Is Digital Forensics too dependent on point and click tools?

Should the Federal Government regulate Digital Forensics?

Does Digital Forensics fall under the umbrella of Technology or Science?

Digital Forensic Certification Bodies Should be Accredited by the Forensic Specialities Accreditation Board (FSAB)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who watches the watchers?

We are reaching what could be termed a tipping point in the development/ maturation of digital forensics. We are starting to see an increasing demand for certifications specific to digital forensics. This parallels the historical development of information security and assurance. As the demand for more secure networks and personnel trained to test and defend these systems increased, so to did the need for industry to gauge who was at least minimally qualified to claim they were professionals in this field. This demand spurred on a industry dedicated to certify professional information security professionals. Unfortunately a conflict of interest soon arose. The same companies that were certifying the professionals through some type of examination, were also selling the training and study guides for their tests. One of the cardinal rules of accreditation and certification was broken – no independent accreditation body was setup to provide oversight for the training and testing companies. The fox was and is guarding the hen house.

Digital forensics now has numerous certifying bodies which in fact are thinly disguised training and testing companies. Come take our training, read our guide, take our test and low and behold you are certified in digital forensics. The arguments put forward for using this model yet again is that it if it is good enough for information security then its good enough for us. But wait, we can claim a direct lineage to the forensic sciences. Given this context we can look to the world of forensics and determine what our sister sciences have done. The forensic sciences seem to be very sensitive to the issues of conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived. As such the Forensic Specialities Accreditation Board (FSAB) was developed. The mission of the FSAB is as follows:

"The goal of this program is to establish a mechanism whereby the forensic community can assess, recognize and monitor organizations or professional boards that certify individual forensic scientists or other forensic specialists. This program has been established with the support and grant assistance of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) and theNational Institute of Justice (NIJ)."

Currently there about 16 accrediting boards recognized by the FSAB. Unfortunately there are no recognized boards or bodies related to digital forensics. This presents us with a very real problem. The FSAB standards and criteria cover the management structure of the body, examination and certification standards, competency of evaluation personnel, recertification etc. The standards also states that no certified members can be "grand fathered":

"Grandfathering is not an acceptable method of certification. Certification bodies that used grand fathering and which were established prior to February 17, 2001, may apply for accreditation if not more than 50% of its certificants were grandfathered. Note: An individual is considered “grandfathered” if the person was issued a certificate without having taken and attained a satisfactory score in an examination designed to assess the knowledge, skills and abilities in the stated field of certification. Any grandfathered certificants must be subjected to the same examination and competency assessment as new applicants (as defined in 5.3 of these standards) no later than the regularly scheduled recertification for that individual, not to exceed a period of five years. No certification body established after Feb 17, 2001, may apply for accreditation until all its certificates have been issued according to the standards as defined section 5.1.4 of these standards."

Grand fathering has been a popular method in the Information Security field in order to instantly populate a new credential with a critical mass of members. It would seem that this practice is off the table with forensics.

The lack of any recognized accreditation board for digital forensics (at least by the FSAB, AAFS, NIJ) translates into certifications that may have little if any value. This is not to say that there aren't some first rate digital forensics professional certifications out there, it just means that none are technically recognized by the same standard as other forensic sciences. This fact cannot be lost on opposing counsels and will certainly find its way into the court room in the not so distant future.

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