My Digital Forensic Career Pathway
Let me start by introducing myself, I’m Patrick, 39 years of age and from a working-class background. I’ve lived in London all my life, my parents moved to the UK from Southern Ireland when they were young and started a new life together and family. I am the youngest of two children. Since a young age I was constantly questioning ‘how things worked’ and carried around many unanswered questions in my mind. I guess you could say I had a scientific mind.
At the age of around 8 years old my parents invested in my first computer, a ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k’, it was top of the range back then. It was exciting times, and after enjoying many games I soon wanted to know how the games were created and how the computer ran them. I spent many long tedious hours on copying coding from manuals to make small programs compile and run; even though the results were very basic, it was very satisfying. I soon discovered ‘Technology’ was not stationary and advancements were constant, this has kept my interest to this very day.
I left school with good GCSEs and progressed through college and decided to go onto University.Unfortunately. I was more interested in my own personal development through much socialising and all that comes with it, so it became apparent that I wasn’t committed to my studies and returned home. I soon found myself working within the retail industry.
Time passed and I gained much experience in many short-lived careers, still using my free time working on my PC and following the current computer trends. It was in 2014 I was made redundant and found myself in a difficult situation and receiving government benefit. During this period I joined a local government scheme and started a computer course, and within six months I had completed and passed the ‘European Computer Driving License’ (ECDL) levels 2 and 3. The passion for learning had returned and in the same year moved onto a ‘Higher Education Diploma’ in Computing with the help of the ‘21+ loan’. With this new qualification, a door opened for the opportunity to return to University, even though I was anxious at returning as a mature student. I embraced the opportunity and enrolled onto a BSc degree in ‘Computer Science’ and after three years and achieving a 2.2 award, I discovered my love for digital forensics and the ability to investigate and extract data even when it had been hidden or deleted was of great interest. I continued studying this field and completed a MSc in ‘Cyber Security and Forensics’.
Throughout my education, I’ve gained a good knowledge and understanding of many computer science fundamentals, including information systems and software security. Within Cyber security and forensics, I’ve worked with state-of-the-art technologies involved with security threats and data acquisition using such tools as FTK, X Ways and Encase.
On completion of my studies, I continued my involvement in the field by joining digital forensic groups and attended many interesting expos, enabling me to connect and network with people from the industry. It was around this time, I was informed of vacancies within the civil service, and the position for Forensic Practitioner became available for HMRC as part of their ‘Digital support and Innovation’ business area.
This was an exciting opportunity to hone my skills in the field of digital forensics and included working on mobile devices and even vehicles. Extensive training programs was offered to aid development. I decided to put myself forward for the position and my application was successful.
My role involves working in the front-line for investigations in a professional laboratory using tools and techniques and abiding the HMRC regulations pursuant to the ACPO Good Practice Guide for computer-based electronic evidence; IPA, RIPA, CPIA, GDPR, and PACE. I am part of a large team within the Fraud Investigation Service (FIS) responsible for the department’s Civil and Criminal Investigations, tackling the most serious tax evasion and fraud supporting investigations totalling hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Some cases can take many years under investigation to gather enough compelling evidence to be taken to trial. One such recent case involved a small number of suspects who were involved in a £100 million-pound tax fraud. HMRC worked closely with the CPS and numerous devices were seized to collect approximately seven terabytes of data, following strict procedures to ensure the integrity was kept; it uncovered many electronic documents and files. This data was analysed, and the findings played a vital role in obtaining successful convictions for which was known as a ‘Major attack on the Tax Revenue of the U.K’.
I have been enrolled onto industry renowned courses such as, ‘CompTIA A +’ and ‘College of Policing’ and there is great scope for career development. There is a great future within this industry and I’m looking forward to learning new skills to work more with analysis of data and assist with live cases which may be taken to court and maybe even being called up as an ‘Expert Witness’.
Returning to study an old passion was the best decision I’ve ever made and would urge anyone with an interest to pursue their goals, because with some hard work and commitment anything can be achieved.