There’s an investigator I know, top of her profession, who once put her laptop in the trunk of a cab. By the time she reached her hotel, the laptop was gone. This happens thousands of times a year at airports, train stations, libraries and coffee shops. Sometimes the thief wants your hardware. Sometimes your data turns out to be more valuable, or its loss more damaging. (It’s pathetically easy to find examples.) And sometimes the victim is not a matter of chance.
In this case our investigator was onto something hot. She was closing in on a high-profile scandal that disturbed the interests of powerful and resourceful people. Maybe her bag was jacked by a petty thief, but Occam’s Razor pointed another way. She had to assume her targets now knew anything they could glean from her computer. I found her to be oddly undisturbed by this. She said she had followed the first rule of prudence, which is not to write anything down — especially in digital form — that you really, really need to keep secret. But I thought she was nuts to believe she lost nothing sensitive. It is astonishing what current forensic tools can learn from your computer.