Forensics has quietly become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the tech boom. Starting with the advent of fingerprint and DNA databases, the tech has exploded into blood spatter analysis, ballistics, toxicology, nursing, accounting, and the digital and media arenas. Merging with complementary advances in science, it’s now become easier to crack cold cases and solve a crime from the slightest and least visible crumbs of evidence. And that increased proficiency not only means more crimes solved, it means a largely increased deterrence factor, and providing digital evidence to solve crimes.
But there’s still plenty of red tape, antiquated systems, and waste that gets in the way. Between paper recordkeeping, disaggregated logs of evidence, and bulky, outdated lab equipment, there’s plenty of room for improvement in forensic science and investigation.
And that’s where these applications come in. Originating in the private sector, they’re able to bring a market-driven, user-friendly, time-efficient approach to the field of forensic science and investigation. Some are already being adopted by federal and local law enforcement agencies, while others are putting out a blueprint for what’s 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, which said that the apps had to be:
There’s 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.
Mobile Detect, by DetectaChem, brings narcotic testing out of the lab and onto the smartphone. When combined with purchasable pouches ($40 for 10 pouches), the app can test for methamphetamines, opiates, and other narcotics. After a sample is swabbed into a pouch, a user scans the pouch’s QR code through the app, which delivers results in seconds. 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 generating advanced reports, accessing DEA fact sheets and library resources, and logging 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. Other test pouches can be purchased to detect illicit substances such as fentanyl, meth/MDMA, cocaine, and homemade explosives.
CrimePad, by Visionations, is bringing crime scene investigation out of the paper-based era and into the 21st century. As forensics has grown in capability and scope, the sheer amount of evidence that needs to be logged, categorized, and shared, has grown enormously. And that evidence, up until recently, 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 changes all that by collecting the 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 over 250 different agencies across the United States.
CrimePad is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android devices that have access to a browser. The test version, as well as one complete version, may be unlocked for free, with quotes available for licensing it to an entire law enforcement agency.
The MOBILedit Phone Copier, by Compelson, is a smartphone application from a team of forensic experts that have developed products for the FBI, CIA, and US 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 can take place quickly, on the go, via cable, Bluetooth, or WiFi.
While it’s gained some traction as a consumer application, digital forensics professionals can and do use the app to clone a suspect phone and analyze the information on a different device or desktop. The new message archiving feature allows for data from multiple different phones to be transferred to a single device, where it will be automatically organized and ready for analysis and cross-comparison.
The app is available for both Android and iPhone, for free, with in-app purchases for cloud storage and added features available.
The Forensics Acquisition of Screenshots (FAS) app, by Envolve Forensics, is bridging the gap between digital forensics and judicial compliance. The application allows for screenshots on a phone to be put through the acquisitions process in a seamless manner, logging them through a secure server, where they are stored for up to three years.
By offering courtroom-ready screenshots at the tap of a button, it’s the first app of its kind to guarantee authenticity, inalterability, and compliance of digitally captured images. Designed in conjunction with best practices offered through international regulations, scientific journals, and the forensic community, it puts all the legal hoops and IT hurdles behind the screen and reduces 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 of five, 20, and 100.
bMOREsafe, by Mercy Medical Center and Mongoose Projects, is a forensic nursing app that does what nursing does best: empower, educate, and ease the patient. While nurses themselves don’t use it, it’s a helpful self-reporting tool at their disposal when dealing with vulnerable patient populations.
Designed to be used by possible victims of domestic or sexual assault in the Baltimore area, the question-driven app provides a personal and compassionate way of determining the next possible courses of action. The privacy of answering those questions first on a phone, instead of with a stranger, can improve outcomes, reduce repeat incidents, and encourage a more candid dialogue with a forensic nurse looking to piece together what’s occurred. And the app informs the user about what local resources are available, letting them know what to expect and who to reach out to for help.
The app is free and is compatible with Android and Apple devices.
Python Forensics Tutorials, by Security ADDA, provides aspiring digital forensics experts with tools they’re likely to use throughout their careers. Python, the most popular computer programming language globally, has built-in capabilities to support digital investigation and maintain the integrity of digital evidence. This tutorial 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, 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 in the Play Store, as well as online in text format. But do note that 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. And in the alphanumeric hexadecimal soup of codes and charts that comprise digital forensics, having it all at one’s fingertips can save an investigator time and energy.
The guide’s brisk 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, it contains an ASCII table with conversions to decimal, hexadecimal, octal, and binary. But don’t think of this as a textbook or tutorial, think of it as 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 Apple devices only, with multi-platform text versions available through Lock and Code’s website.
Forensic Accounting Exam Prep, by Upward Mobility, is a study 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 over 400 test questions, practically every area of forensic accounting is covered, from fraud prevention and deterrence to professional responsibilities to both fundamental and specialized forensic knowledge. You can take timed quizzes, get immediate feedback on your answers, or review what you’ve missed.
While this app is not directly endorsed by the certification bodies who make the official tests, the savings of cost between this app and an official preparatory course is significant. The app is available on both iPhone and Android, with the first 50 questions free, and an additional 400 questions able to be purchased for $6.99.
Andriller, by Informer Technologies, is the one PC-only application on this list, is by far the heaviest lifter of them all. It performs read-only, forensically sound, non-destructive acquisition of the data on any Android device. And it’s not only able to capture the entirety of a phone’s data, it’s also able to crack lock-screen passwords and swipe patterns, and decode app data and communications.
If you ever wondered how digital forensics experts sidestep all the cat pictures, GIFs, and background noise on a suspect’s phone, it’s through an application like this, which not only extracts and decodes data but parses it into folders and delivers a companion Excel report.
Of course, these sorts of operations aren’t possible without a desktop or laptop operating system—for now. As such, Andriller is currently only available for Windows and Linux, and its free trial licenses last 14 days, while a one-year license costs $99.99, with 50 percent discounts available for employees of government or law enforcement agencies.
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.