Digital Forensics Dispatch

Digital Forensics Blog
by Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

What’s Up with These Secret Service Text Messages?

July 21, 2022

In case you didn’t know, the U.S. Secret Service was subpoenaed by the committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol Building You can read more about that here. According to the subpoena, the Secret Service had to turn over information on July 19, 2022.

The controversy is about why there are not more text messages from the January 5 and 6 time frame for the public agency. Julia Ainsley of NBC News recently reported that U.S. Secret Service employees received information about preserving records on their cellphones prior to the upgrade of agency devices in January of 2021.

Ainsley writes “A senior Secret Service official said agency employees received two emails – at least one prior to Jan. 6, 2021 – reminding them to preserve records on their cellphones, including text messages, before their devices were essentially ‘restored to factory settings’ and texts were lost as part of a planned reset and replacement program across the agency.”

Ainsley reports that the first email received by employees was in December of 2020 and the second email came in January of 2021. The first email came from the Secret Service’s Office of Strategic Planning and the second from the chief information officer of the agency. “Both emails included reminders that federal employees have the responsibility to preserve their records and included instructions on how to do so” writes Ainsely.

Kevin Breuninger of CNBC News reports that in response to the subpoena, the Secret Service turned over one text message thread. Breuninger writes “Any other texts sent by agents around that time are unlikely to be recoverable, multiple outlets have reported.”

The issue here is that if the devices were restored to the factory settings, then those messages are long gone unless they exist in a backup somewhere. Apparently, backups have yet to be found. We’ve encountered similar situations in the past when a client brings in a phone that’s been factory reset. They want deleted messages, but unfortunately that factory reset wipes the data on the phone and renders those messages unrecoverable. That’s why it’s wise to always backup your important data, which could include text messages.

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Digital Forensics/Cybersecurity/Information Technology