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Virtual labs will need to be able to articulate how the integrity of their evidence is maintained, given the nature of their operation. Malware viruses, worms, and the like could be hiding on any evidence drive brought in for examination. To mitigate the risk, these drives should be scanned for viruses by at least one antivirus tool prior to examination. Evidence Storage When the evidence is not actively being examined, it must be stored in a secure location with limited access.

One of the best solutions is a data safe.

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These safes come in multiple sizes and are specifically designed to protect digital evidence from theft and fire. Some types of digital media are very vulnerable to heat tape, for example.

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A data safe is able to keep the media at an acceptable temperature long enough hopefully for the fire to be extinguished. Evidence storage locations must be kept locked at all times when not actively being used. A log or audit trail should also be maintained detailing who entered, when they entered, and what they removed or returned.

Access to evidence storage and other sensitive areas can be controlled by a variety of means including pass codes and key cards.

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Electronic controls have some dis- tinct advantages over keys. This audit trail can be very helpful in monitoring and verifying the chain of custody. SOPs are documents that detail, among other things, how common forensic exam- inations should be performed.

The art in writing SOPs lies in finding the right balance between being too narrow or overly broad. If too specific, the SOP will lack the flexibility needed to address any unusual conditions that may arise. If too broad, they can be ineffective in keeping things consistent and ensuring the integrity of the evidence. Quality assurance QA is a bedrock principle that underpins every discipline in forensic science. As such, every lab should have a QA program.

The review process can be divided into two discrete types: a technical review and an administrative review. In the forensic community, this is known as proficiency testing. In a pro- ficiency test, examiners must demonstrate their competence with mock evi- dence. There are four types of proficiency tests: 1.

Open test—the analyst s and technical support personnel are aware they are being tested. Quality Assurance 33 2. Blind test—the analyst s and technical support personnel are not aware they are being tested. Internal test—conducted by the agency itself. External test—conducted by an agency independent of the agency being tested. These tests may be conducted in-house, with other lab personnel.

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This documentation will be critical should that happen. The case of Glen Woodall, although concerning DNA, is a powerful example of the need for quality assurance. He was summarily sentenced to two life terms with an additional sentence of to years in prison The DNA Initiative. The arrest and conviction of Woodall brought some much needed closure to both of the victims and peace to the community as a whole.

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During the investigation it was found that Woodall was innocent, and that he, too, was a victim. What the panel found was extremely disturbing. The panel also found that his supervisors may have been culpable as well, overlooking or hiding complaints about his performance Chan, In , twenty-four years later, the real suspect was arrested and eventually con- victed of the crimes of which Woodall was originally found guilty. Cases like this hammer home the need for effective quality assurance programs in all forensic sciences. Tool Validation Our tools, be they hardware or software, must function as they are designed.

A validation process clearly demonstrates that the tool is working properly, is reliable, and yields accurate results.

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To do otherwise will put any evidence found in real jeopardy of being excluded. There are different types of documentation and reports used throughout the entire forensic process. Normally, all the paperwork associated with a specific case is collected into a case file. The case file will contain all of the documentation pertaining to the case, including paperwork generated by the examiner and others.

They help guide personnel through the process and ensure that a high level of quality is main- tained.

Forms ensure all the necessary information is captured in a uniform manner. Typically, forms are used to describe the evidence in detail make, model, serial number, etc. They must be detailed enough to enable another examiner to duplicate the process used during the examination. This applies to both criminal and civil cases. It can be months or even years before a case ever gets to trial.

By the time you have to testify, you may only be able to recall few, if any, facts of the case. The case documentation, and your notes in particular, will prove a great tool to refresh your recollection. The lawyers, investigators, judges, and clients will most likely have little to no technical background.

All too often these reports are filled with technical jargon and details that only serve to frustrate and confuse the majority of its intended audience. These reports should be comprehensible to a nontechnical audience. Jargon and acronyms should be kept to an absolute minimum.

The summary is a brief description of the results of the examina- tion. The end users of our reports find this feature useful, especially in light of the massive caseload and amount of information they are typically dealing with. The findings included here should be supported and explained in the detailed findings. The detailed findings provide the substance of the report. They provide the details of the examination, steps taken, results, and so on.

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Anything we can do to help our intended audience wade through any unfamiliar jargon and acronyms is always a good thing. Conveying our findings in a way that can be understood is our responsibility as forensic professionals. There are tools for specific purposes as well as tools with broader functionality. They can be commer- cial tools that must be purchased or they can be open source that are freely avail- able. There are advantages and disadvantages to all. Keep in mind, no single tool does everything or does everything exceedingly well. Using multiple tools is also a great way to vali- date your findings.

The same results, with two different tools, significantly increase the reliability of the evidence. Tool Selection The digital forensic tool market boasts a large number of products, with more roll- ing out all the time. How does an examiner know which tools are reliable and which ones are not? How should these tools be validated? After each update, the tool should be validated again.