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So You Want to Get into DFIR? Public Sector Edition

So you’ve decided to go into the Public Sector for your Digital Forensics job? That is you’ve passed the rigorous background checks and the long awaited clearance background if you’re going to a Federal entity. Awesome! What you’ll probably see is that you’ll already have some sort of training program put into place to get you going. On top of that you’ll be working closely with folks who have “seen it all, done it all” as well. How cool is that! But my word, they don’t let you touch anything!

Yes, depending on what agency you would elect to go to — you are most likely in law enforcement as the reporting entity. And things like legal jurisdiction and 4th Amendment are going to come up so much in your first couple years, you’ll be able to recite the exact language to comply with it.

The Darker Side of Life

I’m not going to mince words here: this is the real reason why I said you need to have a good head on your shoulders and a strong moral conviction. You’re going to be seeing a lot of nasty stuff in your day-to-day activities.

John Irvine wrote out it in his blog which can be found here.
And Lee Whitfield spoke about it at the DFIR Summit in 2015 here.

This is not a pretty world to be in. I feel that my time in the military and dealing with coordinating our wounded and deceased brothers and sisters in arms prepared me very well for how to compartmentalize and leave this stuff at the office when I walked out the door. It will never be a time where you are not disgusted by it. And this isn’t just the dirty pictures. It is the videos of someone being beheaded. It is watching animal abuse. It is watching someone be literally buried alive. In fact, as one ICAC member told me, “if you ever reach a point in your career where it doesn’t disgust you what you’re seeing, it is time to find a new job.” You’ll never get used to see it. All I can offer from my experience is keep a clear head, talk to someone if it starts to do anything to you mentally/physically/spiritually and don’t beat yourself up too badly about it. Do not hesitate to seek help if you feel it is getting to be too much.

The Brighter Side of Life

Many of the cases you’re going to work will have a direct impact on someone’s life for the better. Many of these cases are crimes against someone or something. Finding the evil thing that was committed against them and watching the resolution and the closure they receive can be some of the most uplifting moments you’ll feel. They literally have to say nothing to you, but you will just know you did something amazing for them and changed their life. This is something that I just don’t truly see in the private sector world because you are not going to interact with the kinds of cases you will if you’re working for law enforcement agency.

Prepare for Court

Something both sides will deal with, but you’ll probably see this a whole lot more on the public sector side. Everything you do is going to be scrutinized. Heavily. After all, you are basically holding the fate of another person in your hands when you are working these cases. Court can be really stressful when you first start going. Try to not let it get to your head as that stress can do some nasty stuff to yourself that you don’t need. Make sure you are prepping with your legal team and get feedback from your peers as well. And then do what I have always been told to do, “Just tell the truth.” Be over before you know it!


To me, this will always be the way for someone who is starting out to go. You gain some much needed experience within the role and your knowledge of how legal system and investigations will only make you that much stronger of a person within this field. I don’t slight anyone who doesn’t do this approach, it isn’t for everyone after all. I am just of the opinion that giving back to your city/state/country, even if it is only for a few years, is a noble service and what you’ll get out of it will just make you that much stronger of a candidate when/if you do head to private sector.

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