Technology Use in Forensic Accounting Investigation
The contemporary world is challenging the premises under which accounting frauds are investigated. The entry into information age has complicated the process of investigation. Criminals has infiltrated and utilized computer technology as tools of crime. Computer crimes in the accounting field have increased due to the almost universal adoption of computer technology in this field. However, the conventional investigation processes possibly never anticipated computerization in the investigation process. It is under these premises that the theme of this paper is dedicated at assessing the influence of technology on forensic investigation and the pitfalls that it brings. Cyber crimes and the process of investigation is enormously challenging. Moreover, the intricacy of the handling of evidence also makes these forensic investigations the most challenging form of investigation.
Roles of technology in forensic investigation
The emergence of information age is a celebrated achievement in the 21 Century. The information age has made accomplishment of tasks very possible accurately and fast. However, it has brought with it challenges regarding the security of information. Vital data is possibly within the reach of hackers if the necessary controls are out of place. Investigating computer related crimes is a most challenging task due to the complicated crime scene (Bray 2003 p.1). This is where technology assists in forensic investigation. First, it ensures tracing of the culprits even in complicated events in an error-proof manner ensuring that justice is delivered. Computer technology is vital in forensic investigation as skilled staff can utilize it to know the signs to look for and how to get additional relevant evidence (Gallegos 2005 p.16). Data stored on a computer or network is difficult to destroy completely and deleted files or reformatted disks can assist in data recovery (Kay 2006 p.49). Technology allows digital data to be searched speedily and effortlessly by a machine unlike traditional paper documents. Technology allows acquisition of digital evidence from the machines in a manner that does not tamper with the evidence (Wright 2001 p.45). In case of tampering, specialized software is possibly able to assess the veracity of tampered data to ensure that the integrity of the evidence is determined. Technology has been greatly used in committing fraud. Thus, a sophisticated technology becomes necessary to collect the evidence and analyze it in a manner that makes tampering ineffective. Thus, technology helps in detecting and fighting to prevent frauds. Present software can help detection of fraud in accounting audits. This software has data analytics and data mining capabilities that allows comparison of data to be made and analysis of crime detected (Pearson & Tommie 2008 P.546).
Summary of technology products and their contribution to forensic investigation
Currently, there are many technology products that are in the market that aim to contribute in forensic investigation. It is up to the consumer to determine what they want in order to get a product that fits their needs. First, Computer Data Recovery (CDR) is a technology that is built primarily to recover data vital to investigation that either was deleted or was maliciously damaged in computer peripherals or components. CDR additionally offers forensic acquisition and analysis, computer back tracing and internet research (Caswell 2005 p.40). All this are important during a forensic investigation. Secondly, EnCase software, produced by a firm known as Guidance Software of Pasadena combines a variety of tools meant to assist in forensic investigations. EnCase Software combines various tools among them e-mail scanning tools, disk analysis tools, tools for gathering information in a big firm about internal suspicious dealings, tools for monitoring internet for funny behavior, tools for tracking manifold cases and others for plotting timelines for analysis among other applications. The above tools are vital in forensic investigations. The utilization of digital evidence of the software and computer products indicates how credible information and evidence can be in fighting digital age fraud (Correia & Craig1999 p.235). There is a stream of high profile cases in which the above products have been successful in unearthing and netting criminals. The product offering can further be tailored to provide enough evidence according to an individual’s case.
Advantages of using computerized forensic investigation
Technology is lessening otherwise difficult cases to crack. The first merit of Computerized forensic investigation is that it allows imaging of hard drive and other media where illegal information may be hidden, a process not possible with the normal manual investigations (Gallegos 2005 p.14). Secondly, specialists in computerized forensic investigations can decrypt and crack passwords that may be imposed on files. This makes the process easy in finding and unearthing information that is ‘secured’. Manual investigation may never achieve much in such investigations hence making the technology the sole hope in solving such puzzles.
Moreover, since we are in the information age where possibly the computer is in use in practically all processes, the process is going to come in handy in netting culprits who commit crimes using a computer or who target a computer with the intent of committing crime (Caswell 2005 p.40). Traditional investigations are handicapped in solving puzzles of this nature. The information age is emergent and the higher the number of computer applications, the higher the possibility of computer related crimes (Bray 2003 p.1). For instance, there is a massive increase in Credit card and internet fraud, crimes that are intricate to investigate and narrow on the culprits (Wright 2001 p.48). Computerized forensic investigation is well equipped with the necessary infrastructure that traces the culprits to their hideouts (Correia & Craig1999 p.230). This is another advantage of the system. Specialized skills in computerized forensic investigations is vital in netting culprits by utilizing digital systems like e-mail applications that capture more data than the culprit may imagine. This is especially so in the headers of the e-mail (Bray 2003 p.1). The technology is good at netting burglars who use internet as their tools of trade.
Pitfalls of using computerized forensic investigation
One caution is that an investigator ought to take special care to protect the evidence and to preserve the original state. It makes it important to prevent suspect files from getting damaged or altered (Kay 2006 p.49). Otherwise irretrievable lose of data may result. The process of ensuring this is tedious. Companies are unaware of how to handle digital evidence, which may lead to tampering with evidence through commission or omission (The economist 2005 p.28).
