Whether searching for evidence in a criminal prosecution or determining employee activities in a civil dispute, lawyers are increasingly calling on digital forensics experts for investigatory and expert testimony services.
Digital forensics specialists possess unique talents that distinguish them from other tech experts. "Founded in law enforcement, digital forensics encompasses legal, technical, and investigative knowledge," observed Alton Sizemore, a former FBI special agent who managed programs in cybercrime and white-collar crime. "A major differentiator between digital forensics and IT is the forensic expert's training and experience in the preservation and analysis of digital evidence and the ability to present their findings in a court of law," said Sizemore, who is currently director of investigations at Forensic Strategic Solutions, a forensics investigation firm headquartered in Birmingham, Ala.
Like many other types of expert consultants, digital forensics specialists are frequently found by word of mouth. "Attorneys seeking a digital forensics expert will many times send an intra-office email asking if other attorneys in the firm have had good results with particular expert," said Donald Wochna, chief legal officer at Vestige Digital Investigations, a computer forensics firm located in Medina, Ohio. Wochna added that many digital forensic experts enjoy excellent reputations from testifying in court, authoring books, and providing presentations and seminars.
"Most of my clients come to me by referrals," said Vinny Troia, a digital forensics investigator at Night Lion Security, an IT security company with offices in New York, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. "Almost all attorneys know some IT people; sometimes, it's just a matter of connecting the dots."
Sizemore recommended hiring an expert as soon as the need arises. "Because digital evidence is easily compromised, hiring an expert early in the litigation process can help ensure that valuable evidence is preserved," he said. "Moreover, the proper analysis and interpretation of digital evidence not only takes time, but can be the difference between winning and losing your case."
Steven Gill, a managing partner at BTB Security, an IT security and forensics firm located near Philadelphia, said that a digital forensics expert should have strong investigatory skills, data and image acquisition skills, and an ability to create and maintain detailed documentation. The expert should also have keep knowledge of relevant computer and mobile device platforms, such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, Apple IOS, and Google Android, as well as experience with investigatory tools like Guidance Software's EnCase Forensic and FTK's Forensic Toolkit. "It's important to verify all of these [skills]," Gill said. "For example, you may find a very competent forensic examiner; it just might not be the right case for his or her first time reviewing a Mac-based system."
Lawyers should also look for digital forensics experts with strong e-discovery process knowledge and abilities. "I would also highly recommend querying the candidate on their experience with managing a chain of custody process for criminal cases specifically and request sample report deliverables to verify the quality of the expert's work," said Anthony Williams, a security and forensics instructor at TrainACE, a Greenbelt, Md.-based computer and security training company.
QUALIFICATIONS AND QUALITY
Certification provides evidence that a digital forensics expert possesses basic knowledge of generally accepted forensics procedures and practices. "There are several computer and digital forensics certifications that a lawyer could look for, such as a CHFI (Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator), CCFE (Certified Computer Forensics Examiner) or the DFCB (Digital Forensic Certification Board)," Williams said. "Anyone holding one or more of these certifications has been trained in digital forensics process and has also had some exposure to preparation as an expert witness."