Digital Threat Assessment Toolkit
Digital Evidence

7.4 Google Search Techniques

Google is the largest and most powerful search engine available on the planet. It is also a great place to start when establishing the digital baseline of a threat maker; however, it is necessary to go beyond just typing the person’s name into Google and hitting “enter.” Using search operators can yield more fruitful, relevant results. We will use Google as an example, but the following rules work in any search engine.

Boolean Search Operators

Boolean logic originated from the mathematics work of George Boole in the mid 19th century and has been integrated into computer science and online search engine functionality.

The three primary operators of Boolean logic are AND, OR, and NOT (-).

Function Boolean Operator Example Explanation
Must be present AND School AND Shooting Both School and Shooting must be present. Exclusive.
May be present OR School OR Shooting One word OR the other or Both. Inclusive.
Must Not be present - Shooting -camera Will include results for shooting but none that mention a camera. Exclusionary.

Tip: The Google search engine default is AND.

Additional Search Techniques

Using the following search techniques can help further refine results.

Quotation-Based Search

Putting quotations around a few words will tell Google to search “exactly as is” which can help return more relevant results. The first example below shows the results for a search without quotes.

Notice the difference in the total number of results when quotes are used.

Always start by using quotations for name searches. This technique refines results to more closely match the words you are searching for and filters out extraneous results.

Sort by Date Range

Searching for a broad topic can return an overwhelming number of results. Refining results based on date is a helpful way to limit results.

After you have entered your key words, click on Tools on the right-hand side. You can then narrow the results to the past hour, 24 hours, week or month, or a custom date range.

Search by Filetype Operator

Search for a specific type of document by adding “Filetype:” plus the file extension, for example pdf (Portable Document Format), xls (Excel), ppt (Powerpoint), or doc (Word Document), after your key words as illustrated below.

Filetype:pdf

Search by Site Operator

Search results refined to a specific website often give more detailed results than searching from within that website itself.

Combining File Type and Site Operator can also be useful:

Additional search tips include using:

  • A hyphen to exclude words from the search. For example, “shooting -Columbine”
  • An asterisk wildcard. The asterisk leaves a placeholder that can be filled by the search engine later. If searching for a quote, but some words are unknown, search using the words that are known, and an asterisk for the words that aren’t. For example, “I could climb * mountain.”

Tutorial Search: Advanced Google Searches