Bitcoin Forensics - The book


The table of contents is done!  Or at least the tentative table of contents is done.

You'd figure that a table of contents would be the easiest thing to write for a nonfiction book, but not only is it not the easiest, but it changes as you write.  I've learned that a good plan for a table of contents helps keep the book focused, but I also learned that as you research, you either add or subtract to the original plan.  Some of the book has been started as well, but the table of contents is what I want to get out for a few reasons.  One, build your interest in cryptocurrency investigations and get you excited about the book, (2) get input if you have it on what you would like to see in the book, and (3) check if you have interest in contributing to the book process.

The tentative table of contents
  • Introduction
    • You should maybe get started learning this sooner than later
    • Eventually, every case where money is involved will involve cryptocurrency
  • Chapter 1 - Money
    • Currency
    • Physical money
    • Virtual money
  • Chapter 2 - Money Laundering
    • Traditional methods (simple to complex) with physical money
    • High tech methods (simple to complex) with virtual money
  • Chapter 3 - The Blockchain
    • It is not just for Bitcoin
    • Blockchain is a big deal
  • Chapter 4 - Wallets, Exchanges, and Transactions
    • How to use cryptocurrency
    • How cryptocurrency changes everything in money laundering investigations
  • Chapter 5 - Anonymity and Cryptocurrency
    • You are not anonymous when using cryptocurrency
    • You are anonymous when using cryptocurrency
    • The Dark Web Markets and Cryptocurrency
  • Chapter 6 - Cryptocurrency Investigations
    • Device forensics (artifacts)
    • Forensic tools
    • Tracking transactions on the Blockchain
    • Seizing wallets
    • Identifying the owner of a cryptocurrency wallet
    • Legal issues
  • Chapter 7 - Case Studies
    • Money laundering related crimes
    • Terrorism
  • Chapter 8
    • Putting it all together
    • Tying suspects to wallets and devices
    • Tying suspects to cryptocurrency transactions
  • Summary
  • Appendix
    • Everything we can put together as resources for you!

We have a general idea of how long each section will be, but won't know until we write it.  So one chapter may be way longer than another simply because there is so much to discuss.  Don't worry about being overwhelmed with cryptocurrency information as this book is for you, the practitioner, the investigator, and the trier of cases.

There is one request (or offer, depending on how you look at it):

Contribute to the book.

If you ever thought of writing a book, or contributing to a book, but wanted to dip your toes in first, this is an opportunity.  I have a handful of crypo cases worked and Tim has more than a bit of research into cryptocurrency investigations.  I already have a few offers of case studies and research that I will be taking people up on; however, if you have interest as a contributor, email me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).  Whether you'd like one of your cases featured in a case study, share some things you did in a case, or share some research findings, we are open to all.  That what we use is credited directly to you in a peer-reviewed, tech-edited, professionally published digital forensics book.  

On case studies you may want to use, I am way familiar with police cases, privacy, and legal restrictions on public disemination. I am also aware of public records laws and if you have a case to talk about, I can easily formally receive a copy through public records and be able to talk to you about it without worrying of releasing any information that should not be released.

On research, if you have done some work already, we're glad to incorporate part or whole, as you would like seen in the book.

Our goal is not fame or fortune, but to write the best book on a topic that will be red hot sooner than you think.  But if you want to be famous...get ahold of me. I'll put in you in the book :)

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Yes, you can place the suspect behind the keyboard, even if Tor is used.

Earlier this year, I was asked to give a talk to a small group of investigators on putting together a case on anonymous criminals on the Internet.  Right out of the gate, from the back forty (ie..the back of the room), I was told that it can’t be done, that only the NSA can do it, and that this was going to be a waste of time.  No kidding.  I never met that guy before in my life, didn’t even start the talk yet, and he instantly reminded me of someone I worked with before, who was affectionately known, “the dinosaur” before he retired.  Within five minutes, I regretted doing this presentation.

Four hours later, the “dinosaur” apologized to me after I gave a dozen tips to try in his cases and gave a demonstration of how some of them can work in just a few minutes.

I bring this up because I know what this detective has gone through, having been given cases where there is no suspect information, or little-to-no evidence, and even uncooperative victims, yet, it’s your case to work.  After a few years, you either get burned out from failures or you learn to beat the technology by using your brain.

One of the demonstrations I did in the talk was to deanonymize a Tor user.  One person created a Tor account in class and sent me an email.  In 5 minutes, I had her IP address, which was verified as her agency’s IP address.

I didn’t use magic. I didn’t use a top-secret government hack.  And I didn’t disclose something that wasn’t already known how to do.  But what it showed was that it can be done on some occasions, and that it can disclose by physical location of where the suspect’s device was being used at a given time.  The recent FBI case of “booby-trapping” a video is an example of this method.

I am not the world’s best investigator, or a most famous hacker, or a super-forensic guru.  But I am someone that will chip away at a problem until I crack it open.  I search and experiment and search and experiment until I find something that works.  I quickly toss aside anything that slows me down or leads me in the wrong direction.  I want tools that work as I want them to work because I believe every case can be solved given the right circumstance.

When I wrote Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, I truly meant every word in the book.  You can do it.   You can not only find criminals who are attempting to hide behind technology, but you can tie them to activity on a computing device.  It may take longer than you want, but you can do it, and when you do, the impact on the lives of others is immense.

For anyone thinking that I give away the ‘secrets’ for the world to see, I am not.  The secrets are already out there, except the problem is that only the bad guys know them.  On top of that, you can tell a criminal exactly how you are coming for him, step-by-step, and you will still be able to catch him just as you warned.  Investigative methods work regardless of the preparation to defeat them, as long as you do it right.  Sloppy work doesn’t work.

