Forensic Femmes at CEIC 2013

It wasn’t a big crowd, but it was certainly fun! Last week, a small group of us got together for the third or fourth Forensic Femmes Slumber Party. Although I still can’t contribute to discussions about timestamps, the MFT or “the worst of the worst” images and videos floating around in cyberspace, here’s a little bit of what else we did talk about:

Having a reputation as a bitch because you struggle with walking the exceedingly fine line between being as direct as the boys, but not as pleasant and “nurturing” as many of us were raised to be.

Sexual harassment. Yes, boys and girls, as tremendously supportive as the online DFIR community can be, harassment still happens — and sometimes it’s blatant. In this day and age, no woman should have to fear for her safety, much less worry about whether she’s more valued for her physique than for her brains.

By the way, if you’re at a conference and you’ve been drinking, and you’re in the same swimming pool where a woman or several women are hanging out in a group, don’t surface from the water like Swamp Thing looking to save Alice. You’re probably too drunk to save anyone (not that we needed saving to begin with) and we will forever remember you as Swamp Thing, no matter how smart a forensicator you are.

If you want to network, even while drunk, make it count. Ask what’s most important to us, what we’re researching, why we think it counts. A lot of guys in our community do this on a regular basis, and we’re all better for their support as they ask, challenge, push us past our comfort zones, and maybe even push themselves past their own comfort zones. We could not appreciate this more!

On the lighter side of things, we pondered whether you do or don’t need to have seen any of the Star Wars trilogies (especially the original) to validate your geek credentials. And in a sillier moment, we realized that you cannot pour wine from a bottle when the cap is still on.

Guess you had to be there. If you’re a female forensicator, join us next time! Meanwhile, the comments are open for debate. What have you experienced as a forensic femme, or as a man working with one or more of us?

10 thoughts on “Forensic Femmes at CEIC 2013

  1. I have to say, I’m kind of taken aback by your comments, Christa.

    “Having a reputation as a bitch…”

    Where did that come from? Has this been said about you or other women in the field?

    As someone who is constantly being told by others that I “intimidate” them (and very often men with several decades in LE…), my recommendation is to consider the source. Are you being told this by well-known experts, who are telling you what others have told them?

    With respect to your comments on networking…I have to agree. I think that the same sort of thing that leads folks to refer to you as…well…you said it…is the same thing that prevents any meaningful sharing at all. I’ve seen it at a number of conferences where folks go to “network”, but it just amounts to getting drunk.

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do to assist. Don’t restrict yourself just to the femme fatales…I’ve worked with women in the industry since 1997, and in many cases, found them to be smarter and more team-oriented than the women. At least, I’ve never had a woman say, “Hey, I found a new Registry key…”, and then tell me that they couldn’t tell me what it was…

  2. Hey Harlan, thanks for commenting. Yes, unfortunately, the “bitch” reputation has been attached to several of us. Not necessarily from the community as a whole. I personally have been told to be “less aggressive” (throughout life ;) ) and as a result of trying to counterbalance that perception, I can sometimes come off as too deferential or passive. And I’m definitely not alone in that regard.

    Great insight about the causes behind misperceptions and a lack of sharing — lots of people seem to have a poor self-image, and I guess the kind of information-hoarding you mention is symptomatic of that. “Owning” information gives the illusion of specialness. But by the same token it can be hard to know where the line is between sharing for the community’s benefit, and giving away your own power. I think some people can confidently see that line more than others can.

    Finally, don’t worry, I network plenty with the boys — I have made some wonderful contacts over the last five years, and this community really is like a family. But one thing that I think we all agree on is that while both women and men bring unique strengths to DFIR (whether these are gender-typical or not), the field is still dominated by men. So what I’m trying to do with this series is highlight what the women are doing in a bid to draw more into the field.

  3. Christa,

    Be who you are. I know that sounds cliche, but you can’t let the opinions of a few direct who you are. Don’t let those with a poor self-image affect how you interact with others.

    “…it can be hard to know where the line is between sharing for the community’s benefit, and giving away your own power.”

    Hoarding is for the small-minded; real “power” comes not from hoarding but from sharing with others. I know that there are a lot of folks who work for organizations that have a “thou shalt not share” policy, but I also know that there are other reasons why folks don’t share. Many feel that sharing opens them up to a form of peer review, and that’s where that self-image issue comes in, b/c they feel that they don’t “measure up” in some way. But isn’t that how we improve ourselves, and each other?

    “…the field is still dominated by men.”

    I wouldn’t say “dominated”; populated might be a better choice. ;-) A number of years ago at an RCFG conference, Jenn Christiansen mentioned wanting to start a mentoring program for women in the field, and I thought it was a great idea.

    I have to wonder…after this recent “slumber party”, did you get similar comments from the attendees as the one from the DC3 2012 conference? ;-)

  4. In the DFIR industry you have to be aggressive in my opinion, you can’t be to afraid to challenge others ideas and practices. While that very act is what our industry needs a lot of people do not really like to be challenged because they perceive it as you trying to be “right” when in reality you just want to find the right answer regardless of your first position.

