As a child, Christopher Houseknecht (BSCN ’08) was already preparing for his future career. “I took apart old electronics so I could learn how they worked,” he recalls. “By the age of 10, I had reassembled everything from computers and televisions to old car engines.”
Now, more than 20 years later, Houseknechtis still exploring the inner workings oftechnology. As a computer crimes investigator for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Houseknecht supports field investigators around the world by retrieving data that has been stored on cell phones, computers, gaming consoles, global positioning systems and other devices. The data he recovers is used to support criminal investigations and as evidence in court cases in areas such as fraud, assault, homicide and network intrusions.
Houseknecht, who is currently assigned to work in theDefense Computer Forensics Laboratory in Linthicum, Md., says criminals often hide digital evidence inside walls, ceilings,refrigerators and wall sockets, but as devices get smallerin size, his team has to consider obscure hiding places.“We’ve found evidence in watches and jewelry and even inside a fake coin that was splitin half,” he says.“If someone has putthat much effortinto hiding a device, often it’s because there is something incriminating on it.”
ONE STEP AHEAD
Today’s technological advancements have presented Houseknecht and his team with new challenges. “Technology changes every day, so it’s importantfor us to understand the intricacies of every newdigital device,” says Houseknecht, who is also responsible for conducting counterintelligence investigations as an active-duty member and a federal law enforcement officer of the United States Air Force.
To keep up with the changing technologies, Houseknecht spends countless hours in the lab researching new devices, consulting with manufacturers, and talking to other companies and agencies that use the gadgets.
The way people use cell phones to commit a crime has changed significantly since Houseknecht began this type of work in 2003. “Smartphones have added a whole new dimension to my job,” he says.“Not only can these devices store a lot of information, butthey are often connected to other computer workstations, which can lead us to new evidence.”
Houseknecht says there is never a dull moment when working in the computerforensics lab.“Every day presents a new challenge, but for me,there’s nothing more exciting than being able to work with technology while helping solve a crime.”