As the simplest example, I once did a knock-n-talk for a marijuana grow operation with my partner.  I knocked on the door and asked the owner for consent to search. I told the owner that he had the right to refuse consent, right to restrict the scope of a search, and the right to rescind the consent at any time.  He let the two of us in and of course, we found hundreds of marijuana plants.  My point….at the front door on a table was a book on cultivating marijuana, which was laid open to a chapter titled something to the effect of, “When the police ask for consent to search, just say no”.   Either the grower skipped that chapter or didn’t get to it yet, or politely asking for consent worked.  I’ve worked computer cases with the same story, where books on ‘how to get away with computer crime’ didn’t help the criminal.

The Internet is not evil.  Computers are not evil, (except many Artificial Intelligence robots, but that’s another story).  Even the Dark Web is not evil.  However, anything can be used for evil and criminals have exploited everything from a screwdriver to a smart phone for evil.  Your job, and I am sure your personal mission, is to find them.

With technology becoming easier to use every day, including using for bad intent, it is your duty to know how to use the same technology to defeat criminal use of technology.  Crimes will continue as they have for as long as humanity has existed, with the only difference being the tools used.  With the Dark Web, I foresee more cases of kidnappings, rapes, and murders being facilitated in the physical world because of it.

You can solve these hard to solve crimes.  Trust that you can, because you can.  Here are some of Brett’s Tips:

  1. Don’t quit.
  2. Don’t close a case that should never be closed.
  3. Try and try again.
  4. Learn how you can do something you didn’t know before.
  5. Know that if a device is connected to the Internet, it can be tracked.
  6. Know that if a device has been used to commit a crime, you can tie it to the criminal.
  7. Know that you don’t need superpowers or the Patriot Act to find criminals on the Internet.

I feel so strongly about the importance of this that I wrote two books about it.  I didn’t write the books to be famous, but to give some glimmer of hope for those investigators who only need to see how to do something to make their cases which they didn’t know before. 

For the investigators that would rather listen and watch how it can be done, I created an online course.  I taught the course for a year in rooms full of investigators and solved a few of their cases IN CLASS.  All it takes is a spark to get your brain on the right track at full speed and no brakes.  All it takes is that ‘one thing’.

The course I teach (Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard) is expensive when I give it in a classroom ($1895 a person).  It’s less expensive online ($799).  It’s even less expensive when you find and read blog posts like this ($95).  I feel that if you are reading these types of posts on the Internet, you must be looking for something to help close your cases.  That means you have the drive to do better and be better at your job.  And..I want to help.  Imagine spending a few hours to learn something that will affect the rest of your cases for the rest of your career.  

There really isn’t any reason to not learn how to work computer-facilitated cases when $95 can give you a whole box of “one things” to spark your investigations.  If you put forth the effort detailed in my books or courses, you can run circles around your peers and close the hell out of cases.  Who knows, you may even make the news.  More importantly, you may be saving someone's life.  What could be more important?

Use this link to register for Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard for $95 instead of the listed price of $799 (books not included in this promo).

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Placing the Suspect Behind the Camera

*Hint: If the topic of this post is of value to you, there is a special gift at the end of this post that may interest you.

Let’s say you have a digital photo that is evidence in your case, perhaps critical to the case.  The questions: Who took the photo?  How can you prove it?   How can you tie the photo with a camera to the suspect? 

In the context of this blog, a “photo” means an electronic file (image or picture).  But some of what I am talking about can apply to a physical photo that may be pertinent to your case.  This post mainly focuses on child exploitation investigations, but the methods apply to any case where digital photos are evidence in the case (civil, criminal, or an internal corporate matter).  Whether it is a violent crime or stolen Intellectual Property, a picture can be worth a thousand words (or a conviction).  As for the forensic 'how to', I am only writing on the 'what to do'.  Most likely, you already know how to pull EXIF data from a digital photo, from within a forensic image of a hard drive or smartphone.  If you do this job, you probably got that part mastered.  For the part you don't have mastered (analysis and investigation!), this post is to shore that up.


Proving who took a photo is no different than proving who was behind a keyboard at a specific point in time.  It takes a critical eye, an analytical mind, and an inquisitive attitude.  Regardless if the camera was a typical digital camera or a smart phone, there are many aspects of looking at the digital photo to place the suspect behind the lens.   Some or all of the following may or may not be available, but if you don’t look, you will not find.



Proving it

Without direct evidence, it’s all circumstantial.  But with enough circumstantial evidence, it’s enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific person committed a specific crime.  Without getting into “what is evidence”, let’s talk about the things you can find out about a photo that can constitute evidence.

First, the easy stuff, like metadata (Exchangable image file format, aka EXIF data). EXIF data is simply information about the photo (digital image) that is embedded in the photo.  EXIF data is easy to pull out and see using forensic software, free software, and even through Windows Explorer.  The type and amount of EXIF data depends on the settings and capabilities of the camera.  For example, one camera may have GPS off by default while another camera has GPS on by default.  Also, a user can turn off GPS from being embedded into photos by choosing the setting to turn it off.  Some cameras may include a serial number or unique ID of the camera as metadata, while other cameras will not.

So, depending on the camera and the user selected settings, you may or may not some or all EXIF data to exam.   Best case scenario, you get it all, or just enough to make your case.  EXIF data is also the second thing to exam with a digital exam as content of the photo is usually most important.  I’ll get into content as well as the EXIF data.

Each item below is relevant to an investigation as a source of evidence, corroboration of evidence, or leads to other evidence.  The more you focus in looking at photos in this manner, you faster you become proficient in finding clues.