    I believe this can lead to issues with sharing, while yes some may believe its in their best interest to not share the secrets that makes them valuable, it really only hurts everyone in the end. Any good idea is one that has been tested by the community to prove its weight. Maybe people are too afraid to be wrong or just want to feel special to themselves but they will never really push the industry forward with that type of thinking.

    I do think drinking can help those of us who have trouble communicating in public there is a fine line between a little bit to have fun and those just looking for a party. Its really a bummer that some people don’t go because its the best chance to talk with like minds on new ideas and then meet people who will become great contacts for life.

    I really like that you are trying to bring more women into the field as I personally believe the more types of people the better ideas that will come. Keep up the good work!

  5. Harlan — I don’t remember what we talked about at DC3. All I remember is that Cindy and I drank all the wine and then decided that 1 a.m. was a fine time to stroll around downtown Atlanta. ;)

    Wyatt — that’s a great point about the need for aggressiveness. In an extreme example, attorneys don’t shy from being aggressive during cross-examination… but then, there is a fine line between friendly (but direct) challenges, and outright bullying. Whether people fear the bullying or fear the fact that they might be wrong or that their professionalism will be questioned (including in court), some appear to have a perception that there’s a lot to lose from sharing. I wonder if there’s a way to overcome that?

    And yes, drinking helps me loosen up too (in case you thought I was trying to revive the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement ;) ) but I do think a lot of people aren’t prepared to have those deep conversations, especially if their priority is escaping “real life” (including the need to think) for just a few days.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. I would fully agree with the fine line statement. Any type of aggression should always be direct challenges and not outright bullying. This industry needs more people and can’t lose them because they got discouraged and attacked.

    I would be really interested in ideas on overcoming this issue of sharing because its really in some ways holding us all back. I would find myself even a bit guilty of not posting everything in fear that it isn’t perfect enough for public view. I wonder if we can learn from other industries on how to get past that fear of sharing.

    I am still a bit new in the industry, however I was still amazed when I took the volatility training course to find some people who hadn’t even use the tool before. It’s clear when some people are using conferences / training just to escape life or work. No one should be looking at these events as chances to not think for a few days.

  7. Hi Christa,

    I loved your story; parts of it resonated with me, for sure.

    I hope you have these slumber parties at every conference you find a group of women at. There are 313 in the group as of today! A pretty big potential slumber party! And I like wine!

    My experience as a female forensicator, is that I work with two other female forensicators, and there are no men in our lab. That is not the norm at all.

    We like our situation, and we work well together.

    Most of the other agencies we interact with have no women, or just a few, percentage-wise.

    Debbie

  8. Hi Debbie, thanks for the comment! We do try to have slumber parties at every show, even just dinner or drinks can work. I want to try to get better about posting upcoming events and seeing who/how many are planning to make it, and when/where they might like to get together. I don’t make every event but I don’t think anyone in our community does. It would be great to have more of these!

    That’s indeed unique that you work in an all-female lab. Bonus that you all work well together!!

  9. I can agree with you on this topic. Woman who have taken this challenge to pursue this expertise are beaten down and challenged.

    I will share my experience. I have been with LEO for 12 years and decided to learn computer forensics a year into my career because I needed a backup plan if God forbid, I was injured on duty. Being a single mom, I needed a plan. Much to my amazement, I love doing digital forensics. I left a large department for a smaller one in hopes of building a lab and offering services to other agencies. Though I was allowed to work on digital devices as a collateral duty, it was tough getting support. I brought and bought all of my own equipment and started doing cases. I was recognized by my City Hall for one of my cases. I believed I was doing what I was trained and loved.

    Somewhere down the line thereafter jealousy stepped in. With no rhyme or reason I was no longer able to do digital forensics and was pushed out. So I packed up all my equipment and wheeled it home. I was still working my patrol assignment while doing the collateral duty. This rejection sliced me, but prepared me for my next adventure.

    I then created my own company and started subcontracting for civil cases. The last four years I have excelled and have also started teaching other law enforcement officers. Well every year I need to get approval from the chief. Again jealously has stepped in and I have been ordered to not teach and to shut down my company. One of the comments made to me was “you have more passion for your computer business than work and we are the lesser evil.”

    So I am at a cross road, walk away from being an officer that I worked so hard to get into and work my passion of digital forensics or give up and let go on my passion.

    So yes, woman have it much harder. For me, I am a triple threat. I am a female, minority and bilingual.

  10. Hi Veronica, thanks so much for sharing your experience. That sounds like a very difficult road you have had to travel. Kudos to you for sticking with it and fulfilling your calling. If you haven’t done so already, please join our LinkedIn group: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Women-in-Digital-Forensics-3766181/about I think the ladies there will offer you some great advice on how to continue doing what you love, whatever form that may take. Take care and thanks again for the comment.

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