Mobile Devices: A Forensic Perspective / by Matthew Ellwood

What is a Mobile Device?

Mobile devices are part of daily personal and business life.  They have become crucial for a variety of tasks: organizing, communicating, storing data.  

A mobile device is just a handheld computer, with its own operating system and network connection, such as 4G or LTE.  There are many varieties of mobile phones and tablets that can be used as stand-alone computing devices or in tandem with a conventional computer.  These devices have global positioning (GPS), messaging, and Bluetooth capabilities.  

Each device stores data in different ways.  This article discusses the value of mobile devices from a forensic perspective.

Device Capabilities

Typically a mobile device is used for communication, data storage, GPS, calendar storage, and also Internet browsing.  

Each of these functions may be relevant in a case. A phone call will leave a record of whom the user was calling, the number called, the time and date of the call.  Text messages sent or received on the device are stored on it, and are a potential source of relevant case information. GPS technology can monitor where one travelled and record the location where pictures were taken.

A typical mobile device can hold 16 to 64 gigabytes (GBs) of information, some even more. Thousands of pictures, documents or messages that could be relevant to a case.

Forensic Importance

Mobile devices raise a host of concerns. An employee’s device in a firm may hold confidential client information, or private firm information. such data must be  preserved and secured.  Acceptable use policies should address mobile device use, and the security concerns that surround them.  

Similar concerns arise when an employee leaves a firm, given the amount of data that can be stored on a device, or copied to one easily and discreetly, using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi transfers, SD cards or email.  

Another concern is secure password protection. Passwords must not be “1234” or “password”. They must be complex strings, with letters (upper and lowercase), numbers and symbols, to provides proper protection of personal and business data on the mobile device.  Mobile devices that are not password protected are vulnerable to access by strangers if they are  ever lost or stolen.  

The average user doesn’t know how much of their sensitive data is stored on their mobile devices in formats that are easily accessed if the device is lost or stolen. Litigators, especially those in  should be aware of the potential source of valuable information that a mobile device may be.