It seems like I am asked this question at least twice a month via email. This week, I was asked 4 times. Instead of telling people the same thing over and over, I figured I would write a blog and refer the next person to it. Having said that, if you have positive experiences to add, please do so in the comments. Remember, we all needed to get our start somewhere. The biggest mistake we can make is not helping those who want to do what we do every single day!
I am often asked, “how did you get into this field and how did you get where you are today?” My response, “I was in the right place at the right time.” I graduated with a BS in Forensic and Investigative Science from WVU and could not get a job in Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, as I had planned. Remember, this was 2002, before CSI! Yes, I am older than 24… hard to believe. 😉 I applied and interviewed with several Government agencies and Police Departments. Nobody would hire a grad with no experience and the Forensic degree was a new thing. I was one of the first 4 with this degree in the United States. This makes me feel old…
So how did I get from here (I actually did this in college):
This is where the Air Force helped me. I joined the Air National Guard to pay my tuition so I could get my degree. On my way to a drill weekend, flying in the back of a C-130, I met an IT guy from ManTech. He told me he could put me in touch with someone hiring an evidence technician. And the rest was history. Well, not really – they didn’t want to hire me because I didn’t understand digital evidence as my experience was in physical evidence. However, I made them see that it is really the same. How we handle it is the same. They took a chance and my career in Digital Forensics began. I was lucky to have a great boss who was willing to teach me how the tools worked and no just press buttons. Without him (nickname: Lancer), I have no idea where I would be today. I showed the interest and he took the time to teach me.
So, how can you meet your Lancer, you ask? You need to meet people to introduce you to opportunities. You need to network! Emailing someone on LinkedIn is not fully networking. You need to get out there and go to conferences where these people thrive. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask for help. There is always someone who will help you. If you get turned away, you haven’t found your Lancer. Keep looking and don’t give up.
When I am approached for help, I ask a few things?
- What is your background?
- What do you want to do? Most people don’t know, so I point them to webcasts and blogs to see what sparks their interest (see below).
- Can you get a clearance?
- Are you willing to move?
You need to take the initiative to show your interest. By this, I mean take any training you can. Not all training is cheap and the courses I teach are expensive, but are worth the money. If you cannot pay for training, take free training, watch free webcasts, read forensic blogs and books and practice on your own. This will give show you are trying, show you are passionate about the field and give you some cool stories to share at your interviews.
Your best bet is to pay and attend a forensic conference to meet people who are in the field. My favorite is the SANS DFIR Summit, for the sole reason that examiners present – not vendors. So you are getting a glimpse of different careers, the tools and methods they use and how they fill the gaps that the tools cannot meet. It’s amazing and it’s the best networking experience of the year. But, it’s not free! Can’t afford it, ask a speaker to sponsor you as their guest! Again – back to that networking thing. You have to jump out of your shell and ask! Other conferences that may be helpful (and there are so many) EnFuse, HTCIA, BlackHat, DEFCON, Mobile Forensics World, Paraben and others. Before attending one, I recommend you look at the agenda, the speakers and determine if this is what you want to spend your time and money attending. Each offers something different and all have a target audience.
Take forensic training. It’s that simple. Learn the trade. Some courses are free and some cost a good chunk of change! Again, take what you can and remember it’s better to start somewhere vs. never getting started. Here is a list you can refer to: http://www.forensicswiki.org/wiki/Training_Courses_and_Providers
Shameless plug: I author and teach for the SANS Institute. I recommend FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensics. Why? Because it’s fun, cutting edge, vendor neutral and it’s my baby. 🙂 Plus, who doesn’t have a phone? May as well learn how to forensicate it.
Books to read (just Google them – you can buy them in several placed):
These are the books that helped me get into this field and still help me during my investigations:
File System Forensic Analysis – Brian Carrier
Handbook of Digital Forensics and Investigations – Eoghan Casey
Harlan Carvey’s books on Windows and Registry Forensics
Practical Mobile Forensics 2nd Edition – Mahalik and Tamma (again shameless plug…)
These books are necessarily something you would read cover to cover, but they are great reference material. Will show you how to examine your own computer and phones and will get you some hands on experience! Most suggest free and commercial tools, so you can access what we use on a daily basis. There are several others out there, but these are general enough and have helped me.
This is a great place to start because it’s free and you can hop around as you wish. Clearly you are here on my blog, but others I recommend are:
Cheeky4n6monkey –Learning about digital forensics
Az4n6blog – Another Forensics Blog
Mac4n6blog – Mac Forensics (iOS too)
SANS – DFIR Blog
Gillware – Murphy’s Laws of Digital Forensics
The SANS institute sponsors and hosts webcasts, where professionals give you a glimpse of topics they care about, courses they teach and developments in forensics. Check it out! It’s free and you can refer back to archives and get tons of free training. https://www.sans.org/webcasts/
If you have done all of these things and you are ready to break into forensics, let’s talk. I hope to meet you at a SANS event or conference soon. Good luck and never let anyone tell you it’s to hard to get into. It’s not always what you know, but who you know and how hard you are willing to work!