Device Used (EXIF data)

Make, Model, Type, Serial Number, Unique ID

If this data exists AND you have the camera, you are way ahead of the game because you have the camera used to take the evidence photo (unless it can be proven otherwise)

Geolocation (EXIF data)

Location of the photo

Having the GPS coordinates allows you to (1) find the location of the crime and (2) corroborate the GPS coordinates by visually inspecting the location to match the photo.   As an example, GPS coordinates pointing to a specific location (such as a house), can be visited and confirmed by matching the photo to the location.

Date/Time Group-DTG (EXIF data)

Date and time of the photo

Important because if you can place the suspect at the location (see geolocation above) at the date and time noted in the EXIF data, you are getting close to tying the camera to the suspect.

Content of the Photo

The content can be (1) a photo of the crime, (2) a crime in and of itself, (3) corroborating evidence, or (4) any or all of these.

Examining the content can corroborate or disprove EXIF data.  For example, if the DTG states December 15, 2016 at 2pm, and the GPS states Alaska, but the content shows a moonlit Hawaii beach, then something is wrong with the EXIF data.  Conversely, if the content matches, such as a bright sunny day with a snow-covered tree in Alaska, then EXIF data is corroborated.

Of course, persons in the photo can be important. Victims, witnesses, and your suspect might be identifiable by visual inspection or facial recognition.

Items in the photo can be important clues.  Electronic devices in a photo of a crime scene that have not been seized might be able to be identified.  Violent crime scenes may show blood spatter that may have been cleaned, or perhaps a rug in the photo is no longer at the scene.  New paint on walls can give some implication that damage (bullet holes?) may have been repaired and repainted over.  Anything that is different from the scene as it sits as you see it compared to a photo taken at the time of a crime is suspicious.

Items that similar to other photos in other cases may be important as well.  Using a tool such as Google’s Bedspread Detector can find items of similarity across other cases.  Perhaps there is a child’s toy that is consistently seen in different photos, which could be an item used by the suspect in a child exploitation case.

Look at every item in a photo for clues.  The content is just as important as the metadata.

Photos recovered from devices or media

Other devices that can be tied to the photo, such as computers, laptops, tablets, etc..

Same photo (by hash) or similar photo by content

Compare photos from recovered devices by hash, EXIF data, and content.   The more devices you can identify, the more chance you have at tying the suspect to one or more of the devices.

Photos recovered from websites

From any website or social media site.

Although the EXIF data of photos is usually removed when uploaded to most social media websites, you still may have some EXIF data on other websites.  Finding an evidence photo on the blog controlled by your suspect is a lead to tying it to your suspect.

Photos downloaded from the Internet

From any website or peer-to-peer connection

If a photo has been downloaded from the Internet, it may be tied to a camera, but, it might not be the camera of your suspect.   However, a photo can be taken with a camera/smartphone with Internet access, in which the photo is uploaded to the cloud, and subsequently downloaded.  An example would be a smartphone photo automatically uploading to a Dropbox account and the subsequently downloaded to the suspect’s Dropbox folder on his/her computer. 

Another example of a download that can be tied to the suspect’s camera is where a WiFi digital camera is synched to a smartphone.  Photos taken with the digital camera are automatically copied to the smartphone, which can then be sent to the cloud to sync with local storage on a computer.  The smartphone and computer will show a “downloaded” photo, but the EXIF data will point to the camera used by the suspect.

The suspect

Location corroborated by additional geolocation intelligence (place the suspect at the scene)

DTG corroborated by additional intelligence (suspected placed at the scene at a specific DTG)

Device corroborated by ownership/possession/control of photo device (who owns the camera)

Fingerprints on devices (in cases where photos are critical, it is critical to fingerprint the cameras)

Statements made by witnesses and the suspect (Claims ownership of the camera, but not the photo as an example)

Other photos taken by the suspect and uploaded (

Your photos

The photos taken of the crime scene matched against the photos you find

If you have a photo taken by the suspect of the crime scene, take your own photo to replicate the evidence photo at the same DTG.  Place side-by-side to compare.  What is missing?  What is different? What is there now that wasn’t there before. 

Don’t give up and don’t take shortcuts

Child exploitation cases generally have more than one photo and sometimes upwards of tens of thousands of photos (or hundreds of thousands!).  Reviewing every photo is obviously labor intensive, but as one who has identified additional victims, found more evidence by looking, and closed more cases than not, I can say that it pays to look at the content and the EXIF data to the extent possible.

When software tools make it easier to do, use them to the extent they can do the work of many eyes to at least give you a dataset to find more clues and evidence.  It is easy to find evidence when evidence is plentiful, but be sure to corroborate what you find.  If you have GPS data, verify it.  Does the GPS data and photo content match with the physical location? Check Google Maps to confirm, or better yet, visit the location if the photo content is important to the case.

**Update 8/13/2017**

Thanks to Phill Moore for suggesting this great tool for photo forensics

Brett’s Tip

Find one thing in this post to help make a case.  Find closure for victims.  Convict suspects.  Prevent children from becoming victimized.  All you need is one good clue, one good idea, one good lead, one drop of inspiration.  I hope I gave one of these to you, or at a minimum, gave you something to think about that will be helpful in your cases.

Side note

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with perhaps the world’s greatest forensic company working in the field developing tools to do what this post describes.  I also wanted to give a little bit of inspiration to push you into working harder, digging deeper, and thinking cleverly in your cases.  I know you do a great job already, but if you are like me, you want to do better and learn more.

I created an entire online course in this area of investigations in addition to writing two books about it.   And if you are reading this blog, I’ll give you a unique deal on the online course

Use this link to register for Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard for $95 instead of the listed price of $799.

