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Damaged Device Forensics

Written by DFM Team


Damaged Device Forensics

In evidence lockers around the world, damaged devices sit waiting for someone to unlock the data needed for investigations and legal matters. These devices may hold the keys to solve crimes or clear names of those who have been wrongly accused but the data is considered inaccessible. Devices that don’t function as they were originally designed are often incompatible with the digital forensics tools we rely upon for extracting data. Steve Watson of VTO Labs is a man obsessed with damaged digital devices. About five years ago, Watson received two damaged mobile devices at his lab bench. Both devices had been exposed to liquids but each failed for different reasons. The mobile phone experienced an electrical arc across the board after the user attempted to charge the phone fresh out of the swimming pool. The wearable device endured a wash cycle through the laundry machine and the solder was eaten off of the board around several key components.

This drove Watson to the scientific literature to understand what research had been completed regarding the retrieval of data from damaged devices. To date, only one peer reviewed journal article has been identified regarding liquid damaged devices and the identified article was not focused on data acquisition. (Dudeck, Brennan, & Embury, 2012).

The first step into the research of damaged devices led him to secure a case of mobile phones, charge the batteries, add data to the devices then throw them in a freshwater lake. The devices were pulled out on defined intervals to examine and document the damage to the devices. What started as an expensive hobby (as defined by his wife) has grown into the largest damaged device forensics research program on the planet!

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Scott C. Zimmerman

Scott C. Zimmerman is a CISSP qualified Information Security consultant and presenter

 

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