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Seizing Digital Evidence

If you have to seize a computer, it is essential that the seizure is performed properly. If you can ensure that you have expert assistance, but if that is not available the following guidelines should help.

Step 1 - What do I do with the computer?

  • Don’t let the suspect or anyone else touch the computer;
  • Photograph (if you can) or draw a sketch map of the computer and how it is connected;
  • Record what is on screen if the computer is switched on and the screen displays is on;
  • If the screen appears blank – move the mouse to see if there is a screen saver and if so continue as below – if the screen restores record what is on the screen as above;
  • If the computer is switched on pull the power by removing the power lead from the equipment – not at the wall end;
  • If the computer is switched off when you arrive – then leave it switched off;
  • Remove batteries from portable PCs;
  • With PDAs ensure that the cradle and chargers are taken and that the PDA is kept charged until it is examined by a forensic data recovery expert – this may require charging i.e. connecting it to the mains;
  • Record the computer configuration for peripherals and cables (label the components and cable or similar);
  • Record whether the computer is connected to a telephone/modem or network.

Step 2 -  What to take?

In a word – EVERYTHING!

  • Computer;
  • Power Supply – this is ESSENTIAL if the computer is a notebook or laptop;
  • External hard disks;
  • Dongles;
  • Modems;
  • Digital cameras;
  • Floppy disks;
  • CDS and DVDs – all of them;
  • Backup tapes;
  • Jazz Disks;
  • Memory cards;
  • Thumb drives;
  • Zip disks;
  • Any other external device that is or could be connected to the computer;
  • Paperwork & Post-It notes (passwords are often written down nearby.

Step 3 - Other things to consider

  • Mobile phones;
  • Pagers;
  • Answering machines;
  • Fax machines;
  • Dictating machines;
  • PDAs and other personal organisers.

Step 4 - What to ask the suspect

  • Keys – Some computer cases have physical key locks;
  • Passwords for the computer;
  • Email addresses in use and passwords for them.

Don’t be tempted to investigate it yourself – get expert help. If you try to investigate it yourself you will more than likely prejudice any evidence found.

Whilst this is a summary – it is recommended that the full ACPO Guidelines are consulted as well as obtaining expert assistance at the seizure.

Sherlocks Valuers and Auctioneers Ltd registered in England and Wales Number: 6429836