Big Brother Forensics: Device Tracking Using Browser-Based Artifacts (Part 1)

[Author’s Note: Geo-location artifacts have been a frequent focus of my research, and I am amazed at how quickly they are permeating operating systems, applications and file formats.In the fall of 2011 I had the pleasure of writing an article for Digital Forensics Magazine focused on browser-based geo artifacts, where much of this series was originally published.]

One of the more revolutionary forensic artifacts to emerge in recent years is geo-location data. Geo-location gives us an accurate means to identify the physical location of an item on Earth. It is now possible to determine where in the world a laptop or mobile phone has been, solely using host-based forensics. In a world of increasingly mobile devices, geo-artifacts can provide a crucial extra dimension to our investigations. With it, we now have the potential to answer who, what, when, why,and where.

The trend towards mobile computing is unmistakable, with laptop computers outselling desktops for several years. Forrester Research estimates tablets, netbooks, and laptops to be 73% of computer sales in 2011. While an increasing number of smartphones contain Global Positioning System (GPS) radios, the technology has been slower to be adapted to mobile computers. However, devices can be geo-located and store location artifacts even if they do not contain a GPS capability. In fact, in urban locales and particularly indoors, GPS can be highly unreliable. Technologies like WiFi network positioning and cell tower triangulation often augment or replace GPS. If a device is connected to the Internet and has access to GPS, a cellular modem, or a wireless network card, geo-location data in some form is likely already being generated and stored. This capability has sparked a creative gold rush, with an ever-increasing number of software applications racing to become “location aware”. At stake is a slice of the $billion mobile marketing industry. Envision walking by a restaurant and being alerted to a half price lunch special via your mobile device; or arriving at a conference and immediately pinpointing the bars and restaurants where your contacts are located. These applications exist and digital forensic examiners can use the data generated to pinpoint the location of a device at a specific time.

This is an update to an article previously published in Digital Forensics Magazine and is posted on and cross posted from the Authors blog by agreement. You can read the rest of the 1st installment here:

Ed

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