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Digging deeper on child pornography cases: How to catch cyber crime

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Mark Lanterman of Computer Forensics Services Mark Lanterman of Computer Forensics Services
ROCHESTER/MINNETONKA, Minn. (KTTC) -- In this day and age, technology is all around us, and for most of us, in the palm of our hand. It has also become a haven for crime, but at the same time, an investigator's secret weapon, as seen in the child porn investigation here in Rochester.
Seven men were arrested last week, and police said up to 14 cases are active in this string of crimes. According to experts, child pornography cases like the ones recently cracked in Rochester, are on the rise and law enforcement is only scratching the surface of what's really happening behind closed doors.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but arguably the most important one is its hash value, essentially a digital fingerprint of an online file. Those fingerprints are worth thousands of hours of investigation for forensic specialists like Mark Lanterman of Computer Forensic Services.

Using special software, he finds the fingerprints for three seemingly identical photos. The first two turn up identical, but the third hash value is different.

"But you'll see the third fingerprint does not match the first two, which means that the third image is different in some way," said Lanterman.

That fingerprint tells Lanterman exactly where that photo came from, and if it's a known child porn image. "If it's contraband they then apply for and execute search warrants," he says of law enforcement agencies.

That process is how officials catch a child pornography predator. It is also when Lanterman steps into the equation, he's the one that cracks into computers and phones to answer all the tough questions.

"Did someone intentionally download the images? What search terms was the suspect using to find this pornography?" Lanterman lists off what he can find out from taking apart the data.

Cyber sleuths like Lanterman then start sifting through hundreds of thousands of files, what he calls "digital archaeology", sniffing out exactly what each suspect was searching on the web...or who they shared child porn with.

"Some cases may take three or four hours to process," said Lanterman. "Some cases may take weeks, if not months."

The seven cases in Rochester took law enforcement agencies ten months to put together before executing search warrants and arrests just last week. The police department called it the largest child pornography investigation in Rochester history, but even that is just the tip of the iceberg.

"This is a far worse, far more widespread issue than I ever thought it could possibly be," said Lanterman.

Suspects may think their devices can hide their crimes, however, they not only expose their activity, but their very thoughts."Cellphones and computers are repositories of evidence," said Lanterman. "They are essentially snitches, and they tell on you."

Although the technology may be telling, cracking the codes might be the most challenging part.

"We'll have law enforcement deliver a new type of phone that just came out then we have to figure out how do we process this, how do we recover a deleted text message from this model," said Lanterman.

For most law enforcement agencies, having the resources available to keep up is an uphill battle. "It's hard enough to fight this crime," said Lanterman. "Law enforcement is working very hard to stay up to date, to stay current on this technology that changes it seems almost every day."

But one thing is certain in catching these criminals: the devices don't lie.

Lanterman works in the private sector, and said the law enforcement agencies he works with could use more resources to help in what he calls the crimes of the future on the Internet.
However, Lanterman said he works with 40 different states on crimes like these and that he believes Minnesota does the best job in keeping up with cyber crime.
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