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Virtual Chat Rooms, Real Criminals; CY4OR helps uncover the evidence to catch online predators


With approximately 11.75 million UK household’s online, chat rooms and social networking sites are big business, however they carry with them serious risks to vulnerable users. Sites such as Bebo, Facebook and Myspace attract thousands of users who are able to create a virtual persona and interact with other users. This is where the danger lies; people may not be who they say they are.

Potential sex offenders involved in offences such as grooming use chat rooms to identify targets and communicate with them, with the ultimate aim usually to meet up with the victim. The dialogue used during this communication can often form the main body of evidence by the police when building up a case against a sex offender. In an attempt to cover their tracks, the offender may have tried to delete these chat logs on their computer, often with a good deal of success if they are IT savvy.

However, even with very good IT knowledge, it is unlikely that experienced computer forensics companies would not be able to recover fragments, if not complete records of these chat logs and present them as evidence. This kind of evidence is damning and often non disputable due to the way that it is gathered, and the fundamentals of computer forensics.

Keith Cottenden, Forensic Services Manager at computer forensics company CY4OR, has seen dozens of these types of cases during his long career as an investigator:

‘Although most of the larger social networking sites are very pro active regarding their responsibility to protect their users from predators, there are some who slip through the net, and then they of course can go on to commit crimes. We as investigative professionals usually come after the crime has been committed, to uncover vital computer evidence.’

‘The first stage in the investigation would be to seize the computer of the defendant, and where possible the computer of their victim. By doing this you increase the chance of being able to recover incriminating evidence, as obviously the same chat logs would be on each computer, yet a young victim is unlikely to have the knowledge to delete them.

‘We are then concerned with recovering temporary internet files containing chat logs / MSN correspondence. The very nature of IT means that computer based evidence is fact, and so ensuring it is recovered in a forensically sound way is key.’

Internet watchdogs urge parents to monitor their children’s activity when going on social networking sites, and IT giants such as Microsoft, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre offer practical hands on advice about how to help safeguard the internet.

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 Computer Forensics
 Mobile Phone Forensics
 Forensic Expert Witness

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