My Digital Forensics Career Pathway

by Patrick Doody

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 a 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.

When I was around eight years old my parents invested in my first computer, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k, it was top of the range back then. It was an exciting time, 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 on to university. Unfortunately I was more interested in my own personal development through much socialising and all that comes with it, and it soon became apparent that I wasn’t committed to my studies. I returned home and 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 that I was made redundant and I found myself in a difficult situation. I was receiving government benefits; it was during this period that I joined a local government scheme and started a computer course. 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 I moved on to a Higher Education Diploma in Computing with the help of the 21+ Loan.

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Patrick’s first computer was a a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128k

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. After three years and achieving a 2.2 award, I discovered my love for digital forensics. The ability to investigate and extract data from digital devices, even when it had been hidden or deleted, was of great interest. I continued studying in this field and completed an 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 when I was informed of vacancies within the civil service, and the position for Forensic Practitioner became available at 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. It included working on mobile devices and even vehicles. Extensive training programs were offered to aid my professional development. I decided to put myself forward for the position and my application was successful.

Patrick now works for HMRC

My role involves working in the front line of investigations in a professional laboratory, using a lot of different tools and techniques, and abiding by 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) which is 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 to investigate, 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. We collected approximately seven terabytes of data, following strict procedures to ensure the integrity was kept, and we uncovered many electronic documents and files. This data was analysed, and the findings played a vital role in obtaining successful convictions for what came to be known as a ‘Major Attack on the Tax Revenue of the UK’.

I have been enrolled onto industry renowned courses such as CompTIA A +, as well as courses through the 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, working more with analysis of data, assisting 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 I would urge anyone with an interest to pursue their goals, because with some hard work and commitment anything can be achieved.

This article was originally published here.

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