Digitally Forged History

Published in
5 min readSep 16, 2019


“Chain of custody” takes center stage as local governments go digital

The Front-Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority is sorting through an alleged $17,000,000 crime that was enabled by digital forgeries (Rich Cooley, Norther Virginia Daily).

Starting in 2016, the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) executive director admitted to stealing $2,700,000 as part of an alleged multi-year $17,000,000 conspiracy that may have included the local Sheriff and multiple businessmen by the time it was stopped (The Northern Virginia Daily). While these alleged crimes included shell companies and misdirected payments as seen in many embezzlement cases, the part of the EDA case that is the hardest to prove has been the easiest to see. At the core of these alleged crimes were a few simple acts that everyone agrees happened yet have already cost over $650,000 to prove: digitally forged history.

Most local governments in America are moving to digital records. Instead of warehouses filled with paper copies of the hundreds to thousands of official, signed documents generated each month, documents are now printed, signed, scanned, and saved. Once saved, those files must be trustworthy. The person who controls what files are saved in those servers currently controls that digital truth.

Local governments often go digital by scanning and saving physically signed documents.

In the Front Royal-Warren County case, the EDA executive director had access to the servers which held those official files. As with any employee or official in a similar capacity, anyone with access to those official files could log onto those servers, open the digital copy of any approved and scanned file, alter it on nearly any computer or device, and replace the real file with a digital forgery — creating a new digital history that “authorized” theft.

Without a strong chain of custody strategy, changing “history” is as easy as forging a saved file

Theft that relies on digital documents — just like theft that relies upon paper documents — will often have a trail that investigators can use to unravel the crime. With digital documents, it is getting easier to erase a criminal’s digital trail, making guilt more difficult and expensive to prove.

Identifying forgeries in cases like the EDA’s requires examining a file’s metadata to see who has accessed, modified, or saved the file at what dates and on which devices. While sophisticated criminals can alter this data to render any conclusions useless, the cost of performing the investigation around a digital forensic analysis on the less sophisticated forgeries seen in the Warren County EDA case have already cost more than $450,000 and nearly $200,000 of directly associated legal fees — meaning it has already cost nearly a quarter of the money the EDA executive director admitted to stealing just to prove it had been stolen.

Proving a fraud that everyone knows happened has already cost EDA over $650,000

These costly investigations are now avoidable. While no one wants to expect that any current employees or future leaders will turn to fraud or theft, Trokt is a solution that will reduce the cost of digital forensic analyses like those required for the EDA case from more than $650,000 to $0.10 per document (Trokt).

Using Trokt as part of a chain of custody strategy reduces valuation costs to around $0.10 per document

Trokt does this by inserting one simple step into each document digitization process, a step that will take someone with internet access less than one minute to complete. Once a signed document is scanned, the administrator would use the Trokt portal to capture the document’s “digital thumbprint”. The file’s digital thumbprint would be saved in a distributed storage network, and the original file would be saved and controlled locally per the organization’s standard file management practices.

Implementing Trokt as part of a chain of custody strategy adds less than a minute to the digitization process

The process that Trokt uses to capture a file’s digital thumbprint creates a one-way scramble, or hash. This one-way scramble, unlike encryption, cannot be used to reproduce the original document — meaning a document remains secure even when its thumbprint is stored in a distributed network.

While a digital thumbprint cannot be used to recreate a file, each file’s unique thumbprint can be used to spot forgeries. Since every file has a unique digital thumbprint that never changes over time, any modifications to any file will instantly produce a completely different one-way scramble — immediately proving a forgery.

When Trokt saves a document’s “digital thumbprint,” forgeries can be identified instantly

Trokt’s patent-pending method for distributed thumbprint storage protects these one-way scrambles by saving them in plain sight, so no single entity can ever change these historic records. Where Warren County’s executive director had the ability to rewrite the EDA’s digital history all on her own, Trokt’s network of independently validating servers means no single bad actor can stop the immediate discovery of a forgery.

The process used by Trokt to protect organizations from forgery serves the exact function investigators require when ensuring chain of custody in court admissible digital forensic analyses (Infosec). This means that Trokt will not only eliminate the cost of proving a forgery, potential future bad actors would be deterred from thinking they could get away with this type of digital alteration theft in the first place.

To learn more about Trokt’s document validation solutions and services, please contact us at



Editor for

We build technologies that protect your legally sensitive interactions in a digital world.