The books are not included, but you do get the entire 12+ hours of learning to do what can make your cases: Placing the Suspect at the Keyboard.  This discount is steep because the course content is important to the cases that mean everything.  And you are getting it because you read my blog today.  But you may want to hurry, the discount is good only for a few weeks and when the discount link stops working, the discount is over.


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Bitcoin Forensics

Two books in the works.

In between the adventures in life and work, I have been busy with writing.  One, a fiction book, is expected to be in print next year (all on the publisher's schedule).  It’s an exciting book and sure to grab your attention. More on that sometime later.  The second book is another nonfiction forensics book, Bitcoin Forensics 😊.

There were a few topics I wanted to write about for my next forensic book; however, considering the recent cases involving cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Forensics is at the top of the list.  A couple of points on the book before you make an assumption about what the book is or is not:

1. The book is not anti-cryptocurrency.  In fact, this book is pro-cryptocurrency not only as use as a currency, but as an investigative target for investigators when following the money.

2.The book will not be about only Bitcoin.  The book will cover cryptocurrency in totality of all-the-coins, to include the major coins (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc…) and the Altcoins.


Like my other books, it will be written for the practitioner, the investigator, and the court officer with duties of trying cases involving cryptocurrency.  Our goal is to write a book that you can read and put to use on day-one.  Oh yeah, did I say “our”?  I sure did.  Tim Carver is my co-author.   If you know of Professor Carver, then you know that you will be learning all you need with the investigative aspects of cryptocurrency in your cases.  Additionally, we have a few contributors (and on the lookout for more!) that have either conducted extensive research or have conducted successfully cases with cryptocurrency as a money laundering aspect of their cases.

I have one confession to make.   Some time ago (a few years?), Tim asked for my opinion on cryptocurrency and money laundering with criminals.  At the time, I said that I believe it may be years before the common criminal uses cryptocurrency for money laundering simply because of the technology.  “Blockchain technology” is not something that everyday meth dealers may be knowledgeable about.  The other obstacle I thought was that converting physical cash into digital cash is not that easy.  On the other end of the criminal spectrum is the DTO (drug trafficking organization). The amount of physical cash generated alone is enough to prohibit converting into digital cash.  I just didn't see cryptocurrency being a major criminal investigative aspect.

But here comes 2017...  I’ve seen more than a few cases in the news of BILLIONS of dollars being laundered. On top of that, after doing research on cryptocurrency for over a year (talking to Tim generated an interest to test theories in cryptocurrency) and coincidentally getting a case with cryptocurrency being a central target in the case….I think I was mistaken.  Cryptocurrency has come and will eventually be part of every criminal investigation that has any financial aspect.

So, there you have it.  The inspiration of the book came from Tim Carver calling me to ask my opinion, a year of research afterward, a cryptocurrency case to figure out, and finally me asking Tim to co-author a book on it.

If you have conducted a cryptocurrency case or done research into cryptocurrency, and you want to be in the book as a contributor (named or unnamed), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. right away.   If you want to be a bigger part of the book, that is a possibility as well.  Email me and let’s talk.

Until then, expect the book to be in print (or on your mobile device) in 2018.  Cool book topic, and probably one of the most relevant subjects for the years ahead in forensic investigations, both in the criminal case world and private sector engagements.  Don't believe?  No worries.  You will soon enough, just like I did.




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Anonymity: Criminals are only as good as their last mistake

I’m big on privacy, even though I know that practically, the only information that is private today is that which (1) only you know and (2) does not exist anywhere outside your head.  Everything else can be had one way or another, by hook or crook.  Most personal information we willingly give away, such as our date of birth when signing up for “free” online services.  Other personal information we are required to give in order to abide by laws, such as applying for a driver’s license.                         

I’m also big on de-anonymizing criminals.   Supporting privacy efforts while at the same supporting de-anonymization efforts is contradictory, but realty. If you have ever been a victim of a crime where the criminal got away with it, you probably feel the same.  Both aspects contradict each other, where I want to have individual privacy but at the same time, I want to be able to de-anonymize someone who is committing crimes facilitated with technology.  What a dilemma...

I tend to focus on de-anonymization of criminals more since we are on a never-ending trend of breaches, hacks, and theft of personal information, let alone crimes against persons using technology. Two of my books were solely focused on the topic.  During presentations on the subject, I have regularly been questioned on “How do I…” in this case or that case from investigators* looking for the magic bullet.  Given just a 15 second brief of an investigation that has been ongoing for months, my typical answer is – the answer is there, you just have to find it. 

Secret Tip: there is no magic bullet until there is one.

The magic bullet in almost every case is a mistake made by the suspect.  An oversight.  An error.  A bad decision.  Or just plain ignorance.  All on the part of the suspect.  But a mistake by itself is not enough to crack a case.  You, the investigator or the analyst, need to catch that mistake.  You have to look for it constantly.  You have to expect to find where the suspect made the error because if you don’t have the intention to find the criminal’s mistakes, you will not find them.  That is when you find the magic bullet to solve your case, by looking for it and not hoping it drops in your lap.

When you do find the break in an analysis or investigation, everything becomes clear and appears to be such an easy thing that you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.  The fact is, finding the errors is not always simple or easy.  The little mistakes are usually hidden in tons of data and easily overlooked.  Sometimes the answer is plain view and no one sees it. Even when you find the suspect’s mistake, if you do not recognize it for what it is, you will quickly pass it and keep looking without realizing you could have solved your case a few minutes prior.

