As our lives are increasingly connected to the digital world, the need for cyber specialization has grown everywhere – including private investigation services. Today you will see some PI businesses label themselves as “cyber investigators.” But what does that mean, and how does it differ from someone calling themselves a “private investigator”? Let’s take a closer look.
Cyber investigators, also known as internet detectives, specialize in digital information and cases that center on the internet and various online activities. This doesn’t mean that cyber investigators don’t handle other work, but their primary focus is usually online, and they may be limited in other PI services, depending on the company. Many firms choose to hire both cyber investigators and more traditional investigators to offer a variety of services.
These investigators have extensive training to deal with things like computers, routers, many kinds of online networks, services, smart devices, laptops, and so on. As the Internet of Things has grown larger with so many smart devices common in homes and businesses, cyber investigators continue to learn more skills.
A few of the important things that set cyber investigators apart include:
- Special Certification: While cyber investigators tend to have traditional PI licenses and certification (which is very important for proper and legal handling of cases), there are also separate certifications specifically for cyber investigations, such as those offered by McAfee. This helps investigators keep up with the latest devices and techniques, and gives them new skills they can use in online investigations.
- Dealing with Specific Problems: This is a particularly important difference for those looking for a certain service: Cyber detectives are experienced in particular sets of online crimes or problems. They may be able to help you with online harassment issues, doxing, catfishing, or dealing with identify theft. Some may specialize in tracing IPs and data logs to find out where content came from or recovering information that someone tried to delete. And, of course, many also specialize in malware, hacking, and spyware. Some may even be skilled in using the latest smart devices for surveillance and tracking.
- Skilled with the Right Digital Services: There is a variety of online services that investigators can use to gather information, including IRBsearch and Tracers. In addition to being experts on these tools, cyber investigators use several more specific online services to gather information from platforms like social media. Many also have experience in using the Dark Web to track down hard-to-find data or people.
- Company-Friendly Services: Many PIs offer various company services, but cyber investigators tend to have a particular focus on services that companies need. Businesses may encounter an event where they need immediate tracing, data recovery, or analysis. Often law enforcement organizations don’t have the expertise that these companies need. Finding a cyber investigator – or having one on retainer – is a common practice in such cases.
A private investigator that doesn’t label themselves as a cyber investigator tends to have a greater focus on real-world cases. They are particularly people and action oriented. While online evidence is always nice to have, these detectives work to find where people are in the real world, or to record real-world actions that have important legal implications. Key differences to keep in mind are:
- More Feet on the Ground: A firm with private investigators can easily put feet on the ground to gather information. This is handy when it comes to interviewing people, exploring a particular area or neighborhood, or even going undercover. They also tend to have more experience with cases related to these physical tasks, and the legal requirements they may incur.
- Different Case Specialization: With their focus on real-world events, private investigators tend to specialize in somewhat different event. They may offer more surveillance options that require long-term, covert surveillance. They could have more experience in missing persons investigations, as well as counter-surveillance (sweeping for bugs, for example) or settling disputes like landlord-tenant issues.
Overlap and Making the Right Choices
As you probably noticed, the overlap between cyber investigators and private investigators is significant, and it continues to increase. Even PI licensing continues to require more expertise in digital tools no matter what sort of cases PIs specialize in, and investigators of both types may take similar cases. Companies must be specific in what they offer, and understand that clients should:
- Consider Their Own Needs: What issue or event do clients need help with? If it concerns online data, they may want to look for a cyber investigator to help. But if they are trying to find a missing person, for example, they may want to look for a PI with more traditional experience. Therefore, it’s important for PIs to be very clear about the specific sorts of services they offer.
- Look at Licensing: Always make sure that PI licensing and certification is properly displayed on and offline. It can be easy for some firms to claim cyber skills, but their certifications need to back this up.
On a final note, PI firms should be prepared to answer specific questions about their specialties and their past experiences in certain types of cases. Having a portfolio of case studies (that preserve the privacy of all involved) can be very useful when winning these types of clients over.