Lately at my day job I’m finding more and more phones coming in damaged. Several persons of interest have decided that as soon as they find their devices being confiscated or even at the first sign of trouble will turn their device into a flying contraption. Well they do tend to fly, but the landing’s never soft. My favorite has become the “bag phone” where the devices literally comes in to the lab in pieces store into a ziplock bag.
So what can you do with these broken devices? What about fire damaged or water damaged phones? Well lucky for you there are some chances your case isn’t always over. Depending on the circumstances and situation there’s still a good and fair amount of data that can be recovered.
The main thing to consider is that unless it’s a phone that needs a “manual” exam, the only piece we need in working order is the circuit board. In most cases everything we need is stored on that board. What I’m saying is that just because the screen is cracked or the housing is smashed or even it’s a flip phone that’s been snapped in two, you can still get data!
There’s two main ways you can do this. Number one is to simply remove the circuit board and place it in to a model match phone. I recently achieved this using an iPhone 4 that wouldn’t go into DFU mode. Another way similar to this is to take pieces and replace the damaged pieces that ate hindering your analysis. Get used to replacing cracked screens if you have to manipulate the device before analysis. (i.e. USB debugging mode) The problem with this is that you may not have a model match phone lying around or have the ability to acquire one.
To get around this you can attempt to remove the circuit board and simply connect it to a power source and then to your tool. A small DC regulated lab power supply can come in handy to connect the pins to the battery connectors and actually power on the device without the battery even being needed. As long as the circuit board is receiving the appropriate amount of power from your sources the analysis process will work in a lot of cases even without the all the parts attached.
Sometimes you’ll have to go a step further and actually replace pieces on the circuit board. The most common one here is replacing a damaged data port. This is actually desoldering the connector and putting a new one in its place. It’s actually not that difficult to do with a little practice.
Water damaged phones are a bit of a different story and will be saved for a post down the road. The main thing to mention is that it is imperative to get the phone apart to dry and that you have to make sure there is no corrosion as it is NOT your friend.
So where can you find the skill set to achieve all this? Well one of the best trainings I’ve attended is the WildPCS training on mobile device repair. It was an outstanding class. You can even take the class as part of a Teel Tech training class which also covers some Chip Off forensics training. I will say that for the day to day work, the repair as become absolutely vital to the lab. You’re going to need a hearty set of prying tools, screwdrivers, and other things to become skilled at getting these tiny plastic cases off without damage, but the guys at WildPCS do an awesome job teaching you how to get them apart.
Have any good stories about repairing phones for a case? Comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and share it!