Tom Slovenski, President of Cellular Forensics, speaks in his interview about his career as a policeman and a company owner, describes some interesting cases he worked with and tells about a case, he solved in just a few minutes.
Tom has over 25 years of experience in the investigative field both as a Police Detective and a Cellular Forensics Examiner. Cellular Forensics, LLC, the company, Tom established at 2002, offers the best in cell phone data recovery as well as providing cell phone spy ware (“bug”) discovery and cell tower examination services.
Yuri: Please briefly describe your current occupation.
Tom: I am the President of Cellular Forensics, LLC, a mobile forensics company specializing in mobile phone forensic examinations, consultations and mobile phone security.
My major in college was religion
Yuri: How did you become involved in the mobile forensics field?
Tom: In 2007, I was enlightened to the fact that mobile phones were the future in police and corporate investigations.
Yuri: Do you have any related education? What did you major in at university? What field do you have a degree in?
Tom: My major in college was religion and I obtained a B.A. from Bob Jones University in 1986. Shortly thereafter I became a police officer and worked as one for 15 years. In 2007, I found Rick Mislan at Purdue University and attended his training. From there I learned all I could on my own.
Yuri: Please describe your working day. When you get to, what do you do first? What do you do most of the time?
Tom: My day starts with reading the latest developments in the mobile forensic and mobile security fields. The rest of the day various depending on my case load, emails to answer, and mobile spyware to analyze.
I enjoy helping victims of crimes. I don’t have patience with idiots.
Yuri: What do you like about your job most? Less?
Tom: Mostly, I enjoy the freedom to call my own shots. I don’t have the “job politics” that come with many corporate positions and that I encountered in the law enforcement field. I can pick and choose my cases and whom I wish to work with. I enjoy helping victims of crimes and being able to assist attorneys and law enforcement in their mobile forensic/security needs.
The least thing I enjoy is having to deal with those who want to argue that the Internet is more accurate than my analyses and tests. I don’t have patience with idiots.
Yuri: You said you have over 25 years in forensics. What did computer forensics look like back to the years you started?
Tom: No, I said that I have over 25 years of INVESTIGATIVE EXPERIENCE. I was a police officer for 15 years, then a private investigator for 5 years and now a mobile forensics examiner/instructor for 5 years.
We work with fantastic police officers from many countries
Yuri: You are a senior instructor for Anti-Terrorism Assistance, where you train people not only in US, but also from another countries. Can you please describe your role in this program?
Tom: The ATA Program (Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program) is a division under the Diplomatic Security Office of the United States Department of State. The ATA Program provides training to military police forces in friendly foreign countries. I have the honor of traveling with the program and working side by side with some of the brightest and best in the digital forensics field. As instructors we get to see what is happening in the digital field in other parts of the world. And we get to work with some fantastic police officers from many foreign countries.
Yuri: Do you do any training in the United States?
Tom: Yes, I do. I have developed several curriculums over the years to assist American Law Enforcement in their mobile forensic and mobile spyware needs. I have taught numerous police officers throughout the USA and have been the guest instructor in several colleges and universities throughout America.
I just “did it”
Yuri: How did you start your company?
Tom: I just “did it”. On the very first day of Rick Mislan’s training, I knew inside me that “this is for me!” That night in my hotel room there in West Lafayette, Indiana, I bought ‘Cellularforensics.com” and launched my website that night! When I got back to South Carolina, I jumped in with both feet and created “Cellular Forensics, LLC”. Then I began offering my services and training to police and private investigators in the USA.
My company pioneered mobile phone spyware discovery in the USA
Yuri: What is special about your company/tools?
Tom: Cellular Forensics, LLC was the very first private mobile forensics company in the Carolinas. My company literally brought the technology to North and South Carolina.
You could say I “pioneered” mobile forensics in my area of the country.