The steps in finding these mistakes made suspects are:

If you don’t have #1 above, then #2 and #3 won’t matter since you won’t be able to identify the evidence or clues you need.  The first things I do in any case is determine the goal or goals. Sometimes the goal is either dictated by someone else or it is obvious.  If the goal is not dictated or obvious, you have to identify the goal or again, step #1 is useless which renders #2 and #3 just as useless.

When you work with these 3 steps, the 6-Ws naturally come up in the case (the 6-Ws: who, what, when, where, how, why).  You need the above 3 steps as your foundation to actually work a case in order to get to the 6 Ws.  Focus on the 3 and the world is yours.  A tip: not everyone does this.  Many many examiners/investigators/analysts simply collect data without reason other than to collect data with the hope the case solves itself.  Don't be that person.

When I was a new investigator, it seemed that every case I received was like Groundhog Day.  No case was like the last, no evidence was consistent among the cases, and the goals were sporadic (other than “find the bad guy”).  Basically, every day I was starting over as new in each assigned case. In time, I learned a few things from experienced investigators, other things I learned the hard way.   In more than one case, I would be given a hint or a tip that would put me on a path to close a case.  A question as simple as, “Did you try this?” or “Did you look here?” was all I needed to plow ahead.  Sometimes, i would figure out an easy way or more effective means of gathering information and intelligence.  Many training courses focus on the technical means, but not the thinking part.  It's nice to know how to recover deleted event logs, but why? If you don't know why you should do it, you won't get anything out of it because you won't see the clues.

In cases with electronic media, the process is the same as in any investigation you have, whether it is a criminal or civil case (or even an internal corporate matter).  Define the goal so you know what to look for, know where to look, and figure out how to look for it.  Apply this to every case and incident you have and your case closure rates will be much better with less work.

For example, a case involving an unidentified cyber-criminal who is ‘hiding behind the keyboard’ clearly means that the what is anything that ties directly to the criminal.  The specifics of the what is important. The where depends on what you have to work with.  Perhaps you have an email, or network traffic, or maybe even physical media.  Somewhere in that data is the where and you need to know in what part of that data you should be looking.  The how is maybe the easiest part.  Maybe you need to look at metadata, or reverse engineer a file, or simply recover a deleted file.  That’s the manual labor part.  You need to work the brain part first, otherwise the labor will be for nothing.  

Recent cases in the news have shown that this method of investigation works on the most difficult of cases.  I must stress that when you see that a major case was solved by the simple piece of evidence of identifying an email address, that this is not so simple.  Every case has at least one error that was made by the suspect, and to discount looking for that mistake is a mistake on your part.

Any case where the article states that, “Oh, the case was easily solved because the suspect forget his email was in the code” seriously discounts the effort of the investigator who took the time to know what to look for, where to look for it, and how to look for it.  Cold cases are solved the very same way.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

This is what I have been teaching for almost 20 years now.  I believe that anyone from any place in any job with any education level can be a superb investigator.   I have met young investigators from small towns who can run circles around someone with 10 times their experience and education in the largest agencies because they apply the foundation principles of what it takes to solve a case.  Once they learn the how of digital forensics, they are just as effective in the digital world as if they were working a street corner robbery.  It’s not a diploma, or a certificate, or a coin in your pocket that makes you good.  You make yourself good.  If you happen to collect some tokens along the way, add them to a shadow box, but bragging about having certs has no weight if you can't work a case.

Another benefit of getting the investigative skills down is that you can apply it to other areas and other types of cases.  If you have the desire and can finesse the skill, you can run with the big dogs in working any type of case.  I truly mean that in every sense.  My first investigator duties, after being a patrol officer, was a narcotics detective.  I used the skills learned in narcs to solve murders, uncover and disrupt organized crime groups, identify terrorists, and work all types of crimes involving technology.   

Be prepared that when you start solving cases by finding the “easy” things, that those around you will call you names, like lucky or you only solved the case because of a suspect's mistake. Just smile and carry on.  After enough cases, you won’t be called lucky anymore; you will be called good and that is the goal: be good at what you do. 


* I use the term “investigator” to apply to anyone who has the job to find information, curate into intelligence, on which assumptions, conclusions, and judgments can be made.  That means a police detective, federal agent, incident responder, or forensic examiner.





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Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard online course

My newest course is out and it is the best course you will find on the topic.  More than 12 hours of investigative methods and effective techniques to build a case against criminals who use technology to commit crimes.  

  • Learn the methods to track criminals online and in the real world
  • Learn the tricks of the trade (tradecraft) of covert communications and breaking those communications
  • Learn how to build a case that would not have been closed without this course
  • Learn the one thingI that will give you the tools to become not only a great forensicator, but someone that can place a suspect behind the keyboard

Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard was the first digital forensics book focusing on building a good case on criminals who use technology to commit crimes. This also the first course teaching that specific topic.  My intention with this online course is to put you into the mindset of someone working toward identifying the suspect, gathering evidence on the suspect, and proving allegations against your suspect; in effect, placing the suspect behind the keyboard.

If your career has been like mine, most cases are fairly straightforward. Perhaps a suspect was already identified and most of the evidence already seized.  In many cases, whether it is a criminal arrest or being hired as a private consultant, generally, you start with all you need to begin examining the media.  But if your career is like mine, there have been a few cases where that is simply not the case.  This course is not only for the easy cases, but especially for the tough ones.Holistically, this course covers everything you need, whether working in the private or public sector.  Investigative techniques are discussed for both sectors as many methods can be used in both case types.  A few sections are LE-only simply because citizens cannot wiretap other citizens (as an example), however, you can see the differences between a method used by law enforcement and the private sector.  Practically speaking however, the actual methods are the same.  A forensic analysis of a flash drive in a criminal case is not different than in a civil case, nor are the methods to tie a person to a device different.

