Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dealing with the unpleasant side of computer forensics

Yesterday I touched briefly on the fact that high tech investigations can lead to the examiner being exposed to disturbing material (graphic images, videos, descriptions of crimes committed, etc.). How the examiner reacts to such exposure is very much down to the individual - some can be traumatised, others are able to maintain an emotional distance from the material in question. In addition, an examiners response may change over time.

How we respond to this issue is an important challenge for our profession. The problem is not new, it is the same as that confronted by many of those whose work is emotionally challenging, but I often feel we have been slow to admit how serious an issue this is for computer forensic examiners. In particular, the amount of material which needs to be processed and the fact that many examiners come from a purely technical background (rather than one where crimes or acts of violence are more routinely encountered) can prove problematic.

What can we do? As always the first stage is to admit, especially in some formal sense, that there is an issue which needs to be addressed. There are signs that this is happening and I'm encouraged to hear of psychological assessments being considered standard practice in many organisations. We need to ensure that we don't consider that the end of our responsibilities, however. A regular assessment needs to be seen as the bare minimum required by responsible employers, a method of catching those who have slipped through the net if you will. We need to focus our attention on the environment within which we work on a daily basis and try to foster an atmosphere of mutual support and understanding each and every day in the workplace. All this is easier said than done, of course, and there will be those who consider it a waste of time. In addition, many of us work in environments where it might seem that concern or compassion are hard to express. It needn't be difficult though, just the occasional word of support or friendly enquiry can make all the difference to an examiner's state of mind. And each time we do so, we set the tone for tomorrow, a day when we ourselves might need some help.

Back tomorrow with something lighter.

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