July 24, 2013 -- Even if Anthony Weiner's sexting problem is behind him, as he claimed in a press conference this week, the trail of illicit photos and communications he has had with various women on the Internet continues to follow him. Sure, technology has allowed for secret affairs and communication to be more easily uncovered and monitored, but some tools have also allowed people to more easily cover their tracks and avoid getting caught in the first place -- or so you'd think.
Snapchat, the iPhone and Android app that automatically deletes photos and videos after viewing them, is one of the main digital tools that comes to mind. Since the Weiner news broke on Tuesday, hundreds of people have tweeted, wondering why the former congressman didn't use the photo-destroying app to cover his tracks.
While the trail of photos and messages might not have been as detailed had Snapchat been used, there is still a possibility that there would have been a viewable trail. Users are able to take screenshots through Snapchat, and while Snapchat's CEO says that the photos are deleted off its own servers, through some tinkering, getting access to "deleted" or "vanished" Snapchat photos and videos is possible.
Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner at Decipher Forensics, says that old Snapchat photos and videos can be accessed from the recipient's phone.
"On Android phones, we're able to recover pictures," Hickman told ABC News. "On iOS devices, we can recover videos." In addition to the photos and videos themselves, Hickman can also find out when the photo was sent and occasionally the username that sent it.
However, the photos/videos, the times and the username are all stored separately. If a phone receives multiple Snapchats from multiple users, it's harder to link all the information together. It's similar to knowing all the possible locations, murder weapons and suspects in a game of Clue and trying to deduce who killed Mr. Boddy. "We're still working on how to correlate all of the metadata," said Hickman.
There's risk in Snapchat, but more risk, say experts, in using your real name. Chris Watkins, a registered private investigator working with Stillinger Investigations, says that lying about your identity is key to not getting caught. "If I set up an e-mail account or social media account with false information, there would be no way to trace it back to me unless [someone] got in touch with the webmasters," he told ABC News.
Weiner had made the mistake of posting pictures to his personal Twitter account leading to what first became known as Weinergate back in 2011. According to website "The Dirty," racy messages were also allegedly posted under a pseudonym. If a suspected sexter trying to remain anonymous were to post from a fake Twitter account, experts say, it would be far more difficult to uncover his identity and even harder to prove it. "Most social networking companies don't give [account] information out freely," Watkins said.
However, even a fake account used over and over might tip off PIs. If there were an e-mail address (real or fake) associated with the fake account, private investigators can set a trap that would have given the accountholder away. After an investigator sends out an e-mail to a suspect, they can use the service ReadNotify to figure out the IP address of where the suspect opened the e-mail. "If they're using a wired network and not using their cellphones, then [the location we get back] is usually pretty accurate," said Watkins.
Using a wired network almost seems antiquated in the age of smartphones. Many people access e-mail and other services over cell networks. Ed Opperman, the president of Opperman Investigations, said that cellphone users can still get caught if they're not careful. "If they open up the e-mail [on a phone], we might be able to get a phone number," he said. In addition, sometimes the phone number is linked to the app data the phone transmits.
Weiner might not have been all that careful, but ultimately, Opperman, who said he was involved in proving that Tiger Woods was unfaithful says though that even the most careful sexter can leave a trail, "One slip-up will bring everything down."