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Digital forensics: helping forces bridge the skills gap

Police Oracle talks to a company headed up by a former officer which employs other ex-officers with niche skills to provide digital services to forces.

Damian Walton

Damian Walton

Date - 11th May 2022
By - Cachella Smith

Damian Walton joined the police when business computers were in their infancy and home computers didn’t exist. He completed his 30 years of service and is now the managing director of IntaForensics, which works alongside forces supporting them with the forensic analysis of digital devices.

The company provides digital forensic and cyber security services to forces across the UK, government investigation units, as well as other private and commercial clients.

Established 16 years ago, digital forensics had initially been the backbone of the company, however IntaForensics have since expanded into delivering a wide range of cyber security services.

Forces can either draw up a contract with them for a specific operation or short-term engagement  or agree a longer fixed-term contract for their forensic services.

The company is tasked with analysing digital devices for forces and provided with background knowledge of the investigation and what officers are looking for. Forensic specialists conduct the investigation and  present relevant findings, ensuring the process is completed in an evidentially-sound manner.

“My background is in computer forensics and network investigations […] back when mobile phones were in their infancy and computers were only starting to be associated with criminal activity,” Damian Walton told Police Oracle.

“One challenge we face is the increased use of devices and their storage capacity, the other side is the fast-paced development of technology. That’s a massive challenge for investigators, dealing with that volume of data [and] the future of cloud-based storage means that that’s growing again.

“Cloud storage means data storage is almost limitless, you no longer need to delete photos when your memory gets too full for example. It also causes problems legislation-wise if data is stored outside of the UK.

“It’s a technology-driven world but crime continues as always. I describe it like whack-a-mole, you hit one with a hammer and another one pops up immediately – as technology and criminality develops, we and the police have to develop our skills to match it, but while we are doing that, criminals are also developing and refining new techniques.”

The HMICFRS found that by 2020, all forces had a system in place for examining digital devices. However, in the poorest performing forces, backlogs meant that it could take 18 months before a device was returned to a victim.

Former Chief HMIC Sir Tom Winsor recently spoke about difficulties with data and technology as well as the device backlog in The Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales.

IntaForensics are one company stepping in to help with that challenge. They have employees with a range of backgrounds including those from law enforcement.

Carl Osborne made the jump to the private sector after 11 years as an officer with Northamptonshire where he was in a detective role as Digital Media Investigator.

He had initially worked in the intelligence unit in the control room as an Intel Development Officer. Here, he had the opportunity to do fast time intelligence and was able to get into digital police investigations, before progressing to the detective role.

“I have always been the nerd of the group, I was a bit of a geek in terms of IT and technology,” he said.

“If there was ever a piece of technology introduced in an investigation, I would be the first to grasp it […] so I naturally found my niche there and found that using different tactics which were a bit different to general investigation was my thing.

“There was some pretty ground-breaking cases that we worked on in the control room, where we tracked phones that had been stolen by installing apps on them while they were in the offenders’ pockets, we had a famous armed robbery that we resolved [using a similar technique].”

One of the key areas Carl specialised in was cell site analysis which uses information around mobile telephone use alongside a surveying technique to highlight where a potential mobile phone could be located.

Carl Osborne

Carl described a transition within the policing world in around 2013/14 where digital policing was made a priority. The Digital Media Investigator roles were established in 2014.

However, Carl moved over to the private sector in 2018 with IntaForensics.

“I was frustrated because in the police if you want to get promoted, and you want to go up through the ranks, there's an element of needing to cover all different areas of policing,” he said.

“I had found my niche in a certain area, cyber and digital, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

“I get some rationale behind the promotion process, because you need to have a broad depth of experience, but given the amount of money and time investment that the police had spent on me in that particular area, it struck me as madness really.

“[On top of that] there were the obvious pressures, not just relevant to digital […] You join the police with every intention to do the best job you can for the victims and I think it’s remarkable what the police manage to achieve with the numbers they have. But the issue I found is that you could only spread yourself so far.”

When he first moved to the company, Carl was able to initially focus on cell site analysis, the same role he had with the police.

He now heads a team of seven in the company’s newly formed Digital Investigation Unit which covers all elements of digital investigation, including OSINT/SOCMINT(Open Source and Social Media Intelligence..

“I’ve noticed a big issue with retention of staff [in policing], a lot of my colleagues have left since I’ve left, and there’s a huge recruitment campaign for detectives.

“There are those opportunities out there, that jump is not as scary as people would think.”

IntaForensics are increasing the size of their team and have many open vacancies. To find out more email Debbie.lambe@rsg.ltd

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