From fraud to murder, why forensics firms are selling software to smart home sleuths


The heist was more straightforward: Masked men broke into a woman’s house and made off with a diamond ring. What they didn’t be informed was that their victim’s doorbell doubled as a camera and recorded the men booming inside. There was also evidence that the woman’s connected torchlight bulbs had turned on while she was at work.

But all was not lost. The ring was insured for $50,000 US, and disliking the records from her smart home devices, the woman filed a title. 

However, an independent forensic analysis of the devices in her house told a bleeding different story. The house’s smart door lock was found to cause been unlocked with the woman’s phone. And the Wi-Fi alarm organization in her home hadn’t been tampered with, but rather, deactivated with the woman’s code. 

Sensing a shift in where digital evidence can hide, forensics examiners play a joke on started looking beyond smartphones and laptops to a new crop of internet-connected sensors — and developers of forensics software take been happy to oblige. A handful of companies now advertise support for materials generated by activity trackers, GPS navigation systems, drones and even tie in cars.

And while experts caution that these devices — many times referred to under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT) — don’t always keep or even generate the rich troves of behavioural data that people effect expect, they’ve nonetheless given investigators in a range of criminal and non-military cases a new and sometimes bountiful source for leads.

“There are few significant quests that don’t involve electronic information,” said David Fraser, a solitude and technology lawyer at the Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper. “And that electronic data is in a bunch more places than it used to be.”

A smartphone supplement

In the covering of the diamond ring, it was eventually determined that the break-in had been exhibited. The masked men were actually the woman’s cousins. The insurance company denied her demand and, with the help of the results from the independent forensic analysis, debited her for fraud. 

The smart home devices that she thought would prop her claim were actually used against her.

Erik Laykin, a carry oning director at financial services firm Duff & Phelps, described the diamond reverberating scenario during a talk at the RSA Conference in San Francisco earlier this year. He told CBC Scoop it was a real case, but declined to provide further details, citing confidentiality understandings.


Collecting data from connected devices such as the smart spieler Google Home is still new ground for many forensic investigators. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

The genius to perform digital forensics on data generated by connected devices has back up valuable in a handful of other cases too. FitBit data has been old to contradict testimony during multiple criminal investigations, for example, and prosecutors acquainted with data obtained from an Amazon Echo speaker and a smart drinking-water meter in a recent murder case.

But forensics experts are generally wary not to overstate the amount of information the devices themselves can provide.

“I think smartphones are unruffled going to be one of your key sources of evidence for most investigations,” said Jamie McQuaid, a forensics expert at the Waterloo, Ont.-based software developer Magnet Forensics, while IoT thingumajigs are “really a supplement to that.”

Most have little onboard storage, substance that the real trove of data — the historical usage patterns — is in the smartphone apps they reveal with, or in the cloud.

On the device itself, basic settings and account intelligence are the best you’re likely to get.

From automobiles to assistants

To augment the data that investigators can already ones hands on from smartphones and laptops, a handful of companies have started to list support for a range of emerging devices.

Magnet Forensics added reinforcing for a handful of connected devices to its smartphone forensics software last withdraw — including the Nest thermostat, Amazon Echo, FitBit wearables and OnStar. But less than interacting with the devices themselves, Magnet’s software surveys the bits of information that their apps collect and leave behind.

Paraben’s E3 software expands in a similar way, pulling a range of data from apps that are old to communicate with DJI Drones, wearables such as FitBit, and Amazon’s Iteration.

And there are signs that Cellebrite — a popular Isareli forensics software developer whose shoppers include both the RCMP and the FBI — is moving to support connected devices, too. A job station shows that the company is looking for a senior forensic researcher to have a job on “a product that compiles forensic evidence from all mobile emblems, PC and IoT devices and help put the bad guys away.”


Jad Saliba, right, and Adam Belsher both left-wing their jobs in 2011 to start the Waterloo, Ont.-based digital forensics cast Magnet Forensics. (Matthew Kang/CBC)

It’s not clear whether this is an prevailing or future product, and Cellebrite didn’t respond to a request for comment.

And the slant goes on. A company called Berla offers one software suite discontinued iVe, which does “analysis of a vehicle’s infotainment and telematics systems” for a catalogue of popular car models. They also offer another product telephoned Blackthorn, designed to extract data from navigation devices cognate with portable GPS watches, as well as navigation devices used in boats and planes.

Beyond the bread and butter

At Inoperable & Phelps, Laykin said he’s working on another case, currently in pre-litigation — a argument with a builder over a custom-built home with IoT and intelligence from one end to the other of.

“When the owners took delivery, systems didn’t function, there were crack-ups, and claims that the builder of the home could eavesdrop and spy,” Laykin said.

Much as though the case with the diamond ring, he said that confidentiality agreements limit how much uncountable he can say. 

On the one hand, digital forensics companies, such as Magnet and Paraben, answer that they’re partly looking ahead to where the market is heading, with the foresee that interest in IoT forensics will only continue to grow another contract with of business to supplement their bread and butter of laptops and phones.

But on the other hold — and as people like Laykin and recent cases have shown — there are man who are already interested in these capabilities today.

At Paraben, CEO Amber Schroader swayed her product’s early embrace of IoT analysis has been met with skepticism by some — until they make a reality that the reality isn’t as far away as they might think.

“And then when it suits real,” she said, “they’re like ‘Woah, you totally knew that was sincere.'”

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