Purdue News

March 16, 2006

Portable digital devices create opportunities for cops and robbers

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — High-powered, small-scale digital devices, such as a new "smart phone" with a 12-gigabyte hard drive, make it surprisingly easy for thieves and police to gain information about its users, according to a Purdue University cyberforensics expert.

"These are personal oracles," said Richard Mislan, assistant professor of computer and information technology. "If I get hold of your device, I can know who you know, what you know and even what you are likely to do next."

Cell phones that are more powerful than personal digital assistants are graduating from picture-taking to video-making and can run a variety of office software. Mislan said criminals can wreak havoc when they obtain the volume of personal data these devices are capable of storing, such as personal address books and photographs and contact information of family members, including children. He recommends digital device owners protect themselves with security technology, including passwords and "locks," and emerging biometric access measures like fingerprint and facial recognition.

"Unfortunately, nobody wants to use passwords or the locks they already have on their devices," Mislan said. "They just want to plug and play. The desire for maximum convenience leaves the data in their devices very vulnerable."

Criminal investigators also are increasingly interested in what information they can acquire from digital devices, Mislan said. He teaches law enforcement agents and Purdue students how to circumvent both simple and sophisticated barriers to access the potential treasure trove of evidence contained on cell phones, MP3 players, portable storage devices and personal digital assistants, even from deleted files or destroyed devices. Information mined from such sources is helping convict drug dealers, pornographers, pedophiles and murderers, he said.

Mislan recently helped Virginia state police access information from a cell phone that revealed what police originally thought was a drunk driving accident could have been premeditated murder.

"These devices could be the smoking gun," Mislan said.

Writer: Jim Schenke, (765) 494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Richard Mislan, (765) 494-2563, rmislan@purdue.edu

Jennifer Kurtz, CERIAS director of strategic relations, (765) 494-7806, jkurtz@cerias.purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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