Police Turn to Smartphones for Leads

Of all the search tips and tricks we have covered for law enforcement, it turns out that many officers are turning instead to what most suspects carry in their pockets – their smartphones.  New studies have found that police are trying more low-tech means of access into a suspect’s phone.  NPR’s All Tech Considered covers the story in, “Your Smartphone Is A Crucial Police Tool, If They Can Crack It.”

The story begins:

New software and gizmos are revolutionizing police work, with , and other high tech items. As it turns out, though, the single most valuable new police tool is your smartphone.  Rolf Norton, a homicide detective in Seattle, says when he’s talking to a suspect, he keeps his eye open for the person’s smartphone.

The story then goes on to discuss the legal and investigative means through which the police can access the contents of a person’s smartphone.  Surprisingly, there are currently few methods through which police can crack a phone without the suspect’s cooperation, particularly regarding locked phones and passcodes.  However, do not be surprised when more encryption breaking solutions surface rapidly.  This work is beginning to mirror the emergence of computer forensics for police in the dawn of the personal computer.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 31, 2014

Positive Thoughts on the DMV

The DMV is reviled as one of the first rings of the underworld, because of long lines and less than helpful staff.  It is understandable why this comparison exists, because the customers do not want to be there, thus perturbed.  The staff handle complaints all day and that sorrows all of their moods.  It is a negative formula from all sides of the equation.  The DMV does have its uses, however.  DMV.org is a Web site dedicated to helping reduce the stress and frustration people experience with that part of the government. This Web site, though, makes it as clear as a large banner at the top of the page that it is not associated with the government. They provide information on local DMVs, insurance information, buying and selling a car, and traffic violations.

Another use is that they can do criminal background searches.  These criminal background checks are only free if no results are returned, otherwise they will charge a nominal fee.  DMV.org is also a good resource, because it explains how background checks are used:

Generally, government agencies like law enforcement and justice departments, the military, and sometimes even the DMV can access a person’s criminal record with no problem. Certain voluntary actions might require them to ask for your consent; overall, though, authorized personnel can access your criminal record.

DMV.org helps sift through all the papers and forms to get the clear, concise information that tends to disappear at the real DMV.

Whitney Grace, March 28, 2014

Get the Dirt on Someone

Is there a person you know that you want to get the scoop…er…dirt on and regular Internet Web sites are not cutting it?  It might be worth checking out DirtSearch.org.  When you first visit DirtSearch.org it looks like a mass produced Web site for one of those work at home schemes or a generic re-router link that pops up when you type in the wrong URL.  If you dig a little deeper, you will see that it is actually a “Free Criminal, Arrest, Property & Public Records Background Checking.”  So it is an open source public records search, which is not a bad idea.  It asks for people to volunteer and leave a donation.

After conducting an initial search, I found that it searches through many of the normal Web sites that offer free background checks as well as social media and criminal databases.  It even returns pictures of the person, but those are not always an accurate reflection.  In fact, it is always wise to question and double check any of the information pulled up in one of these free services.  DirtSearch.org might do most of the scouring, but it still needs to be sifted through.

Whitney Grace, March 27, 2014

When Search Profiling Goes Bad

It is easy to imagine that Internet searches remain anonymous, but MSN News’ story “Pressure Cooker Internet Search: What Really Happened” proves that it is not, especially on your work computer.  Officers working with the federal joint terrorism task force interrogated writer Michele Catalano, because she conducted searches on the Boston Marathon Bombing, pressure cookers, and backpacks.  Catalano’s husband’s former employer tipped off the police.  They found suspicious searches on his work computer and decided to notify law enforcement officials.

Oddly enough the police seemed relieved when:

Catalano, in her account, said police questioned her husband, who was home alone at the time, about his ‘family’s origins, his recent travels, his wife’s whereabouts and pressure cookers. Did his wife own one?’ He said no, but the family did own a rice cooker. ‘Can you make a bomb with that?’ Catalano said the police asked her husband.  The officers’ curiosity seemed to be satisfied when Catalano’s husband said she used the rice cooker to make quinoa.

Explosive quinoa, now that is a thought.  It does explode with flavor when you add rosemary, garlic, and a little olive oil.  This incident demonstrates how people can track a user’s movements on the Internet.  It’s good in some ways, but others lead to misunderstandings like Catalano and her husband.

Whitney Grace, March 26, 2014

Digital Disappearing Explained

A common phrase magicians use in their tricks is, “Now you see it, now you don’t!”  The same phrase can be used for Internet users who wish to escape from third party information gatherers.   Daily Mail has an articled called, “How To Disappear From The Internet: 9-Step Guide Helps People Vanish Without A Trace And Then Surf Anonymously.”  The article draws its content from WhoIsHostingThis (WHIT), and their nine step plan that has detailed how to disappear from the Internet.  One obvious way is to remove yourself from all social media Web sites and deactivating old accounts.  There are infographics and a detailed list that explains how to go about the process.

