Computer can be used either to commit or to facilitate criminal activity; if this happens, investigators or scientists use computer forensics to collect and analyze data from the computer to be taken as evidence. This requires rather deep analysis of all the aspects how the computer is used. One of important investigations is checking of a computer’s operating system and the Internet activity. Lots of crimes require computer forensics to be used.
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Computer forensics has a great number of definitions. However, in general, it is the use of analytical and investigative methods to categorize, collect, observe, and save evidence or information, which is then magnetically accumulated and encoded. Investigators and scientists often use computer forensics in the crimes which are not specifically computer-related. Nowadays, some communities are made to investigate the crimes in such a way. It became popular in 1980s; then, lots of people were able to understand how such investigations are made thanks to popular crime series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”. Computer forensics is proven to be very effective. It can help to uncover anything from inspection to theft and other crimes. Money laundering, evidence of affairs, smuggling, and some other crimes have also been discovered as a consequence of computer forensics. For decades, the greater integration of technology in the crime-fighting sphere has greatly modernized investigations. Computers provide unlimited coordination of police forces as well as quick processing of crime data. Law enforcement officials are not the only people benefiting from the crime-fighting prospective of computers. Most citizens own computer devices and carry them everywhere; in most cases, it means a Smartphone or a cell phone. Everybody can call 911 in response to a crime no matter where it happens, and a person may even make a picture with a cell phone camera which can later help in identifying the offender.
Computer forensics has been used as evidence in criminal law since mid 1980s, and one of the notable examples is BTK case. Dennis Rader was convicted of serial murders that were performed during sixteen years. Towards the end of this period, Rader sent police a floppy disk with letters on it. Metadata in the documents identified the author “Dennis” at “Christ Lutheran Church”, which then became leading evidence to Rader’s arrest. However, the investigation was not as easy as it may seem. First of all, it is needed to tell about the personality of Rader. Wichita, Kansas, was a booming city with one of the best economies in the nation. One day, something terrible was born in the city. Dennis was the oldest of four sons. He also was the cruelest one. According to some reports including his own ones, Rader tortured animals in his childhood. Later, this “innocent” hobby transformed into real crimes, savage and unbelievable.
The murder of the Otero family was the most horrible. At the age of fifteen, Charlie Otero came home to find there his father, mother, brother, and sister killed. Charlie led his life in the horror to be found by this “hunter” who took the life into his own hands. A lot of conjectures were made by coroner. He tried to find the motives, but there was nothing conclusive. At the end of 1974, there was a mysterious call, probably from Otero family killer. This call was an instruction leading to the Public Library in Wichita. There was a letter in this library. The letter was a claiming of credit for the Otero family and a promise of next victims. It was absolutely clear that the letter was written by the killer. New victims did not take long to appear. On April 1974, there was a new homicide. Kathryn Bright was stabbed. Letters and calls were a kind of fetish for the murderer. He also collected items from the scenes of the murders he committed. Altogether, during the period from 1974 till 1991, there were ten people murdered: four members of the Otero family and six other ones if not regarding four victims who managed to survive. The longest interval between crimes was eight years.
Letters gave a great base for investigation. They helped to understand the murder’s psychological portrait. He was a quite educated English speller. Why the case was named BTK? It is also easily explained by the letters: "P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code word for me will be....Bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim." Everything happened as it was told. This next victim was the only one stabbed. All the others were either strangled or suffocated. Probably, Josephine Otero’s hanging was a kind of imitation. The fact is that the killer had his preferred way to commit a crime, which also helped alongside with the letters to unite these homicides in one criminal case.
It seemed that the murders were over, but after a long pause, the murderer proved again to be “the horror of Wichita”. A new letter was then sent to the newspaper. Anyway, the investigation was a kind of dormant in 1980s. In 1983, two teams of enthusiastic detectives decided to reinvestigate the case. They have collected DNA examples of almost 200 people to compare with the examples taken from the fingernails of the victim; it provided police with the previously unknown evidence. Letters and the same style of murders were the only clue to find the killer. DNA was a mere attempt to narrow the universe of possible suspects. Actually, every man of the city could be a suspect. “Ghostbusters”, as the detectives named themselves, have also hired a computer consultant to process data received from DNA examples. That was a first attempt of including computer in the investigation. The greatest attention was riveted to the letters. Unfortunately, it was not possible to trace the letters. However, there were some poems attached, which were taken as a clue. Then, the computer helped again. The list of suspects was compared to the list of white men living near victim’s homes. There were no positive results.
Despite the two-year investigation finished without any arrest, the basic work was done. By 2004, the investigation had gone cold. The greatest progress was made when a psychologist Dr. Harold Brodsky spoke with KAKE TV. After all the advice he gave, the police decided to gain the confidence of the BTK killer. It was rather successful. A floppy disk was sent to the police. This was the biggest step up. Computer forensics was the best and the easiest way to determine the sender. Metadata from Microsoft Word document showed the name: Dennis. There was also a link to the Lutheran Church. The rest of investigation was a technical matter. After searching through the Internet for “Lutheran Church Wichita Dennis”, the suspect was identified: Dennis Rader, Lutheran Deacon. All the metadata were discovered with the help of forensic software EnCase. Such an analysis helped not only to find a suspect, but also to prove his guilt. Utilizing computer forensics was the first considerable step to find a killer. The Internet also helped to find Rader’s daughter and to ascertain a familiar math with semen found at the earlier BTK crime scene. All the facts together gave the police probable cause for an arrest. Dennis Rader was finally detained near his house and accused in BTK murders on February 25, 2005.
On June, 2005, Rader pled guilty in the court giving an account of his heinous crimes. As the death penalty in Kansas was reinstated in 1994, the jury sentenced Dennis Rader to 10 consecutive life sentences, giving one life sentence per each victim. Technically, Rader would be freed in 2180.
The case brilliantly showed the way computer forensics helps in vital issues. During the 1980s, most of these systems consisted of “life analysis”. In 1990s, some products were made to allow investigations to proceed without modifying media, and only in recent years, computer forensics became widespread and evolved into the field of mobile device forensics.
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