While the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television franchise ended first-run episodes and only exists in syndication, new CSI-style "adventures" continue at high-profile locations.
Law enforcement does not have a corner on the market in digital-forensics laboratories. These labs can be found throughout the country in banks, tech companies, and even well known retail company headquarters.
Amidst the buildings that dot an expansive complex in Bentonville, Arkansas is a highly secured, digital-forensics lab. Analysts enter by scanning their hands and inputting unique passwords. Once inside, they go through video-surveillance records and pull data from devices, some severely damaged.
A CSI-style company does not staff these skilled professionals. They’re not even agents of the FBI.
They are employees of Walmart.
The well-known retailer is one of six companies in the country that operate their own digital-forensics laboratories accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. However, they are not alone.
Target has gotten into the business as well.
With or without formal accreditation, companies unlikely to be in this line of work have built up cutting-edge digital-forensics operations once the sole purview of police. Rivaling the skills and capabilities of law enforcement, they can:
- Investigate high-level corporate theft and online fraud
- Track data breaches directly to sources
- Extract information from locked and encrypted smartphones or damaged computer hard drives
- Analyze network activity to identify an employee stealing sensitive data to sell on the black market
Not only can these private, CSI-style operations perform the same functions as their law enforcement counterparts, they can do it faster. Federal and state authorities’ are burdened with a backlog of devices and data waiting for analysis. Estimated timelines are measured in months, if not years.
Conversely, the work done in private forensics labs are faster, more affordable, and higher quality. In-house facilities can also keep with constantly evolving technology, enjoying more high-tech tools and the latest in forensics software.
For law enforcement, the good news is that private labs do not keep the technology to themselves. Walmart and Target have helped them with felony, homicide and special circumstances cases by teaming with federal and state authorities and providing free assistance.