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Published on Feb 25, 2014
Law enforcement agents said the exploitation of children and human sex trafficking are two crimes on the rise in Montana. And in this day and age, they said perpetrators are using the Internet and mobile devices to their advantage.
"A good portion of our crimes we investigate have some sort kind of digital, you know, imprint or footprint on a computer," said Missoula Police Detective Chris Shermer.
Shermer is a member of the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or ICAC.
"I'm out there on the Internet trying to find individuals that want to make contact with our kids."
Shermer said he and other members of ICAC have discovered people who look at child pornography often download it from a file sharing program like LimeWire.
"I also find individuals that are sharing or distributing or even producing child pornography as well," Shermer added.
He uses a program that identifies "known child pornography images," which are usually connected to a specific Internet Protocol address, or the specific number assigned to each and every device using an Internet connection.
"It basically documents their IP address, so then if you have anybody in your local jurisdiction, you go find out who owns that IP address."
Then, Shermer will obtain the computer, smart phone or other device-- either with the owner's consent, or with a search warrant signed by a district judge.
Local law enforcement agencies will often pass on cases involving digital forensics to experts who work at the Computer Crimes Unit of the Division of Criminal Investigation, or DCI. DCI is a branch of the Montana Department of Justice.
The Agent in Charge of the Computer Crimes Unit, Jimmy Weg, receives pieces of hardware from law enforcement agencies all over the state.
Weg said before he can begin a forensic analysis on device, he checks the paperwork to make sure the search warrant used to obtain it conforms with DOJ policies.
"I then take the machines apart."
Weg said he's careful not to change any settings on the device, but he checks them to make sure the time and date are correct.
"I then load it onto my machines and I work on a copy, I work on a file, all the hardware goes away," Weg said.
He'll use a variety of programs to search for pieces of data prosecutors could use as evidence in court.
"Well, what does this mean, what does it show, well it shows on a certain date and time-- an exact moment in time-- that whoever was using the computer searched on the Internet for this particular bit of information."
Weg said he currently has 91 open cases, and each one can take hundreds of hours to close. He said he gets help from other digital forensic experts all over the world, including the FBI, to tackle computer crime cases.