Tag Archives: authentication

Authenticating Internet Web Pages as Evidence: a New Approach

By John Patzakis and Brent Botta

In recent posts, we have addressed the issue of evidentiary authentication of social media data. (See previous entries here and here). General Internet site data available through standard web browsing, instead of social media data provided by APIs or user credentials, presents slightly different but just as compelling challenges.

The Internet provides torrential amounts of evidence potentially relevant to litigation matters, with courts routinely facing proffers of data preserved from various websites. This evidence must be authenticated in all cases, and the authentication standard is no different for website data or chat room evidence than for any other. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a), “The requirement of authentication … is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims.” United States v. Simpson, 152 F.3d 1241, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998).

Ideally, a proponent of the evidence can rely on uncontroverted direct testimony from the creator of the web page in question. In many cases, however, that option is not available. In such situations, the testimony of the viewer/collector of the Internet evidence “in combination with circumstantial indicia of authenticity (such as the dates and web addresses), would support a finding” that the website documents are what the proponent asserts. Perfect 10, Inc. v. Cybernet Ventures, Inc. (C.D.Cal.2002) 213 F.Supp.2d 1146, 1154. (emphasis added) (See also, Lorraine v. Markel American Insurance Company, 241 F.R.D. 534, 546 (D.Md. May 4, 2007) (citing Perfect 10, and referencing MD5 hash values as an additional element of potential “circumstantial indicia” for authentication of electronic evidence).

One of the many benefits of X1 Social Discovery is its ability to preserve and display all the available “circumstantial indicia” – to borrow the Perfect 10 court’s term — to the user in order to present the best case possible for the authenticity of Internet-based evidence collected with the software. This includes collecting all available metadata and generating a MD5 checksum or “hash value” of the preserved data.

But html web pages pose unique authentication challenges and merely generating an MD5 checksum of the entire web page, or just the web page source file, provides limited value because web pages are constantly changing due to their very fluid and dynamic nature. In fact, a web page collected from the Internet in immediate succession would very likely calculate two different MD5 checksums. This is because web pages typically feature links to many external items that are dynamically loaded upon each page view. These external links take the form of cascading style sheets (CSS), graphical images, JavaScripts and other supporting files. This linked content can be stored on another server in the same domain, but is often located somewhere else on the Internet.

When the Web browser loads a web page, it consolidates all these items into one viewable page for the user. Since the Web page source file contains only the links to the files to be loaded, the MD5 checksum of the source file can remain unchanged even if the content of the linked files become completely different.  Therefore, the content of the linked items must be considered in the authenticity of the Web page. X1 Social Discovery addresses these challenges by first generating an MD5 checksum log representing each item that constitutes the Web page, including the main Web page’s source. Then an MD5 representing the content of all the items contained within the web page is generated and preserved.

To further complicate Web collections, entire sections of a Web page are often not visible to the viewer. These hidden areas serve various purposes, including metatagging for Internet search engine optimization. The servers that host Websites can either store static Web pages or dynamically created pages that usually change each time a user visits the Website, even though the actual content may appear unchanged.

In order to address this additional challenge, X1 Social Discovery utilizes two different MD5 fields for each item that makes a Web page.  The first is the acquisition hash that is from the actual collected information.  The second is the content hash.  The content hash is based on the actual “BODY” of a Web page and ignores the hidden metadata.  By taking this approach, the content hash will show if the user viewable content has actually changed, not just a hidden metadata tag provided by the server. To illustrate, below is a screenshot from the metadata view of X1 Social Discovery for website capture evidence, reflecting the generation of MD5 checksums for individual objects on a single webpage:

The time stamp of the capture and url of the web page is also documented in the case. By generating hash values of all individual objects within the web page, the examiner is better able to pinpoint any changes that may have occurred in subsequent captures. Additionally, if there is specific item appearing on the web page, such as an incriminating image, then is it is important to have an individual MD5 checksum of that key piece of evidence. Finally, any document file found on a captured web page, such as a pdf, Powerpoint, or Word document, will also be individually collected by X1 Social Discovery with corresponding acquisition and content hash values generated.

We believe this approach to authentication of website evidence is unique in its detail and presents a new standard. This authentication process supports the equally innovative automated and integrated web collection capabilities of X1 Social Discovery, which is the only solution of its kind to collect website evidence both through a one-off capture or full crawling, including on a scheduled basis, and have that information instantly reviewable in native file format through a federated search that includes multiple pieces of social media and website evidence in a single case. In all, X1 Social Discovery is a powerful solution to effectively collect from social media and general websites across the web for both relevant content and all available “circumstantial indicia.”

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Filed under Authentication, Best Practices, Preservation & Collection

Case Study: The Importance of Integrated Social Media and Website Crawling Collection

One of the benefits of the very strong market adoption of our X1 Social Discovery software is that we receive a significant amount of invaluable and excellent customer feedback from very seasoned eDiscovery and law enforcement professionals. Many of these experts report that a good number of their social media investigation and collection cases also require general website collection. For instance, a person on Facebook promoting infringing technology may also be posting relevant information to industry web bulletin boards or maintaining their own website. It is thus important that a social media eDiscovery and investigation process feature integrated web collection and social media support.

For an effective process, website data should be collected, searched and reviewed alongside social media collections in the same interface. The collected website data should not be a mere image capture or pdf, but a full HTML (native file) collection, to ensure preservation of all metadata and other source information as well as to enable instant and full search and effective evidentiary authentication. All of the evidence should be searched with one pass, reviewed, tagged and, if needed, exported to an attorney review platform from a single workflow.

To illustrate what this looks like in the field, we recorded an 8 minute demonstration based in part upon a real life example reported to us by one of our customers. This case study, performed by our CTO Brent Botta, involves the collection of social media data as well as message board posts on the web. Importantly, this evidence is consolidated into a unified workflow to be searched in one single pass.

The investigation features X1 Social Discovery as the platform, which now features automated and integrated web crawling capabilities in addition to its renowned functionality for the collection and analysis of Facebook and Twitter content. We believe this is the only solution of its kind to collect website evidence both through a one-off capture or full crawling, including on a scheduled basis, and have that information instantly reviewable in native file format through a federated search that includes multiple pieces of social media and website evidence in a single case. Up to millions of web captures and social media items are searched instantly with the patented X1 search, tagged and exported from a single interface.

Like social media content, web pages bring their own unique but important challenges for evidentiary authentication. In the next week, we will be posting on best practices for the collection and authentication of web pages as evidence, so stay tuned!

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Filed under Best Practices, Preservation & Collection