Cyber forensics expert gives insight into plane investigation

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – It’s been an agonizing couple weeks for family and friends of the 239 people aboard the missing plane.

But, experts from around the world say some of the remaining questions could eventually be answered, by analyzing data.

24-Hour News 8 spoke with a cyber forensics expert here in Indiana about how it all works.

“It’s a mystery. Which is why I think it’s got a lot of people’s attention, because it is a mystery. What happened, how did it happen? That’s why we do forensics: we want to come up with facts, so we have the reality,” said Purdue Associate Professor of Cyber Forensics Samuel Liles.

Dr. Liles says he’s not involved with the investigation into the Malaysian plane, but his lab has been asked to help with other, real-world cases.

Cyber forensics investigators analyze data: from cell phones, computers, GPS units – you name it.

Liles talked with us about what officials may be looking at, like the pilot’s flight simulator. Officials have said they worked to analyze that already.

“It’d be interesting to know the entire story of what this guy was doing. They want to know what everybody was doing on that airplane, trying to figure out what the last moments were like, who were they involved with, just to get the best picture possible in the investigation,” said Liles.

Officials said they’ve also been gathering data, from those GPS “pings” the plane was transmitting even after some systems were turned off.

“Finding that kind of data, that’s also a form of forensics,” Liles added.

And once they’re sure they’ve found the plane, the focus will turn to finding that black box: seeing if the pilots said anything on it.

“It’s a scary thing to think about, but they’re taught to talk all the way to the ground,” explained Liles. “You don’t know if they were incapacitated, not incapacitated, until you get the box, you don’t know the answer.”

But, he says answers experts do have already in this case, are impressive.

“The thing I take away is, we know pretty well where this airplane is. We’re sitting at Purdue University, where Amelia Earhart was a professor, and we still haven’t found her, right?” he said. “We’re down to a very small zone, in the middle of a place that is desolate. That’s kind of an amazing thing. We’ve gotten really good at tracking aircraft, knowing what they’re doing. We take it kind of for granted.”

Dr. Liles says he will use this event, as a teaching tool for his students.

They’ll talk about the facts: how to look for evidence from computers and communication systems. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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