How Digital Forensics Can Assist in Uncovering Cyberbullying Evidence
The Growth & Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying has become a serious issue in recent years. While the physical type of bullying is plenty to deal with, this new mutation of the act can lead to much less visible, yet very major consequences for victims. Cyberbullying in the workplace can have a dramatic effect on the victim, both on personal health and job performance.
The horrors of cyberbullying have been documented and shared across the internet. Public humiliation and shaming over email, hurtful messages or social media posts, and berating through text messaging are all examples of cyberbullying scenarios. A common aspect to these stories involves the general degradation of a victim’s mental state, leading to stress, anxiety and low self-esteem, among other side effects. Feelings of humiliation, isolation, anger, vulnerability, depression, and even thoughts of suicide can manifest as a result of cyberbullying.
It is important to tend to the victim in these situations, but the victim is not the only one suffering. Cyberbullying activities in the office can lead the victim to have impaired decision making, loss of concentration, decreased productivity, and spend time at work dealing with the situation. It is at this point that a company becomes collateral damage from the bullying behavior.
Needless to say, cyberbullying activities are a very real problem and it is no longer exclusive to the school yard. Even if it is occurring over the internet, there are many methods to combat cyberbullying. One of which is digital forensics.
In short, below is a list of benefits of engaging with Digital Forensics experts to combat cyberbullying activities.
- Preservation and analysis of social media pages
- Tracing of anonymous communications
- Recover deleted emails, text messages, instant messaging communications
- Authentication of communications sent between the abuser and the victim
Where cyberbullying can occur and what forensics can do about it.
Cyberbullying in Instant Messaging
This is, in many minds, the classic imagery of cyberbullying. Instant messaging, after all, was the initial vehicle through which rapid communication over the internet occurred. While instant messaging is beginning to sunset, as the AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was discontinued in late 2017, it is still common for these applications to be utilized.
Digital forensics can be used to extract any conversation logs associated with such applications. Such conversation logs can include sender and receiver information, dates and times of messages, and usually the content of the messages sent. A few common applications that have been investigated by Vestige in the past include ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger, and Skype.
Cyberbullying in Social Media
Social media is potentially the hot-bed of this list for cyberbullying activities. The ease for a bully to log into Twitter, post a harassing tweet at or about a victim, and log out is almost unfathomably simple. Twitter is not the only platform of choice for cyberbullies. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all accessible, connects large numbers of people, and can even allow for a level of anonymity.
However, digital forensics software has come a long way in regards to supporting social media investigations. Various tools used by examiners have the capability to preserve certain web pages which may include posts, comments, or messages that are directed at a victim. Internet history from a computer can be reviewed for evidence relating to social media as well, providing an additional avenue for evidence collection. It is even possible to preserve and trace posts or messages that were made by the bully in an effort to remain anonymous.
Cyberbullying in Text and Chat Messaging
Cyberbullying activities are far from being exclusive to computers. It is estimated that 96% of Americans own a cellular device of some kind and a large majority of that number are smartphone devices (think the newest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy). Cellular texts and chats are the preferred method of communication among younger individuals. Not only is a device’s main text functionality being utilized, but also 3rd party applications can be downloaded to augment chat communications.
Getting to the Digital Evidence
Mobile forensics is arguably the most cutting-edge and fastest growing forensic technology available to examiners. The pressure to keep up with the newest phone models has led to innovation in preservation techniques and data interpretation that was non-existent even five years ago. Forensics has the capacity to extract text messages and chat application content for review by an examiner. Information reviewed can include contact names, message content, date and time sent, and other useful pieces of information.
There is a clear consensus that cyberbullying is a formidable issue. While cyberbullying activities are not explicitly illegal in all states, there are other indirect means to justice, primarily existing harassment laws. That does not mean fighting against such an adversary is useless. Digital forensics can be used to identify suspected cyberbullying, preserve evidence, and address the issue in an appropriate fashion. Even if data is deleted, posted or sent anonymously, or a bully claims not sending offending messages, digital forensics will help identify the evidence and assist in resolving cyberbullying issues.
By Ian Finch, BS, GCFA,
Senior Forensic Analyst
Vestige Digital Investigations