Sunday, June 29, 2008

Computer Forensics as a hobby?

As I read the different forums covering computer forensics, I am amazed at the number of people who want to get into it "on the side." Perhaps as a hobby or as a little extra pocket money.

This is not a slam on those who actually want to enter the field as a full time career choice. Sadly for the many upcoming graduates of the dozens of computer forensics degree programs that have sprung up like mushrooms in the last five years, the computer forensics field is not an exploding marketplace as many seem to think.

This is a cautionary note to both to the people who want to put their toe in the water and those to whom they will be selling their services.

Perhaps, we as digital forensics professionals should adopt the same motto as doctors; "First, do no harm."

I really hope that people who are attempting to enter this field take a minute and reflect on the responsibility that comes with it.

This isn't fixing your neighbor's computer on the weekend. Or helping out a small business owner with a small local area network, or even sophisticated IT work. Computer Forensics is a science that is used to recover data and then analyze that data in light of a dispute, legal or otherwise.

The technical expertise you have may help somewhat, but it is not going to translate overnight into computer forensics expertise.

You may be working for a spouse in a divorce case, or working for an employer or employee in a termination case. Or perhaps even working on behalf of someone accused of a crime that could result in them going to prison for a very long time if convicted.

When you decide to "dabble" in the field, understand that you are dabbling with people's lives, not just their computers.

The most disturbing aspect of computer forensics is that pretty much anyone can claim to have the ability to perform this service.

With free tools you can download from the Internet, you can perform some forensics functions. However, what you must bear in mind is that the technology of computer forensics, using the tools, understanding the technical challenges, is only one aspect of the service that must be delivered.

Proper chain of evidence, privacy issues, potential court testimony, professional liability and professional ethics are all paramount to working as a forensics scientist in the field of digital forensics.

Thankfully, North Carolina is taking the prudent route and will be requiring digital forensics professionals to meet at least some reasonable minimum qualifications to obtain a state license in the field. I applaud the Private Protective Services Board for taking a fair and responsible view on this issue with protecting the public interest first in mind.

If you are an attorney, company or private individual, I caution you to be very careful in selecting a computer forensics consultant. Understand what it is that they will deliver, what services they will perform and most importantly, what experience and references they have.

Let the buyer beware when contracting for these services.

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