This course is not just for the average case, but developed especially to address the difficult cases.

Cases where the suspect has not been identified.  Cases where the electronic evidence has not been seized.  Cases where there are many suspects.  Cases where the evidence linking the suspect to the device or crime is weak at best.  For those cases, you need to take extra measures, think out of the box, and use everything at your disposal.  You have to work at putting the suspect behind the keyboard, because if you don’t, it won’t happen. 

Don’t let your case go to the cold-case files.  Solve it!  This course shows you how to do it.  The books detail even more on how to put cases together, especially the really difficult cases where you have little to go.  As for incident response cases (breaches), this is not a course on mitigating a breach, or tracking hackers in cyberspace.  Although, many of the methods will work for just that.   Incident Response can benefit greatly for the sake of sometimes the suspect in a breach must be caught for a variety of reasons.  This course and books brings it to you.

The Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard online course uses the same material as the 2-day workshop with the biggest difference being not working actual cases in class.  As a side note, in a previous class, a suicide case was reopened as a potential homicide case based on course methods in the class!  The methods are proven to work.


Is there a discount for a bulk order?

With 50%, two free books, and free access to the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide course, there are no bulk discounts.

My agency/company will take a week or two to get approval to pay.  Can the discount be extended?

Send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let me know.  I can extend to get approval, but not for too long.

Will there be another promotion after this one?

Most probably, but it won't be (1) 50% off, and (2) may not include the two books, and (3) most likely won't include access to the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide course.  This is the best time to get both courses and both books at this price.

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The 2 Worst Games to Play in #infosec

The “Hot Potato” Game

The goal of the Hot Potato Game is to simply pass off responsibility to the next person as soon as you can before something bad happens.  When the responsibility lands in your lap again, you pass it to someone else as soon as you can.  Eventually, someone gets caught holding the hot potato and they lose (and you win!!).  A similar version of this game is “Musical Chairs” game or “Kicking the Can Down the Road” game.  By the way, it sucks to lose this game.

I have seen this game played in both the government and the private sector.  Any long-time government employee can point to dozens of managers who are experts at this game.   I believe there are so many experts because it is rare for a government employee to actually suffer when losing this game, which only encourages more people to play and gain experience in tossing the hot potato to the next guy at the table.

In the private sector, losing this game is an entirely different matter, especially when PII or PHI has been stolen.  When that happens, fingers get pointed awfully quick and the government comes in with a hammer to smash as many thumbs as they can find.  Did I mention that losing this game sucks?

  1. The “Are We There Yet” Game

The "Are We There Yet" game is another popular game played in both the public and private sector.  This particular game is also known as “We’ll Cross that Bridge When We Come to It” game.   In this game, you know bad things are coming one day, and you accept that being worry-free today is worth the stress of dealing with an incident tomorrow, because we all know that tomorrow never comes.

I have actually seen budgets with anticipated expenses planned for incidents that could be avoided with preparation and less money.  I guess some organizations believe that if they don’t spend money now on preparation (defense), they may not need it for remediation after a breach, so it may make a better business decision.  This game is also known as “Craps”.

When I consult for corporations and government entities, I always advise to not play these games (in a professional manner rather than saying 'don't play these games').  Fortunately, I find that many organizations are spending money now to prepare rather than hope for the best.  The organizations that want to prepare are doing really good, taking advice, and in some cases, going beyond what is required.  In technical terms, I call this a great job.

I have gotten to the point that when I hear a client choose to play either of these games, I don’t laugh out loud anymore, especially when I hear verbatim, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”.   When I hear that, I usually leave a half dozen business cards…

Hopefully you aren’t forced to play in these games and that when you say that you need money and time to prepare for unexpected breaches, you get it.  This same thing applies to internal employee matters too.  Any organization that haphazardly gives out electronic devices without any controls to employees….is an organization playing the hot potato game.  I tend to believe that with so many attacks, so many breaches, and so many organizations frozen with Ransonware, organizations start to take notice.  It's kind of like everyone in your neighborhood getting burglarized.  You can choose to either hope your house is not burglarized or you can install an alarm, lock your doors and windows, and prepare just in case.

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Forensic 4:cast awards.... VOTE FOR MY BOOK!! (pretty please)

Forensic 4:cast awards.... VOTE FOR MY BOOK!! (pretty please)

I am humbled again as my book,.Hiding Behind the Keyboard, has been nominated for the Forensic 4:cast Digital Forensic Book of the Year.  It would be my honor if you would vote for the book. 

The two competing books are also great books, but this one is mine ?

I wrote this book primarily as a follow up to my first book, Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, by adding more topics and material.  John Bair of Tacoma Police Department, helped immensely with the mobile forensic material for which he is an amazing expert.

For both Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard, the intention is to put the reader into the mindset of a detective in order to close a case.  “Closing a case” means to thoroughly

  • investigate (both in the physical world and the digital world)
  • find and evaluate evidence
  • put together inferences
  • draw reasonable suspicions and conclusions
  • eliminate potential suspects
  • identify the real criminals, and
  • build such a great case that the defense chokes on the evidence

In short, the books are intended to show how an investigator can make a case and close it.  In both books, I have practically littered the pages with tips and tricks of the trade gained from personal experience and the experiences of the fantastic investigators I have been paired up with, from small state task forces to many federal task forces. Most of what I learned, I learned the hard way, fought through it, and kept improving on each investigation.  These books give the good stuff up front, the time saving tips spread throughout, and no nonsense in how to physically do the job.  If you work cases, I wrote the book for you.

