[FEATURED NEWS] Catching Criminals in the Internet Age

The digital technology boom that has transformed our lives in the past two decades has also reshaped how criminal investigations are carried out. For example, the ubiquity of smartphones has made them invaluable for both criminals and the police, and today up to 97% of criminal investigations rely on data from smartphones as a critical source of evidence.

Police departments around the world have been adding digital technologies to their investigative toolkits, and Singapore is no exception. HTX’s Digital and Information Forensics Centre of Expertise (DIF CoE) has been a leader in deploying cutting-edge technologies in both on-scene and laboratory digital forensics work to enable investigators to recover evidence from crime scenes and rapidly obtain actionable leads to apprehend the criminals.

The range of crimes that can be solved with digital forensics is large and grows larger each day.  James Lan, Acting Deputy Director at DIF CoE, has used digital forensics to solve all sorts of cases including love scams and illegal moneylending, using data extracted from phones, laptops, and other gadgets: “We can gather evidence from SMS and WhatsApp text messages, emails, smart devices like Google Home, and even GPS co-ordinates can help us to ascertain if the subject was where he claimed he was.”

HTx day 16770Senior Forensics Examiner Mohamad Ridzuan using the Chip-Off machine to recover data from damaged mobile devices. Looking on are Acting Deputy Director James Lan (extreme left) and his team-mates from the Digital & Information Forensics forward deployed team at HTX (Photo: HTX)

New Tools for the Digital Age

The scientists and engineers of DIF CoE have developed a range of new tools for the recovery and processing of digital evidence. These include the Digital Forensic Kiosk which investigators -- including those without technical backgrounds -- can use to easily extract and analyse evidence from smartphones and other digital devices. Another tool being developed by the CoE is the Digital Evidence Search Tool (DIGEST), which investigators can use to automatically process large volumes of digital evidence, freeing up their time to concentrate on other aspects of their investigations.

Tools like DIGEST and the Digital Forensic Kiosk are important as HTX’s forensic examiners have to process thousands of electronic devices each year -- a number which will keep increasing -- with each device containing gigabytes or even terabytes of data.

As Lim Tuan Liang, the Director of DIF CoE, observes, “the big challenge is the exponential growth in the way that people are using digital devices and services,” and HTX’s scientists and engineers are continually exploring the best technological solutions to obtain “the most actionable insights” from this ever-growing mountain of data.

HTx day 16356Senior Forensics Examiner Khairul Anwar Bin Ishak using the Digital Forensics Kiosk to extract and examine data from the mobile phone (Photo: HTX)

Keeping Up with the Latest Technologies

Apart from the large and growing quantity of data, HTX’s experts also have to keep themselves updated on the latest developments in hardware development, so that they can equip Singapore’s crime fighters with the capability to extract evidence from the ever-growing range of new electronic devices.

And it is not just physical gadgets. The rise of the Cloud means that investigators have to identify and comb through criminals’ cloud usage as well. As Tuan Liang notes, “In the past, when we arrested someone and seized their devices, we thought everything was there. But that’s not true anymore. If they are using cloud services, they might not store anything on these devices.”

This never-ending need to keep up with technology means that the digital transformation of crime investigation will be a continual process, and as Tuan Liang points out, “the traditional model of investigation is going to be overturned.”

One example of the challenge posed by technological change comes from Mohamad Ridzuan, a Senior Forensics Examiner at DIF CoE: “New technologies are emerging all the time. With better encryption, everything is increasingly more secure, and it is a growing challenge to extract data.” 

Removal of storage chip from the logic board, DIF CoEClose-up of Ridzuan performing the removal of storage chip from the logic board (Photo: HTX)

Passion for Technology and Justice

Like many of the other scientists and engineers at HTX, the DIF CoE director had a childhood passion for technology. His journey began when an uncle gave him an Apple ][ computer, which allowed him to learn how to code in BASIC. From that early beginning he moved on “to future generations of computers, and eventually to the mobile devices we have today, which are more powerful than anything we had then.”

Tuan Liang also has a passion for justice, and he joined the Singapore Police Force after graduating from university. He combined his passions for justice and technology in the field of digital forensics, and prior to leading DIF CoE, he spent almost a decade as the SPF’s Head of Technology Crime Forensic.

Lim Tuan Liang (left) showing then President of Singapore, Tony Tan Keng Yam, the mobile forensic tool, on 27 April 2016 (Photo: HTX)Lim Tuan Liang (left) showing then President of Singapore, Tony Tan Keng Yam, the mobile forensic tool, on 27 April 2016 (Photo: HTX)

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic -- in particular, the difficulty of working from home without access to the lab -- has helped to accelerate one of the director’s long-term projects, which is to enable HTX officers to “work anywhere at any time.” As he stated in a recent interview, “in three years’ time we hopefully will have moved 80% to 90% into a cloud-based environment.”

This future move to the Cloud will empower officers to collect, process and analyse evidence at any location without having to return to or rely on the lab, hence saving precious time when solving crimes. These and other innovations in Digital and Information Forensics will continue to shape the Home Team’s digital transformation.

Watch this video learn more about how HTX’s DIF CoE and Forensics CoE are empowering our frontlines in crime-solving.


(Source: HTX)