Forensics has quietly become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the tech boom. Starting with the advent of fingerprint and DNA databases, innovation has expanded into blood spatter analysis, ballistics, toxicology, nursing, accounting, and the digital and media arenas.
This technological boom in forensics complements other advances in science so that it has become much easier to crack cold cases and solve crimes from the slightest and least visible crumbs of evidence. That increased proficiency helps law enforcement, providing a strong deterrence factor and providing evidence to solve crimes.
That being said, there is still plenty of red tape, many antiquated systems, and a lot of waste that gets in the way. Between paper record-keeping, disaggregated logs of evidence, and bulky, outdated lab equipment, there is plenty of room for improvement in forensic science and investigation. That is where phone apps come in.
Originating in the private sector, applications can bring a market-driven, user-friendly, time-efficient approach to the field of forensic science and investigation. Federal and local law enforcement agencies have already begun to adopt some of these apps, while the others are laying out a blueprint for what is likely to be massively adopted in the future.
In selecting from the various apps for forensic science and investigation, we had three tenets for our methodology:
There is a lot of noise out there, but there’s treasure, too. Here are some of the best apps for streamlining and improving forensic science and investigation, both in education and practice.
MobileDetect by DetectaChem brings narcotic testing out of the lab and into the smartphone. The MobileDetect app tests for methamphetamines, opiates, and other narcotics by capturing a photo of a MobileDetect Pouch ($24.90 to $34.90 each) that contains a testing sample and analyzing the reaction that has taken place.
The presumptive colorimetric field test pouches register even non-visible amounts of residue. By replacing the old industry standard of color charts with a system that adjusts for situational lighting, the app reduces the possibility of human error and inherent bias.
Additional features include the ability to generate advanced reports, access DEA fact sheets and library resources, and log tests with chain-of-evidence information, such as pictures, GPS coordinates, and notes. The app works with both iPhone and Android and is free to download.
The Journal of Forensic Sciences by John Wiley & Sons brings the official publication of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences to your smartphone. The app provides users with the most high-impact content of its peer-reviewed publications, allowing one to stay on top of the latest research, issues, and trends in forensic science.
Coverage areas include criminalistics, toxicology, pathology, psychiatry, questioned documents, digital and multimedia sciences, and more. Users and journal subscribers may receive alerts on new issues or topics of choice, download articles to take them offline, find quick links to references and supporting documents, and browse issues before purchasing.
While the app is available for free on both the iPhone and Android, the journal’s annual print subscription costs $662. That said, the app allows users access to abstracts, a trial issue, and the opportunity to make in-app purchases of articles or issues.
CrimePad by Visionations brings crime scene investigation out of the paper-based era and into the 21st century. As forensics grows in capability and scope, the sheer amount of evidence that needs to be logged, categorized, and shared, has grown enormously. Up until recently, that evidence has been recorded on a variety of uncollated and antiquated platforms, often during the critical first 48 hours of an investigation, taking up precious time.
CrimePad collects information more quickly and efficiently in a centralized location that can be shared amongst all branches of an investigations team. Developed by industry professionals with decades of experience working with federal and local law enforcement, the app is currently used by more than 250 different agencies across the United States.
CrimePad is available through the Chrome browser on the Android and in an app on the iPhone. The test version and one complete version is available for free, with quotes for licensing to a whole law enforcement agency.
The MOBILedit Phone Copier by Compelson Labs is a smartphone application from a team of forensic experts that have developed products for the FBI, CIA, and the U.S. military. This particular application can copy contacts and messages from almost any make and model of phone and transfer them to a new one. The transfer happens quickly and on the go via cable, Bluetooth, or WiFi.
While it has gained traction as a consumer application, the app is more widely used by digital forensics professionals who need to clone a suspect’s phone and analyze the information. The new message archiving feature allows for data from multiple different phones to be transferred onto a single device, where it will be automatically organized and ready for analysis and cross-comparison.
The app is available for iPhone for free with in-app purchases for cloud storage and added features.
The Forensics Acquisition of Screenshots (FAS) app by Envolve Forensics is bridging the gap between digital forensics and judicial compliance. The application allows for phone screenshots to go through the acquisition process seamlessly. This means that screenshots that have been stored in the app can be brought to court with legal value. By offering courtroom-ready screenshots at the tap of a button, it is the first app of its kind to guarantee authenticity, inalterability, and compliance of digitally captured images.
Designed in conjunction with best practices in international regulations, scientific journals, and the forensic community, the app jumps through all of the legal hoops and IT hurdles to reduce the investigator’s process to a few clicks.
The app is available for free on Android devices and comes with five free acquisitions. Further acquisitions can be purchased from Envolve Forensics in bundles.
Python Forensics Tutorials by Security ADDA provides aspiring digital forensics experts with a set of tools they are likely to use throughout their career. Python is the most popular computer programming language in the world. It has built-in capabilities to support digital investigations and maintain the integrity of digital evidence.
This tutorial app goes over the basics of forensics and naming conventions, as well as network forensics and validating information sent or received by third parties. The mobile forensics chapter covers both the manual examination of mobile devices and the implications of rooted smartphones and JTAG adapters. From Linux to cracking encryption and hash functions to time protocols, each of the 20 sections in this tutorial explores a different area of the forensic capabilities within Python.
The app is available for free for Android users, as well as online in text format. Due to the highly technical nature of the material, some previous exposure to Python is a prerequisite to benefiting from this tutorial.
The Computer Forensic Examiner Quick Reference Guide by Lock and Code transforms a digital forensics staple into an on-the-go application. In the alphanumeric hexadecimal soup of codes and charts that are digital forensics, having it all at one’s fingertips can save an investigation time and energy.
The guide’s 50 pages cover the intricate file systems of Microsoft’s NTFS as well as Windows artifacts such as the Windows Registry, Internet Explorer, the Recycle Bin, Event Logs, and Prefetch. In addition to a page on file signatures, the guide contains an ASCII table with conversions to decimal, hexadecimal, octal, and binary. Not a textbook or tutorial, the guide is more of a cheat sheet of notes for the exam that is your day-to-day work as a digital forensics specialist. This is a highly technical guide for those deep in the digital murk of cyber forensics.
The app is available for download on iPhone only, with multi-platform text versions available through Lock and Code’s website.
Forensic Accounting Exam Prep by Upward Mobility is an application designed for aspiring forensic accountants. The application’s test questions prepare a user for certification exams in either forensic accounting or fraud examination. Preparatory materials are primarily focused on certification through AICPA, ABFA, and ACFE.
With more than 400 test questions, practically every area of forensic accounting is covered, from fraud prevention and deterrence to professional responsibilities and fundamental and specialized forensic knowledge. Users can take timed quizzes, get immediate feedback on their answers, or review what they missed. While this app is not directly endorsed by the certification bodies who make the official tests, the cost savings between this app and an official preparatory course is significant.
The app is available on Android for $6.99.
Andriller is the one PC-only application on this list and by far the heaviest lifter of them all. It performs read-only, forensically sound, non-destructive acquisition of the data on any Android device. The system can not only capture the entirety of a phone’s data but can also crack lock-screen passwords and swipe patterns, and decode app data and communications.
For those who have wondered how digital forensics experts sidestep all the cat pictures, GIFs, and background noise on a suspect’s phone, it is through an application like this, which not only extracts and decodes data but also parses it into folders and delivers a companion Excel report.
These sorts of operations are not possible without a desktop or laptop operating system for now. As such, Andriller is currently only available for Windows and Linux. Users can sign up for a free 14-day trial license or a one-year license for $99.99. Government employees and law enforcement agencies can get 50 percent off.
Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.