I can also say that my company pioneered mobile phone spyware discovery in the USA. In 2008, after numerous emails and phone calls from Federal Police Agencies, Attorneys and civilians asking if a mobile phone could be “bugged”, I began to search for an answer. I contacted several major anti-virus companies, one of which told me that the spyware problem was a European problem and not an American one. (Funny thing, they now make anti-virus software for cell phones! Guess they saw a dollar in it!). The other companies did not even have the consideration to write me back. So, I went searching on my own. I was told of a gentleman in Scotland who was doing tests on mobile phones in regards to mobile spyware. I contacted this investigator and he was kind enough to share with me his findings and the checklist he used to ascertain if a cell phone was truly “bugged”. From his mentorship and further tests I conducted on my own, I was able to develop my own unique way of finding mobile spyware. In addition, I was also able to locate specific proprietary software that assists in the capture of the mobile bug. I then started offering my results with the police and other investigators. I was the first to offer mobile spyware examinations in this country and the first to offer a class on mobile spyware for investigators. This class answers the questions: “What is it?”, “What can it do?”, “What phones can be bugged?”, and “How do I find the bug, isolated it and testify to it in Court?”
Keeping the Court always in mind is how I do my job
What is special about my company? First, I’m honest. When a client calls me and asks if I can acquire data off a mobile phone, I do my research first before telling them that there is a possibility. Unfortunately we have those in the private forensics field that know what cannot be done, but take the work in anyway and then tell the client “Oh the phone did not cooperate with us,” and then still charge the client. That is wrong. I also never promise results. I promise I will do my best. With literally thousands of cell phone models in existence and the fact that as examiners we don’t know what was done to the phone prior to it being submitted, there is no way any examiner can promise they will get everything the client wants (which is usually the deleted data).
Secondly, I don’t just use one tool and call it a day. I use everything I can get my hands on to process a phone. Again, we have examiners that simply put the phone on one tool and call it a day. In mobile forensics, there is not one tool or software that will get you everything off a cell phone. So if one tool does not work, you owe it to the client to do all you can to acquire as much data off that phone as is possible.
Thirdly, I work a case like I did when I was a police officer: I do my analysis and reports as if they are going to Court. This way, there are no surprises to my client, their attorney or the police officers when my report is submitted to the Court. Keeping the Court always in mind is how I do my job.
Yuri: What are your immediate plans with regards to your company?
Tom: Honestly, I take it a day at a time. I’ll do what I do until the Good Lord above closes the doors and leads me on to something else.
Yuri: You have a number of articles, published internationally. What were they about? What article has been best accepted by readers?
Tom: Most of my articles were on the simple facts dealing with mobile forensics and the need for all investigators to start taking the mobile phone seriously during an investigation.
But the most accepted article would be the one on mobile spyware. Thanks to the Internet there is a lot of hype and misinformation in regards to mobile spyware and how it gets on a phone. To date, I get more calls for service in regards to mobile spyware than any other service I provide.
Yuri: What is the most interesting or unusual investigation you were ever involved in?
Tom: While I have had several “interesting” investigations over the years, the most interesting has got to be the one in which I assisted a neighboring agency in a double homicide in their city. As it turns out, the suspect was a serial killer and I was able to assist in the location of a third victim through the use of mobile forensics. He claims there are four more victims out there.
One of the most interesting was a case in which an ex-boss was victimizing a woman
Yuri: You are mobile malware and spyware examiner. What was the most interesting spyware or malware you met personally?
Tom: There was one case I handled in which an ex-boss was victimizing a woman. She was in constant fear due to the ex-boss always knowing where she was and with whom she was talking with on her mobile device. No matter where she turned, no one was able to help her. This lady came all the way from Michigan to South Carolina to meet with me. When I met with her, she had brought numerous phones and documents. Through an in-depth analysis of the phones and documents I was able to assist her in locating the “leaks” on her phones. When her case went to trial with my reported findings, the ex-boss quit fighting and provided a monetary settlement that very hour.
Yuri: What do you think every investigator should know about malware and spyware on mobile devices?
Tom: They should know IT EXISTS!
Yuri: If a suspect intentionally introduces some malware to their mobile phone and then in court says that it was not them who did some calls, smses or downloads, but rather malware did that, how can you prove that this is not the case?
