Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
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Digital investigation tools keeping pace with tech advancements

Digital advancements are progressing so rapidly that it can be difficult for those conducting forensic investigations to keep on top of developments, says Ryan Duquette, principal of Oakville-based Hexigent Consulting.

But fortunately, technological tools used in digital investigations are keeping pace, he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“One of the interesting things about this field of work is it changes almost daily. We constantly update our tools, learn about all of these different platforms and programs, and find new ways to look at data,” says Duquette, whose firm carries out forensic examinations of evidence collected from digital devices, such as cellphones and computers, along with systems and networks.

“If Microsoft, for example, comes out with a new operating system, it can change how and where much of the data is being stored on a computer. It means we may have to relearn how to find various places that evidence is stored. The ever-changing landscape is fascinating and keeps us on our toes,” he says.

The average user has more data than ever before, thanks to technological advances that provide an abundance of avenues for people to share their information through social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name just a few, Duquette says.

But advances have “also given people, like law enforcement and other investigators, ways to look at that data in a more efficient and effective manner. I know that some backlogs in law enforcement are enormous because of the amount of data and devices that they have to look through,” he says.

The size of an average computer hard drive has grown “by leaps and bounds” in the last five years and it’s only going to get larger, Duquette says.

“The amount of data that one person can have is enormous. And to root through that manually would take forever. It absolutely would. So we now have technology that helps us gather that information and organize it efficiently.”

The advancements in technology have also helped Hexigent become more efficient and effective in the digital investigations it conducts for law firms, he says.

"Some of the tools allow searches using keywords, for example. As the technology advances, tools like that are going to become even smarter. They’ll be able to look at the context of all the data and show connections between people and evidence, which is already somewhat there."

His firm is also retained by law firms to deal with intellectual property theft, which can occur when an employee leaves one company for another. “That’s a common request from many law firms we work with,” he says, "because a connection has to be made between computers, devices or network information from the two companies.

“There’s a great deal of information to look at on either side and then it has to be cross-referenced to each other. The tools that we use are becoming more efficient, but as we move forward, the technology itself is going to make our work that much more effective,” Duquette says.

There are other firms involved in cybersecurity and digital analysis, he says, but Hexigent’s professional investigators not only keep up with new advancements in technology, but they also use the latest law enforcement-type methods.

“I think you can rely on the tools a little bit too much, and many people do, but you obviously have to have an investigative mindset to be able to look through that data and put the puzzle together," Duquette says.

"You can’t just press a button to gather the evidence. It’s not as simple as that. You also have to analyze and contextualize information, and know how to present findings to the stakeholders in a way that they’re going to understand it.”

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