If you investigate crimes (including civil matters, like corporate issues), you will find more than enough nuggets of gold to make your cases easier and more solid.  That was the intent of what I wrote, for you to close cases and put the criminal behind bars.

By the way, if you don't do real investigations, but write about them in fiction'll find some pretty neat information on the way cyber (forensic) investigations work on the street.

Be sure to vote before May 31, 2017.  I would be grateful for your time to cast your vote and again, humbled even at the nominiation. don't have to have bought the book to vote for it.   If you agree with the purpose of the book, your vote is most welcome.  You even can leave the entire voting selections empty except for the one best book category and just vote for my book. That would make me happy :) 

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The 2 Fastest and Least Expensive Ways to Learn X-Ways Forensics



This is all you need to know: The X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide online course is still available at only $119 instead of the regular tuition of $599 until April 19.

If you missed the promo for 80% with a FREE copy of the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide book, you still have time to get 80% off the online course without a free copy of the book.  This is still a great deal off the 12-hour, $599 course at only $119.  There will never be a discount this steep again for this course, so get it while you can, because the time to register is running out.



XWF Practitioner's Guide Promo Countdown! Wednesday, April 19, 2017 11:59 PM 336 Days XWF Practitioner's Guide Promo Countdown!



My advice to X-Ways Forensics users is to stop thinking you can figure it out by yourself, even if you have been using X-Ways Forensics for any length of time.  There are simply far too many nuances and hidden features that you are missing every time you try to figure it out or use on cases.  If you really want to get down and dirty to learn X-Ways Forensics fast and cheap, here is the ONLY way to do it.

  1. Buy the book (list price is $59.95)
  2. Take the online class (regular price is $599.00)

But, wouldn't you rather want to learn how to use X-Ways Forensics saving even more money?  If so, you want to sign up right now because right now is the biggest discount for the course while getting the most swag! Get up to 80% off the price PLUS a FREE copy of the book and if you act fast enough, be invited to even more FREE trainingFree book offer has expired.

If you register within the next 7 days (April 19), you can get the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide online course at 50% off for only $299.  80% off for only $119.

**UPDATE  4/16/2017**

The promo is almost over for the free book...  


If you do not receive your 80% promo link via Twitter DM, email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll email it to you.

How about even more!  The first 20 registrations will be invited to a live, 2-hr online X-Ways Forensics course with me to demonstrate using X-Ways Forensics as a triage tool and for electronic discovery (this includes using the latest build of the Windows Forensic Environment – WinFE).  These first 25 registations still receive over 12 hours of the online X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's course and a FREE COPY of the book!   The first 20 just filled up the live course, but the promo for up to 80% plus a FREE book is still good.

The course has never been discounted this deep, so this is the best time to take advantage of learning to how you can exploit X-Ways Forensics to its fullest potential, learning from your computer, on your own time, at the lowest price.  

Since 2014, more than 2,000 students have registered and taken my online courses with 24/7 access.  

“It has helped shed lights on things I have missed in the past.”  -student

“I got to say I’m enjoying the videos.” – student

Don't miss the boat!  80% off 12 hours of X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide training plus a FREE COPY of the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide.  ONLY $119 for the regular $599 tuition with a free copy of the book! expired


*For outside the USA, only a Kindle version is available as part of this promotion.  Registrations within the USA can choose between print or Kindle.

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FREEZE! Busted by the Fridge. The ways that tech influences writing fiction, making movies, and busting criminals.

One interesting investigation I had was that of a murder-for-hire in one city that the suspect used a Google search to find the victim’s home address in another city.  Simple enough crime to plan.  Google the name, find the address, do the hit.  Except in this particular case, although the suspect Googled the correct name, there were two people with the same name in the same city and he picked the wrong one.  I called this case my “Sarah Connor” case.

Fortunately, we intercepted the hit before it happened and prevented a random murder on the wrong person (as well as preventing the murder of the ‘right’ person).  In a basic sense, the suspect used the technology of one of the most advanced computer systems in the world (Google….) to attempt a murder only to choose the wrong name in a Google search hit.  This type of criminal incompetence and carelessness is commonplace.  It is also the way that most get caught. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Hollywood’s version of high tech crime fighting.  Minority Report with Tom Cruise showed us that not only can crimes be solved with technology, but that crimes can also be prevented with technology.  As for the technology used in the movie, it could have only been more accurate had a predictive analysis computer system been used in place of the fortune-telling humans (“Precogs”) in a big bathtub.

In a turn-key surveillance system, no person is anonymous.  Whether it is a private business or government agency, no one is immune from potentially being watched, tracked, or reported.  Private businesses use facial recognition for both improving customer service by detecting your mood through facial expressions as well as preventing crime.

“…faces of individuals caught on camera are converted into a biometric template and cross-referenced with a database for a possible match with past shoplifters or known criminals.”  

Criminals who try to avoid using technology are severely limited on the type of crimes they can commit.  That’s a good thing.  A drug dealer without a cell phone is like a taxi cab driver without a taxi.  It is part of the business and can be tracked, traced, monitored, intercepted, and forensically examined.  Technology is a natural and required part of any criminal’s operations.  Criminals not using technology are ineffective as criminals, for the most part.

Criminals who try to avoid surveillance technology in public, such as license plate readers and facial recognition are also extremely limited in the crimes they can commit since they would have to remain in their homes to commit crimes outside of public surveillance methods.  Even then, committing a crime in a home is not without the risk of being monitored, either by a government agency, a private corporation, or an electronic device plugged into an outlet.  If you own a Vizio television, consider yourself tracked, hacked, and sold to the highest bidder.

