House Arrest

The trend towards increasingly connected homes could provide investigators with a wealth of valuable digital intelligence according to cyber experts from Roke, Carol Jenkins reports.

When is a hairbrush not a hairbrush? When it’s a state of the art Wi-Fi connected device that collects data about your brushing habits and potentially wider intelligence about your daily behaviour patterns.

Cyber experts at leading research and consultancy Roke are providing a valuable insight in the investigative opportunities that now exist in our homes as a result of our increasingly connected world.

Prof Mark West, Lead Cyber Security Expert at Roke, explains that the average house now includes a wealth of connected devices all containing potentially valuable data about our individual patterns of life.

“There is now so much potential data that is sloshing around in our homes.” He said.

This could be in devices, phones or tablets that have been connected to devices or data from cloud services,” he continued.

“In the past, investigators would visit a crime scene and look for computers and phones to analyse for intelligence. Now there are so many digital artefacts that could contain potential data that at first glance would not necessarily be obvious to you.”

Connected

The Wi-Fi hairbrush is just one example of a connected device that could contain valuable data that investigators might miss due to a lack of awareness.

When I recently visited Roke’s UK headquarters, Prof West provided a very visual illustration of this point by producing a number of routine items that you would find in any home.

The items included a padlock, a motion sensor, a light, a blood pressure monitor, a toy doll, a hairbrush and some running shoes.

At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about these items and they would probably not come to the attention of an investigator during a scene search.

However, Prof. West explained that all of the items are actually internet connected, even the running shoes which contain a chip that can be Bluetooth connected to a phone.

“These are all small and discreet items that don’t look any different from the non-internet connected versions,” he explained.

“However, they could contain a breadth of intelligence that might be ignored.”

Evidence

He points to a recent case in the press involving a US man who was convicted of murdering his wife after police disproved his story that she was killed by a burglar, based on evidence from her fitness device.

Despite the fact that individual items might be significant, Prof West urged a word of caution. He pointed out that some of these items might not be useful sources of evidence in isolation but they could form part of wider digital picture could help investigators build up a pattern of life around victims and suspects.

“It’s about looking at these items and assessing whether or not they are digitally relevant,” he said.

“One of the key considerations is to look at where the data is stored. Is it on the device? Or is it on an app? If it’s on the Cloud, do I need to approach a service provider to extract the information from the device?”

He also recognised that extracting data from some devices might be more difficult than others and so urged officers to have a clear strategy around the type of digital data that is required for each investigation.

Vulnerable

On the other side of the coin, connected homes could prove vulnerable to hackers; a valuable point that Roke experts attempted to highlight during last year’s Cyber Security Challenge.  This is a series of  competitions run by industry and the Government to find future cyber security talent. 

The contestants formed specialised cyber-units to defend a simulated Smart Home that was set up in a house in the grounds of Roke’s UK headquarters.

Working as a team, they were tasked to identify and secure the vulnerabilities in new, intelligent household gadgets like smart locks, security cameras – and even coffee machines. In a race against the adversary, they discovered how vulnerabilities in the system had been exploited to gain access. 

 

Risks

In a separate exercise, a team of Roke cyber experts hacked an internet-connected home to understand the reality of security risks associated with the Internet of Things for ITV’s Tonight programme.

The success of this experiment required getting into the mind-set of common hacker motivations, so experts focused on identifying ways in which hackers could try to gain access, and once on the network look for useful information. 

Future

Looking to the future, Prof. West predicts that the number of connected devices will continue to increase and that this will undoubtedly change the face of the way investigators approach the digital strategy.

“Investigators are going to be faced with some tough choices around prioritising their approach to the search and collection of digital data due to the fact that the number of connected devices in our homes is only going to increase,” he said.

“We hope that we can help provide them with the knowledge and the understanding of the environment that will enable them to make these decisions in an informed way.”

For more information on Roke and its work go to www.roke.co.uk

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