Forensic Text Message Recovery: Recover Lost or Deleted Text Messages

November 5, 2019 | Article

Are you looking to retrieve deleted text messages? You're not alone.

Google reports that, on average, more than 8,100 people every month are trying to recover texts. Whether it’s for criminal or civil cases, or for personal reasons, the need to retrieve deleted messages from cell phones is not uncommon. The data on your phone can be critical in many types of legal cases. What might be uncommon is recovering text messages and deleted files correctly.

Before you go down the road of trying to recover deleted text messages, make sure you have looked at your easier options. If you accidentally deleted important messages, can you restore a backup? Android phones can be restored from your computer or cloud-based account, while you can restore your iPhone via iCloud or iTunes backup. If you restore your device, you may be able to gain access to the deleted data you need.

Take a deeper dive into cell phone forensics here:

Android Forensics | iPhone Forensics

In your search for answers, you have likely found a cheap downloadable software option or third-party app claiming to solve all your data recovery problems. Before you do this, however, remember that you get what you pay for. The forensic practice of cell phone preservation and recovery is not something that can effectively be done on the cheap. While these downloadable options might allow for some success, do you know how much you’re leaving on the table? If you’re looking to use this data in court, do you know if a DIY recovery software will be considered admissible?

A best practices approach requires hardware and software approved by the Department of Justice, as well as proper training and experience. A best practice approach to eDiscovery requires hardware and software approved by the Department of Justice, as well as proper training and experience. Tools like Cellebrite and Axiom from Magnet Forensics are ones to consider, as they have been accepted in court countless times in the past.

How Does Text Message Recovery Work?

A simple way to explain how text messages are recovered is to compare it to the Dewey Decimal System at the library. Any book in the library can be found through this system, which classifies content into 10 categories with each category containing 100 numbers. To find a book using this system, you use the numbers and the knowledge of what each number means to find the book you need. The way computers and cell phones store data is no different. When you send or receive a text message, it is placed in a database on your device. This database allows you to view the information by calling up the location in which it was placed on your device, just like anyone with access to the library could find a particular book by looking at a card that notes the Dewey Decimal System number.

If you remove the card from the card catalog, however, then a person would need to manually search every shelf in the library for the book they’re looking for. This is what happens when you delete a text message from your cell phone. The text message is still on the device, but the operating system no longer has a way to find it. A manual search must be done to discover it again.

When we recover deleted text messages for clients, we do this for a flat fee and make all the data on the device available, not just the recovered messages. This can include deleted pictures, videos, WiFi connections, call logs, installed apps and their contents, and internet browsing history, to name a few.

Recovering Lost or Deleted Text Messages

Text message recovery can be done in varying degrees on both Android and iOS devices. The degree of success depends on the make and model of the device, the amount of time that has passed since the text messages were deleted, the frequency of use of text messages (e.g. do you text like my 16-year-old daughter, or my 65-year-old mother?) and the storage size of the device. This would also include MMS, or Multi Media Service, messages. The MMS message can contain a message in text and an embedded file that could be an image, video, audio or other format.

The ability to recover deleted text messages, in most cases, is highly beneficial. Most messages that are recovered hold the answers to your questions or prove or disprove a legal matter. It is no wonder that a recent report showed that 62% of all legal matters use data from cell phones.

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