It is not a puff piece, but a serious guide to controlling personal information and disappearing all together.  The final few steps of removing demonstrate this self from data clearing houses and deleting email accounts, even contacting legal guidance if necessary.  Once removed, however, users must maintain constant vigilance.

‘In order to maintain your new-found anonymity, you must master reputation management, learn to use dummy accounts, and take advantage of anonymous searching – on sites such as Duck Duck Go,’ explained WIHT. ‘Disappearing from the Internet isn’t for everyone. But if you’re serious about your privacy, your security, and your reputation, taking the time to make yourself invisible online is worth the time and trouble.’

Serious, detailed guides like this are often hidden in other Web results.  Keep it tucked away for yourself and other users who want to disappear, be aware that information can rot after time.  If time passes, seek an updated version.

Whitney Grace, March 25, 2014

Invisible on the Internet

No one is ever anonymous on the Internet.  It is not impossible to keep your information from third parties, it simply takes a little time and tweaking.  PC World’s article “How (And Why) To Surf The Web In Secret,” offers tips to remain hidden and explains its importance.

Not everyone likes the idea of having his or her entire digital lives scraped, analyzed and (in countries with restrictive regimes) controlled outright by third parties. So please consider the following tools and tips, which will hide your IP address and have you surfing the Web in blissful anonymity in no time.

The article opens urging the reader to familiarize themselves with ways to remain hidden before they implement them on their computer.  It then offers a brief explanation about the different techniques and how they can be used.

The article is a decent start to understanding the basics of Internet anonymity.  Take what you learn and than expand on it by reading other information sources.  Soon enough you will be hidden from all prying eyes.

Whitney Grace, March 24, 2014

DOE Patent Information

Patent information can be hard to find and even harder to decipher.   Government information in general can be buried and hidden in counter-intuitive search engines and indexes.  The newly renovated DOE Patents site helps users who are looking for Department of Energy patents, a previously hard to find resource.

The site is described as:

DOEpatents is the U.S. Department of Energy’s central collection of patent information, where research and development intersect with innovation and invention. This collection demonstrates the Department’s considerable contribution to scientific progress from the 1940s to today.

An additional resource to supplement this type of research might be Google Patents.  This search includes all patents in public record, so it can be a bit bulkier and harder to sort through.  More information about how to use Google Patents is available on their help page.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 21, 2014

Exploiting Google Plus for Google Logins

Weaknesses or holes in security of major services can lead criminals to key personal information.  Google offers a generous bounty for those who discover such weaknesses in an effort to close those holes.  One such bounty hunter wrote about his experiences in the article, “Google Exploit – Steal Account Login Email Addresses.”

He begins:

I found a bug that allowed me to find anyone with a Google+ account’s login email address (even if they chose not to share it). This could be used to target specific people or just crawl Google+ collecting emails, and tying them easily to other social accounts as step one of something nefarious (e.g spear phishing, or other account compromise). This has now been fixed by Google’s security ninjas.

For law enforcement, cyber crime can be curtailed by knowledge of these vulnerabilities.  For those who are interested in gathering information through less legal means, these vulnerabilities can be exploited for their own use.  Either way, the Google team knows that complete security is impossible, and even law enforcement should have learned by now that all activity is traceable.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 20, 2014

Aviation Resources Roundup

The recent mystery and certain tragedy surrounding the missing Malaysian airliner has sparked an interest in aviation resources.  Where can you find them and what do they offer?   The Aviationist is maintained by David Cenciotti and is considered one of the best outlets for aviation analysis.

ACIG.org is a forum run by the Air Combat Information Group that compliments the journal and database of the same name.  AviationIntel.com delivers a combination of strategy, technology, and opinion all devoted to aviation themes and news.

Information Dissemination brings its focus to maritime strategy and strategic communications.  Really interested pictures and discussions of new aircraft models are also available.  For more technical specs as well as military rumors and speculation, consider Defence Aviation.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 19, 2014

Social Media Monitoring Goes High Tech for Law Enforcement

The police efforts following the Boston Marathon bombings put a spotlight on how law enforcement is using social media to find and apprehend suspects.   But with all the success of recent efforts, privacy concerns are also emerging. NPR covers the story in their article, “As Police Monitor Social Media, Legal Lines Become Blurred.”

The article begins:

Social media monitoring started in the world of marketing, allowing companies to track what people were saying about their brands. But now, with software that allows users to scan huge volumes of public postings on social media, police are starting to embrace it as well . . . In the U.S., a company called BrightPlanet sells a product that is more explicitly marketed as an investigative tool.  ‘If you had 1,500 gang members, like we do in Detroit — we have their handles, so we’re able to identify what the gang members are doing,’ says BrightPlanet Vice President Tyson Johnson.

Just like all forms of progress, there are two sides with the police emergence into social media.  But officers would do well to mind the liabilities while the boundaries are tested and solidified with this new policing technique.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 18, 2014