How important are date/time stamps to online investigations?

Recently I read a listserv posting wherein the poster described his use of the system clock to document the video evidence he was collecting. He described using the computer’s system clock as the source of the verification of the date and time, and recording with the video the system clock to show what the time is when you are recording the video.

Likewise, a WebCase user I spoke with told me that in the past, members of his unit would have to create a folder in which to keep case documents. Again, this used the system’s date/time stamping.

Date/time stamping is one of WebCase’s key features, but these two users bring up an excellent question: what, exactly, is the big deal about date/time stamping? More importantly, how can the defense challenge it in court?

Actually, it’s pretty easy to fudge a computer’s system clock. Not that an ethical investigator ever would, but the defense can introduce reasonable doubt with a simple demonstration. In Windows Vista, all it takes is a right-click on the time in the bottom right-hand corner. Then, select “Adjust Date/Time” and click on “Change date and time…”. System clock changed.

How does using WebCase prove you didn’t do this?

WebCase, when it starts, makes a system call to the National Institute of Science and Technology’s (NIST) atomic clock to obtain the correct time. It then dates and stamps all evidence collected in the current UTC (this stands for Universal Coordinated Time, or what we used to refer to as Greenwich Mean Time) time—not the system clock time.

WebCase automatically verifies the UTC and documents this in the reports users generate. This helps to ensure that any reliance on the system clock is avoided.

On the listserv, the poster went on to describe his collection process using a document program to cut and paste chats into. Again, he used the system date and time as the time stamp for the file.

Not only does WebCase negate the need to use two separate programs—video collection and document—but its date and time stamping, along with its automatic hashing function, guarantees the file integrity of any video recorded.

See it in action: download a free demo!

Christa M. Miller is Vere Software’s marketing/public relations consultant. She specializes in law enforcement and public safety and can be reached at christa at christammiller dot com.

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