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How a Computer Forensic Examiner Would Investigate the Manti Te'o Case

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In my previous blog post, I discussed several steps to prevent becoming victim of a Catfish. Recently, Manti Te'o went public with Katie Couric on how he "got a phone call on December 6th, that she is alive..." and still claimed that he was a victim, but didn't come forward right away.

Do you still question the validity of his recent statement? USA Today reports that phone records were reviewed by ESPN and support the ongoing relationship, but they have not yet been confirmed.

I want to share with you how a computer and digital forensic examiner would confirm / dispute Te'o's story. Hiring a competent computer and digital forensic examiner could help uncover unknown evidence which could be used to confirm/dispute an alleged victim's statement. Below are several data sources with some brief explanations as to why we would look at them.

The witness statement

  • Who, what, where, when and how? This data source can be used to create a timeline that the Forensic Examiner can leverage to confirm/dispute the victims statements. Digital evidence is stored in a lot of areas. Considering that those who Catfish use what they consider the "anonymous nature" of the Internet, there are ways to try to determine who they really are and/or confirm/dispute the victims statement by simply doing some fact checking/digital forensic analysis. For example, if Te'o claims that he spoke specifically on "X date and X time" regarding Y topic. A forensic examiner could review physical evidence to support/dispute that statement. An independent review of digital evidence in any investigation can be worth its weight in gold.

Service Provider data

  • In order for a successful Catfish to occur, they need to engage with someone on the Internet. So where would one look for a victim? How about some of the most popular social networking sites! Without going into an entire blog post on investigating the Internet, companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon have voluminous amounts of information that is stored behind the scenes that could help you determine who was impersonating your profile or victimizing you with another. However, access to said information is easier said than done. Service Providers in the United States must abide by the Stored Communications Act (SCA) 18 U.S.C. Sections 2701-2712, which essentially states that you need a court order, search warrant and/or subpoena to gather information that would help determine what you were looking for. So to summarize this point -- unless a crime occurred (civil or criminal) you will likely not gain access to Service Provider information. To circle back to the Te'o investigation, Facebook/Phone providers store an incredible amount of information including IP addresses/cellphone tower data etc. So when USA Today discussed cell phone records, they are only showing inbound/outbound calls/duration etc -- which may indicate a cell phone's area code -- which doesn't tell you where the phone actually is. A cellphone provider keeps far more information including cellphone tower data -- which is essentially a record that indicates which cellphone tower a customer is connected to when they make/receive a phone call. That information would speak volumes when trying to determine where Te'o's attacker was calling from. Couple that information with some other examples in this case you just might be able to determine who the attacker is.
Digital Devices
  • Any and all digital devices that were used in the commission of the Catfish could tell a story to a competent examiner. Smartphones, computers, gaming systems, tablets etc. all use applications that communicate (Facebook/Pintrest/Twitter etc). These apps/operating systems can also be exploited further to gain additional information that might help confirm or dispute the victim's story.


The Facebook Application running on an Android Phone

The above referenced data sources can all be used to create multiple eye witnesses to a story. Just like in a traffic accident, the more people who witnessed the event, the better picture you have of what really transpired. Just listening to one witness statement is just one piece of the puzzle.

Some questions for readers --
  1. Do you think there should be an independent review of Manti Te'o's digital devices?
  2. Do you think such a search would be a violation of privacy -- or should he be forthcoming with this information?