ByeSO

Posted on April 20, 2015. Filed under: business, forensic, iso | Tags: , , , |

Last week I had to step down from my role as the UK’s Principal Expert on Digital Evidence to ISO/IEC JTC1 SC27 WG4 (to give it the full title – with incorrect punctuation before any reminds me).

It wasn’t something I particularly wanted to withdraw from, but the economics of it just didn’t make sense any more.

Since 2011 I’ve been attending editorial meetings, in various cities around the world, twice a year and also attended numerous meetings of BSI committees in London. The cost of doing this has come out of my business, with occasional (infrequent) small contributions from government agencies.

I’ve had to allocate at least 2 months a year to this, and it’s cost something in the region of £5k to £10k each year to support it.

It was a worthwhile activity. I’ve met and worked with some great people to develop some really useful standards, and I’ll miss them and that whole process – but the lack of support from the UK has just become unsustainable.

Unlike many of the participants, I’m from a micro-business. If I’m not doing or bringing in the work, the cash isn’t coming in either. So, I’ve had to take my accountant’s advice and stop donating to commercial bodies (the publishers and assessors make profits from the resulting standards) for standards development.

It’s a shame. Standards are genuinely useful things, especially for small businesses as they let us show that we are, at least, equivalent to the big boys. If only we could find a way to fund small businesses’ participation in standards development, instead of relying on the big multi-nationals to do it all for us.

Meanwhile, if you want to know the true intent behind ISO/IEC 27041 and 27042, please do get in touch – I was editor for them during most of the development time and I know what the words really mean (ISO English, as I may have mentioned before, is not what you think it is.)

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Research, funding and reputation

Posted on March 20, 2014. Filed under: Education, forensic | Tags: , , , , , |

I had an interesting conversation, last night, with some fascinating figures from the world of forensic science. Since the whole event was under Chatham House rules, I’m not going to disclose who was present or even what most of our discussion was about, but there was one thing we touched on where I have a fundamental disagreement with at least one senior figure. That area is academic research in forensic science.

The view taken is that the problem lies in funding – in order to stimulate forensic science research, money needs to be available. Well, great – yes, that can help and I’m delighted that FoSciSIG is looking at this. I was certainly lucky enough, during my academic career, to be awarded some EPSRC funding for a project on Cyberprofiling, and I think we did achieve something, but we had a bigger problem. We really struggled to get our results published and to be taken seriously.

Our problem was that, at that time, there was no well-recognised journal for digital forensics, so we had to either target more mainstream computing & info. sec. journals, or go for more general forensic science. In the case of the former, we had problems because our research was very much applied research and hence didn’t have quite the level of generality and “blue sky” content that was expected, and for the latter, we were up against reviewers who were more familiar with “conventional” biology, chemistry and physics type forensic science. In either case, we had to consider the “reputation” value of where we were going to publish too. It’s been a common problem for forensic science researchers for years and it has a nasty knock-on effect.

In order to get published, you often have to seek out a journal for the scientific area, rather than the forensic, and modify your writing to suit that journal. Pressure is often brought to bear to get your work in something with a high “impact” rating rather than the most appropriate channel for dissemination. As a result, your work can be categorised under the more general science, and the forensic nature is often missed. When research managers look at your output, you are no longer a forensic scientist, so the department doesn’t see any benefit in supporting forensic science and that message spreads. Don’t believe me ? Look at the Research Assessments.

The net effect is that, contrary to what senior academics might say, forensic science can be seen as something which is a spin-off from other research, something of an accidental side-effect which just happens because of good science, not something that deserves to be a discipline in its own right influenced by the needs of investigators and courts, so departmental management don’t encourage it, and without their backing there’s no call for funding bodies to take it more seriously.

Out in the practitioner world, one message we all receive very quickly is that the forensic sciences cannot stand on their own – we have to work in teams, with results from different sciences being integrated and influencing the investigative strategy. Heck, that’s even a fundamental message in most degree programmes now.

I was lucky enough to be a computer scientist in a department full of biologists, chemists, physicists and crime scene specialists once. I learnt a hell of a lot from and it changed my approach to digital investigations. If we could just achieve something similar in the research world, we might do something really significant.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please do share them in the comments.

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    About

    This is the weblog of Angus M. Marshall, forensic scientist, author of Digital Forensics : digital evidence in criminal investigations and MD at n-gate ltd.

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