Forensics expert takes crime fighting hi-tech

East African Data Handlers Managing Director George Njoroge during the interview in his office last week. [Photo: Collins Kweyu/standard]

It is getting harder and harder for people with dubious intent to cover their tracks, as investigative equipment goes hi-tech.

No longer just the stuff of television shows, these gizmos are now taking pride of place in Kenyan investigations.

Mr George Njoroge, a forensics expert and the managing director of East African Data Handlers, is among those making this possible.

For instance, his data recovery firm was recently hired to investigate a case where a fired bank employee sent alarming messages to clients, telling them to withdraw their deposits because the institution was allegedly going under.

Extracting data

“In this particular situation, we had to trace who sent the message, from what machine and on what date. We successfully nailed the culprit,” he said.

Since it was established two years ago, the firm has taken on hundreds of cases from individuals, institutions and even the police.

“The field of forensics is very wide, but we specialise in computer forensics, which is used for solving fraud in banking institutions and other corporates,” said Mr Njoroge, who is in his 30s.

“In computer forensics, there are two divisions: computer and mobile forensics.”

Mobile forensics deals with extracting data from mobile devices, including mobile phones and tablets. This comes in handy when such devices are recovered from a crime scene or found on criminals.

“You also use mobile forensics when you want to find out the identity of somebody who has insulted or threatened you through a text message or phone call,” Njoroge said.

“The biggest case at the moment where mobile forensics has been used to present evidence and allude intent is the Oscar Pistorius murder case in South Africa. Mobile forensics has been used to show all the messages he exchanged with his late girlfriend.”

Divorce proceedings

Using mobile forensics, one can extract information from a cellphone’s entire active lifespan, which enables investigators follow a trail of exchanges to build a case.

“We have handled many situations in divorce proceedings where one spouse gets a court order to carry out a forensic audit on the other’s phone to prove unfaithfulness.”

The relevance of the technology, Njoroge said, is its ability to present evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, reducing the chances of imprisoning innocent people.

“On the other hand, computer forensics is about computer fraud, or cybercrime, including stealing property or information from organisations.

“For instance, when investigating bombing suspects, one can use computer forensics to see what websites they had been visiting on their computers or mobile devices. If they had been looking up how to make bombs, then this is incriminating evidence.”

One of the biggest fallacies some people believe is that they can hide behind a false email or social media account and abuse or malign people.

“Currently, we are dealing with more than 15 such cases. Our job in these situations is to use computer forensics to try and establish who created the email or Facebook account, where it was created, how the Internet was accessed, what machine was used, what its IP [Internet protocol] address is. Our success rate in such cases is almost 100 per cent.”

So how lucrative is the computer forensics business?

“The lowest we charge is Sh150,000, while the highest ranges between Sh8 million and Sh9 million,” said Njoroge.

“This is not a bad business given the fact that the jobs take between one week and three months to complete. For instance, investigating an abusive email can take a few weeks, while retrieving data from a smashed phone might take a month or two.”

One of the more public cases the company has handled is the death of Ms Mercy Keino, a university student who lost her life under unclear circumstances after she attended a private party in one of the city’s suburbs. East African Data Handlers was called in to forensically extract a video from the scene Ms Keino was found, which was used in the inquest.

“Being the only company offering this service in this part of the world, we can say it’s a growth market and it will eventually become bigger as time goes by,” the Russia-trained Njoroge said.

“We are also currently the only company in Africa that does mobile chip forensics, where we use the chips from a completely destroyed phone, maybe from a bomb scene, to extract evidential data for use in a court of law or for investigations or other purposes.”

The challenges

However, it has not all been smooth sailing. The biggest challenge his firm faced in its early days was the lack of a legal framework governing cyber evidence, which made its admissibility in court difficult. But these laws are now in place.

Njoroge said a well-equipped forensics laboratory in Kenya would be great for the country as more crimes would be solved since the police would present watertight evidence in court.

“Forensic evidence is bullet proof and beyond reasonable doubt,” he said, adding that in the last two years, more than 100 cases have been prosecuted from evidence his firm has provided.

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