VTO Inc. gets federal contract for cyber forensics project

By Patrick C. Miller | August 02, 2017

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate has awarded a nearly $929,000 research and development contract to VTO Inc., a Broomfield, Colorado, company specializing in digital security, research and forensics.

The project’s goal is to improve law enforcement’s ability to identify, collect and analyze data from consumer and professional drones for use as evidence in cases involving criminal activity.

“Drones are an emerging area of interest for law enforcement because they contain data that may be key in criminal investigations,” said William Bryan, acting DHS under secretary for science and technology. “Like other digital devices such as computers and phones, law enforcement agencies require new capabilities to recover evidence from drones and their cameras, sensors and other devices. This project will deliver these capabilities.”

The contract award is part of the DHS Cyber Security Division’s cyber forensics project, which develops cost-effective and novel cyber forensics solutions that help law enforcement keep pace with advances in technology. The project focuses on development of new capabilities to help law enforcement with the forensic investigations of digital evidence from devices such as mobile phones and automobile infotainment systems.

The drone forensics work will focus on conducting research to address key aspects of collecting digital forensics data from drone systems. During the research, VTO will target the identification and definition of the various data types residing on drones and their connected systems, including drone board systems, flight controllers, connected mobile devices and computers, onboard cameras, and network communications between a drone and its controller.

VTO will also seek to identify each drone’s data-acquisition method, including logical and physical acquisition opportunities—circuit board-level interface and flash-memory removal (chip-off)—to identify data artifacts on drones.

The project will develop a website to support law enforcement officers, forensic services specialists and researchers. The website will include instruction information obtained from the complete physical teardown and analysis of sample consumer- and professional-level drones, as well as their connected controllers and peripheral devices.

“This drone forensics project will provide law enforcement the ability to extract and analyze evidentiary data from expensive and sophisticated professional drones to relatively simple store-bought drones,” said Megan Mahle, Program Manager in S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). “This is a capability the law enforcement community needs, especially as the popularity of drones and their use in criminal activity continues to grow.”