Tom: Sorry, you’re going to have to come to my class to get that explanation. I don’t want to give out any of my “secret sauces”. LOL!
Yuri: In your opinion, what is the current state of mobile forensic science in the USA?
Tom: With the introduction of a new cell phone model every three days in the USA, the forensic software developers are constantly trying to stay on top to deliver a product that will adequately work in obtaining the data we are needing from these mobile devices. It’s a never-ending battle.
As for legal mobile forensic practices, I have been able to work with many excellent police digital forensics investigators who do a fabulous job of working with what tools they have to get the needed data off a mobile device. My hat goes off to them. They are unsung heroes.
Once a cop, always a cop. My blood still runs blue
Yuri: You say you always looking for the new ways the “bad guy” can use against the victims. How do you do that?
Tom: They say, “Once a cop, always a cop.” My blood still runs blue. I try to look at new devices and programs and think, “now if I was a ‘bad guy’, how could I use that to steal or stalk or hurt someone?” Criminals don’t think inside the box, so I have to think outside it also.
Yuri: What do you think of mobile forensic investigations and clouds?
Tom: Oh wow! You hit on one of my most favorite subjects…the cloud! Personally, I see the cloud as a new area that law enforcement is going to have to deal with. And they better start soon! We are going to have to think of ways to get to that data. The bad guys already are.
The phone contains a wealth of evidence that could be paramount in a case
Yuri: What do you like most about mobile forensics? Less?
Tom: The most? Well, mobile forensics is constantly changing and evolving. It never stops and is constantly growing and developing.
The least? That many still in law enforcement do not take the mobile phone seriously. It is not a toy. It houses data that reveals a person’s character. The phone contains a wealth of information and evidence that could be paramount in a case. It must be handled carefully and legally in order to retrieve the needed data AND to be able to present it in court.
Yuri: Can you tell any funny story related to mobile spyware?
Tom: One day a woman called me and said that she thought her phone was bugged. She complained that as she would be talking to someone, she could hear a beeping sound during the call. As we were talking she exclaimed, “There it is again! Did you hear it?!”
I had not but I did ask her to look at the battery level of her phone. She then said, “Oh, it was the battery going dead.” Case solved, LOL!
Yuri: What forensic resources do you regularly read? What would you recommend to others?
Tom: I read many posts from many of the best in our field. Twitter is a great place to get up to date information on mobile phones, the industry and new products in mobile forensics.
I see the cloud as a major force that will envelope mobile phones
Yuri: What do you see as major trends in cellular forensics?
Tom: I see the cloud as a major force that will envelope mobile phones. It’s already here and many consumers are going with it. It’s a natural extension of the mobile phone’s mission: to provide the customer with up to date data for their communication needs.
Phones will be reduced to nothing more than a display for a cloud account
Yuri: What will happen with cellular forensic in 5 years? Please give us some predictions.
Tom: OK, I am not a Nostradamus, but I do have my own projections:
1. All cell phones will be entirely on the data network. There will be no separate voice line and data line. Just like what Skype and Vonage are to computers, the cell phone ‘line’ will be on the broadband. Look at cell phones now: service providers are encouraging their customers to use their home routers with their phones. This frees up more space on the towers for more calls. So, it’s already being implemented. It will just become more profound.
2. Phones will be reduced to nothing more than a display for a cloud account. There will not be a lot of data stored on the phone. The mobile phone will just be a display for what the user has in their cloud account. This will make cell phones and their smart phone capabilities more accessible to the general public while lowering the cost of the cell phone.
Yuri: Can I ask a few personal questions? What is your preference in watching professional sports?
Tom: Professional Hockey! Go Flyers!
I’d like to find those who want to be found
Yuri: Do you have a dream?
Tom: I would really like to find missing and exploited children. There are too many children missing and my law enforcement days have shown me that we do have ‘monsters’ in our world. I would like to be able to take closed cases and put some more work into them. I’ve always enjoyed finding those who did not want to be found. Now I’d like to find those who want to be found.