From Amazon’s Echo to an Internet-connected fridge, data is collected as it happens, and stored either locally on the device or on a remote server (or both).  Depending on how ‘smart’ a home is, every drop of water usage can be tracked, every door opening logged, and every person entering and leaving the home gets recorded.  This does not even include cell phone use that is tracked within the home by providers.  And the computer use!  The things we do on the computer leave traces not only on the hard drive, but also on the servers we touch with every www typed.  Criminals in their home are no more protected from being discovered than on the street.  This is a good thing.

As to the significance of some of these high tech smart home devices, consider that water usage can give inferences as to what was done in a home, such as cleaning up a crime scene… 

During all the years of being a detective, I did trash runs.  Lots and lots of trash runs.  I hated the trash runs until I found good evidence.  Garbage smells really bad, especially during the summer.  Digging through garbage bags in a dumpster in the middle of a hot day can make the toughest person gag or puke.  But you can get some really good information on the criminals you seek. Did I mention it can smell really bad?

That is one of the reasons I really enjoyed moving into digital forensics.  Digging through the garbage of data on a hard drive is a lot easier on the nose than digging through a dumpster.  Plus, the information you get is sometimes a lot better than what you can find in a garbage can.  There are exceptions…you won’t find the murder weapon in a folder on the C:/ drive of a hard drive unless the murder weapon was a computer program. 

You would think that with the amount of technology available and already in place that police would be able to uncover more crimes, find more criminals, and be more effective.  When a smart home can email the home owner a photo of someone ringing the doorbell, newer cars come with pre-installed GPS tracking systems, and a fridge can record a live stream of residents in the kitchen, the ease of finding evidence should be easier…right?

Not quite.

That brings us to the biggest hurdle to crime fighting: incompetency and laziness.  Government agencies are not immune to the same human fallacies found elsewhere. There are hard workers in government just as there are hard workers in the private sector.  Same holds true for laziness and incompetence, which criminals take advantage.

In any case where electronic devices are not being seized for examination, evidence is intentionally being left behind.  I am not referring to the electronic devices that are difficult to find, like a camouflaged USB device hidden within a teddy bear. I’m talking about the cell phone sitting on the car seat of the suspect arrested for burglary.  Yes. I’ve seen it happen.  Part of the reason is that unless lead is flying, most criminal cases and dispatched calls are boring to the responding officer.  As an example, with a residential burglary, the suspect is usually gone and the victim is lucky if the officer even tries to recover prints from the scene.  Stolen car?  Oh well. Fill out the report and call your insurance company.

I have been out of police work for about 10 years and I had hoped this lack of urgency in police work has changed.  But apparently not.  I recently helped someone with their stolen purse from a gym.  I got the call first instead of 911, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I showed up to give some guidance and eventually the district officers arrived.  Even after being told that video cameras faced the parking lot, and that the suspect/s went inside another victim’s car, the officers said, “The cameras probably didn’t get it”. The manager of the gym even offered up the video and said the cameras face the victim’s car... but the officers they left without even asking to see the video.  After telling the officers that the suspect/s just used the stolen credit cards in a store less than 5 miles away and that the store surely must have cameras, one of the officers said, “We can’t get much from a store’s security cameras.  You just need to call your bank to cancel your cards.” End result: File a report.  Call the banks. Get a replacement driver’s license.  Yes.  This still happens.  And criminals thrive on it.

The irony with a lack of seizing electronic evidence is that for most of the forensic examiners in law enforcement, they love to dig and dig and dig and dig through data to find the smoking gun.  It is the lifeblood of what they do.  If only the devices were seized and given to them.  Case in point:  I was called to exam a laptop of a missing teenager, six months after she was reported missing.   The detective simply did not put any reliance on a laptop, in which the teenager was religiously using for social media, as a source of important evidence.  The teen’s body was later found buried less than 5 miles from the police department where this detective drank coffee at his desk, with the laptop sitting downstairs in evidence for months.  I would have loved to examine that laptop ON THE SAME DAY the teen was reported missing.  It was virtually useless by the time I got it.

Seeing that tech should make it easier for police work, it should make it easier for writers of fiction.  It doesn’t.  I read (and write) a lot.  Technology can ruin good fiction.  No longer can a fictional criminal live his or her life under the radar.   Even the good guys can’t avoid ‘the radar’.   The Jack Reacher series should have been set in the 80s, because there is no way that Jack Reacher can roam the country without ever ringing some bells in surveillance tracking technology and live only with the technology of a single ATM card.  I was lucky that my undercover work was before the Internet really took off.  Backstopping an ID today requires way more than it did when I was undercover.

Writing fiction set in today requires knowing technology, because any scene that should have technology but doesn’t simply makes that scene unbelievable.  Same with Hollywood. Seriously.  It gets harder and harder to watch a movie that intends to be realistic without realistically using technology.   Show me a movie where no one is texting anywhere in a scene and I’ll show you a movie where technology is selectively ignored for the sake of simplicity at the cost of plausibility.

I can hear it now.  Police work is hard.  It’s not easy to get search warrants.  Not every department has a forensic unit.  We are too busy to solve crimes.  We are short-staffed. We don’t get enough training.  Blah blah blah.  I’ve heard it before and proved it can be done time and time again.  I have always believed that 10% of law enforcement do 90% of the work while 90% of law enforcement try to pawn off the remaining 10% of the work (while fighting over taking credit for it).  If just another 10% of law enforcement suddenly got a sense of urgency to require high tech investigations be a part of every crime scene, we’d reduce crime stats in half and solve twice as many crimes.

Now if only I can find a book or movie that doesn’t pretend technology doesn’t exist..


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