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A team of computer forensic investigators has pointed out that a character in a recent episode of hit TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation failed to follow a basic rule of looking for evidence: don't switch on the computer. Experts at CY4OR, based in Bury, England, praised CSI for bringing computer forensics to the forefront of public awareness; but they say it does little to reflect the correct and essential procedures that must be put in place when there is suspicion of criminal activity.

In the offending episode, chemistry boffin Greg Sanders (played by Eric Szmanda) walks on to a crime scene, turns on a nearby computer and begins accessing email. Bad move, says Joel Tobias, Managing Director of CY4OR. This is exactly what budding investigators must not do, he warns.

"Not only could this potentially damage evidence, any incriminating data that was uncovered would undoubtedly be thrown out of a court of law as the proper evidential procedures would not have been put in place," he said. "The evidential continuity would have been compromised and a criminal case could collapse."

The temptation for IT departments to become digital detectives and deal with a breach of security in house is understandable, says Tobias, as companies worry about investor confidence, company reputation and business in general. It can also be fun. However, there are a few basic steps to follow, to minimise exposure and resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

CY4OR's guide to crime scene investigations

  • Treat the matter seriously. Tell your legal team not your colleagues about your suspicions.
  • Do not inform your IT department. Instead, hire computer forensic experts.

Professional analysts from reputable companies adhere to ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officer) guidelines, can identify digital evidence quickly and ensure that it will stand up in court by following the correct procedures. They can even image your computers at night, to avoid inevitable discussions by the water cooler.

The principle of forensics which says that "every contact leaves a trace" cannot be emphasised enough, says Tobias. "There is a time and a place to leave it to the experts, and this is it," he warned

Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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