Daily Blog #3: The Progession of the Digital Forensic Examiner

The Progession of the Digital Forensic Examiner by David Cowen

Hello Reader,
    I've been asked these questions many times; "What does it take to become a 'real' digital forensic examiner?", and "What will it take for me to achieve a higher level of understanding and ability?" If you can create verifiable results in any tool that another examiner can recreate and successfully defend your findings I consider you to be a real digital forensic examiner. 

If you want to know what it takes to grow and become a better digital forensic examiner I decided to make the following list of milestones and optional achievements that an examiner can use to judge their place in their own digital forensic knowledge progression.

    Now this list is just for digital forensics, I don't know enough about the IR world to make a similar list. The list of milestones is not a linear path either, its met as a series of goalposts you can achieve in any order. The purpose of this post is not be judged on what you have not done, but rather to help you see what you can do in your continuing career as a digital forensic examiner. 

There is truly no ending point as the amount of data we can continue to research and understand grows on a daily basis! My plan is to expand this list into a series of posts that explain each milestone, what it takes to achieve it and how it benefits you. For those of you who want to join me in the overachiever club feel free to do all of them! Otherwise, pick the milestones that mean the most to you and your current needs and make a plan to succeed.

Milestone 1 - Your tool defines your workflow.

    This is where most examiners start, they get access to one tool (it doesn't matter what tool TCT/Encase/FTK/Xways/Prodiscover/SMART/etc..), they get some kind of training and their abilities are defined by what their tool suite can do.

Milestone 2 - You get certified on your tool.

    You've learned enough about your tool and the artifacts it parses to show competency through certification.

Milestone 3 - You look beyond your tool.

    You've found the limits of your tool and discovered there are additional artifacts that would help your investigation, you start using other tools in your investigations to augment your main suite.

Milestone 4 - You get certified with a vendor neutral certification.

    You realize that your vendor certification is great for showing competency in using their tool, but it does not represent your skills of the overall forensic process.

Milestone 5 - You become less about the tool and more about the artifact.

    You start memorizing where all your favorite artifacts are that you use in your investigations, you start comparing tools to see which gives you output you like the most.

Milestone 6 - You understand what's normal and what's missing for multiple versions of the same operating system.

    You've done enough investigations and testing now to be able to spot what's missing and let the users attempts to hide their actions guide your investigation.

Milestone 7 - You master re-creation testing.

    You are a virtual machine master easily testing new artifacts and hypothesis to create defensible results.

Milestone 8 - Your processes and workflow become not only understandable but accepted by 3rd parties.

    You've moved your ideas away from tools and to operating system versions, states and artifacts to the point that any other examiner can replicate your work with any tool.

Milestone 9 - You master more than one operating system's artifacts.

    You've moved beyond the first operating system you learned about and started the quest to learn more about other operating systems artifacts.

Milestone 10 - You understand how file systems store data and can run tests to determine behavior.

    You've moved beyond the artifact to the underlying operating system and file system for a deeper understanding.

Milestone 11 - You've realized that to optimize your workflow you need to learn some basic programming.

    Frustrated by how many separate tools you have to run and combine, you start to write your own scripts to stitch them together.

Milestone 12 - You've found enough deficiencies in the tools you use, you begin to write your own.

    You've learned the artifacts, you've read the white papers, now your ready to get the output in just the way you want it by writing your own version.

Milestone 13 - You've developed your own data structures parsers and you begin looking into new data structures to make new tools.

    You have moved beyond just recreating other peoples tools into creating your own! The digital world is your forensic oyster!

Milestone 14 - You get the artifact bug and spend your free time thinking of what else might exist and start creating testing environments solely to find new artifacts.

    The sheer number of possibilities has taken hold of you and you realize you've found a career for life.

The following are listed as Optional Achievements.

Why optional? Not every position where you will be doing computer forensics will put you in the position to be able to do all of these, but they are nice moments in your career that others will notice. 

Optional Achievement 1 - You submit an affidavit/declaration to the court

Optional Achievement 2 - You get appointed as a fact witness

Optional Achievement 3 - You get appointed as an expert witness

Optional Achievement 4 - You submit an expert report to the court

Optional Achievement 5 - You are accepted by a court as an expert

Optional Achievement 6 - You've contributed a plugin to a tool

Optional Achievement 7 - You've written a white paper on a forensic artifact

Optional Achievement 8 - You start a forensic blog

Optional Achievement 9 - You present research at a forensic conference

Optional Achievement 10 - You write a book on forensics

Optional Achievement 11 - You release a tool

Optional Achievement 12 - You find a new forensic artifact!

Disagree with me? Think I missed something? Want to do more with this? Comment below, lets talk.
In the following days I'll be writing a post per milestone to expound on what I mean and how you can determine if you've achieved it.

Also Read: 
Milestones 11 & 12 - Detailed
Milestones 10 - Detailed 
Milestones 8 & 9 - Detailed 
Milestones 7 & 8 - Detailed 
Milestones 5 & 6 - Detailed 
Milestones 3 & 4 - Detailed 
Milestones 1 & 2 - Detailed 

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