When to switch from Excel to a more powerful investigation tool

When to switch from Excel to a more powerful investigation tool
2022-01-03 Paliscope

Do you work with digital investigations and use Excel in your daily work? Then you’re not alone. It has long been one of the absolute best investigation tools. But there is a limit to how large and complex investigations you can do in Excel.

In this article, Christian Berg, co-founder of Paliscope, talks about five signs that show you should switch from Excel to a more powerful investigation tool.

1. You work manually with large amounts of data

Excel is good. That’s why so many people use it. But the problem is that investigations are becoming much more complex with a massive increase in data. As a result, it is not uncommon for you to have an excel file with over 100,000 lines of chats to read through, which takes a long time if done manually.

– We can compare it to something else. A craftsman can use a screwdriver when building a patio. But no one would accept the time it would take and the money it would cost when you can do the job much faster with an electrical screwdriver. In the same way, it must apply to investigative work. We do not have to accept that it will take a long time. It costs time for the investigator, time for the detained person, we solve fewer crimes, and in the end, fewer victims get their redemption, says Christian.

The Paliscope platform is the investigators’ electrical screwdriver. That is why we need to give investigators better tools to solve more crimes. It is an important part of digitalization.

2. Your investigations take longer time than necessary

Christian has long collaborated with police and can mention many investigations that would have gone faster if they had not done everything manually.

An example is a case concerning grooming, which took the investigator over two years to resolve.

– They found a victim, and they found a perpetrator through the victim. When they confiscated his phones and computers, he had chatted with a lot of people and sent millions of messages. They realized that there were many more victims, and the more they dug, the more they found, says Christian.

This case is not unusual. And when working with such investigations, it is essential not to miss any victim. It is the same with drug cases where there are often many chats to keep track of.

– A person may have 500 customers he talks to all the time. So it generates a lot of traffic, and then you should try to bring order to this and find out who spoke to whom. Without the right tool, it is a bigger risk you’ll miss evidence, and it takes more time than it should, says Christian.

3. You are having difficulties finding connections between conversations

Another problem is that when you load chats in Excel, they are in chronological order. So if a person has had many conversations simultaneously, it gets very messy.

– You read a message from one person, then you have to scroll several thousand lines to read the sequel because there have been a lot of conversations with other people in between. You don’t want to read it like that. You want to combine conversations to follow a person and his activities on a timeline. So you need flexibility in visualizing chat to understand the whole, says Christian.

You also want to be able to find connections between the conversations.

For example, suppose someone ordered a murder for a certain amount of money. Then you want to easily search for links to see if someone else is talking about that amount, a weapon, or murder. That’s also difficult when you have 100,000 chat lines to search through.

4. You have to use too many tools for one investigation

In addition to all text in chats and email conversations, people often send pictures and videos to each other. These are often important for the investigation, but you can not attach them in Excel.

That means that you need to work with different tools and go back and forth between them.

– In an investigation, everything is linked, and you need to connect the dots to see how they relate. This also takes an unnecessarily long time to do manually, says Christian.

The problem is not to do it manually, it is possible, and investigators do it all the time. The problem is the amount of data that digital investigators need to handle. It can be about millions of chats, pictures, and videos.

An example is Encrochat and Anom; read our article about it here. 

5. You have trouble visualizing locations

The same goes for locations. When a suspect has moved between sites, it is good to visualize it to see how the person moved. You can get that information in many different ways and various formats.

– You may receive an IP address, a log from your telephone company, a picture you can link to a place, or a chat where someone writes a place. All that information is important, but it becomes difficult to absorb without visualizing it, says Christian.

We need to give investigators better tools

Excel is a fantastic tool that most people have and can use pretty well. But it is simply not enough for today’s massive data volumes.

You can use some tools to visualize investigations, for example, IBM S2 and Nuix, to name a few. These tools are expensive, but many analysts use them because you can do a lot in them.

– The problem with these tools is that they are too technical and advanced. We need to give investigators tools that they can use quickly and easily. They should not have to be IT experts to do their job. It should be enough that they are experts in investigations, says Christian.

Another downside with these tools is that they don’t handle pictures and movies well.

– A trend is sending pictures with text instead of just plain text. Criminals believe they can avoid getting discovered since some of the tools don’t read text on images, says Christian.

With the help of Paliscope’s platform, you can solve all of these problems. For example, you can quickly search for information in chats using AI to find the most important things and even read text on images.

You can also visualize data, connect different sources, use a map function to visualize places, and find important information in images.

– For digitalization to move forward, we need to give digital investigators better tools. They can not continue as they do today and struggle manually with Excel; it takes too long. And as everyone knows, time is extra valuable in this industry, says Christian.

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