and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) now want their officers to receive training in tracking down the digital footprints of criminals.

Scholars at Mahidol University are also curious about exploring new techniques in the search for digital footprints and are offering courses to impart this knowledge to police and others who are interested in this technology.

CSD chief Supisarn Phakdinaruenart says officers will not only be equipped with the knowledge of how to track down criminal suspects through digital devices, but will also be taught to do the job with special care.

Digital evidence can be easily changed or distorted to avoid police tracking, he said, so officers need to be aware of criminals’ tricks.

A digital footprint is not like a fingerprint. It is also not like bloodstains and hair found at crime scenes. These kinds of evidence cannot be changed and can precisely identify suspects.

“Simply put, data kept on computers and mobile phones can be edited or changed at any time,” Mahidol University electrical engineer Nopphadon Wanitchaworanan said.

Because of this, officers need to acquaint themselves with digital forensics, a branch of forensic science focused on searching for clues in the digital world, he said.

Learning about digital forensics will increase officers’ investigative skills and at the same time reduce possible mistakes, Mr Nopphadon said.

Mr Nopphadon is a co-founder of the Digital Forensic Innovation and Training Centre (DFIT) at Mahidol University.

The centre’s aim is to develop the study of digital footprints and help police better track down wrongdoers.

A main function of the centre is to invent devices and computer programs that can search for digital footprints, saving local agencies from having to buy expensive hardware and software from abroad.

Among DFIT’s latest innovations are the USB Flash Drive for Digital Evidence Acquisition from Random Access Memory (RAM) and Registry of Windows.

The device has quite a long name but its work is simple.

It will “suck” data from a computer’s RAM that may uncover clues left behind by criminal suspects.

“If suspects turn off computers, we cannot completely retrieve data. But if the power stays on, we can use this flash drive to collect evidence immediately,” Mr Nopphadon said.

Other DFIT products include new computer software, such as a program that helps officers search for clues by inspecting phone numbers of people associated with suspects, and one that checks whether internet-based advertisements are part of a scam.

The DFIT is also training state authorities on dealing with digital evidence.

“We’ve trained officers for three years already,” Mr Nopphadon said. “We also offer a master’s degree with a focus on security and digital forensics for both the authorities and for other people.”

Pol Lt Col Phatthana Sukarasut, a DSI case expert for technology-related investigations, applauds the DFIT for its initiative to further develop knowledge of digital footprints.

He says the DSI needs officers who can effectively probe the cyber world in criminal cases.

The agency is also cooperating with the DFIT in constructing a guideline on collecting digital evidence to set a standard for Thai officers.

However, Mr Nopphadon said more work still needs to be done.

There is a need to invent new software and reinforce skills in searching and making use of digital footprints, he said. “Now we are just in the development phase,” he said.

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About the author

columnist Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham
Position: Reporter