The computer special knowledge handicapped police may do little in thoroughly investigating the wrong doing of this nature. The process requires careful handling of the crime scene to prevent evidence from being tampered with (The Economist 2005 p.32). Technology is dynamic and thus bad guys are getting smarter every day which makes it better if forensic investigators embrace the technology fully. For instance, criminals have been known to adapt to the latest gadgets. Other use tough data encryption software like Pretty Good Privacy to lock up files that may contain incriminating information (Bray 2003 p.1). Ideally, even some go the extent of setting empty apartments with internet wireless devices and connecting with wireless laptops to commit their crimes. This indicates that the areas in which forensic investigations face challenges are quite numerous.
The entry of anonymous remailers is a hard nut to crack with forensic investigations. This special internet server allows a person to set up a relay mail and conceal point of origin (Bray 2003 p.1). Bad guys can use the technology to further breed their evil activities. In addition, the development of portable storage devices is a challenge to forensic investigation as data can be copied on a music layer, flash drive or in a memory card of a digital camera.
The acceptance of evidence in courts
Evidences that could not be tabled before courts some time back can now be obtained thanks to computerized forensic investigation and dynamism in legislation. Data that is in a disk or any computer peripheral can be obtained thanks to technology products that can facilitate data retrieval (Wright 2001 p.47). The computerized forensic investigations face some challenges as far as the acceptance of evidence in courts is concerned. First, it requires careful handling by specialists to prevent tampering with the evidence. In this case, samples containing the original data needs protection as any alteration may make the data to be irretrievably lost (Kay 2006 p.49).
Presenting digital evidence in a court requires investigators to demonstrate the evidence’s integrity and provenance (The Economist 2005 p.32). The evidence needs to be stored and handled appropriately which will often involve procedures such as time stamping to ensure that it has not been tampered with. The process of identifying, preserving, analyzing and presenting digital evidence should be in a manner that is legally acceptable (Rechtman 2006 p.68). To be accepted in a court of law, evidence ought to be legally valid, properly documented and reported in a manner that is tamper-proof. Digital evidence requires specialized skills in collection and dissemination. The best practices of obtaining the evidence ought to be practiced to make it valid. Evidence can be obtained from phones, trinklets with digital storage (like digital cameras, pens), email, media cards desktops among others (Pearson & Tommie 2008 p.554). Prior knowledge of anomalies makes detection of crime possible. Presenting evidence in a courtroom using graphical arrangement is advisable (Pearson and Tommie 2008 p.551). The witness ought to have first hand knowledge of the crime. In addition, expert witnesses may be required to handle the technicality of evidence.
The future of forensic investigation
Every new technology emergence comes with a new form of crime. This makes it vital for forensic investigators to find ways of gathering and analyzing evidence. Firstly, in future we expect forensic technology capabilities that can handle the increasing number of companies providing data solutions. In addition, there is need to keep pace with changing technological trends in order to ensure that forensic technology is able to analyze information efficiently and effectively to provide credible findings at all times (Hydoski 2007 p. 24). Forensic technologies should be ready to handle the challenges of increased server platforms and the emergence of sophisticated software.
Secondly, we expect in future a technology that moves from ‘post-crime’ detection to pre-crime detection (Hydoski 2007 p. 24). This forensic technology should be able to provide analytical prediction of crimes rather than post-crime detection. Artificial intelligence technology should make it possible for the investigative arm to become smarter in crime detection in areas otherwise not previously detected. In this case, the technology should be able to forecast crime with certainty offering room preventive measures to be taken. Moreover, the future of forensic investigations is great. There is need for advanced forensic technology that moves hand in hand with business developments in the future. There has been underlying societal pressure for firms to install systems that detect crime and prevent fraud (Hydoski 2007 p. 24). In this case, forensic accounting services are areas likely to be sought after in future. In this case, personnel with IS/CS/Engineering would serve better on being trained in accounting as opposed to training accountant forensic technologists.
Finally, in future, it is expected that firms will be offering forensic accounting services to blend their services with others such as information management, transactional data analysis over and above the traditional roles of scrutinizing documents (Hydoski 2007 p. 25). To achieve this, forensic accounting firms will have to invest in personnel resource trained in technology and install technology infrastructure (Hardware and software) that ensures above scope forensic analysis and futuristic forensic tools.
Cyber crime represents one of the most intricate crimes to investigate and present evidence. This is due to the tech-savvy skills that the criminals often utilize. Thus, it requires the investigators to be well versed with technological developments. Computer crimes have increase over the time. However, forensic investigation has advanced equally hence enabling the detection and prosecution of culprits. Handling digital evidence demands care to ensure tampering is not done on the evidence. The future of forensic investigation is potently broad and criminals are increasingly being intercepted if the various reported cases are anything to go by. Finally, forensic investigators ought to embrace new gadgetry and technology as cyber crime is one of the dynamic areas of criminal investigation.
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