(Watch our full interview above)
Not only is Dr. Jason E. James the Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at the University of Indiana, but he is also the Chief Digital Forensics Investigator and Operations Manager for the Vigo County High Tech Crime Unit.
Jason recently sat down with me to discuss the university’s unique program that incorporates hands-on learning using industry-leading software and hardware tools.
In our interview, Jason discusses the benefits of incorporating Forensic Notes both into the degree program and in the daily operations of the Vigo County High Tech Crime Unit.
Below is a summary of our discussions both prior to and during the video interview, answered from Dr. Jason James’ perspective.
Summary of Video & Written Interview with Dr. Jason E. James
Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Indiana State University
Chief Digital Forensics Investigator and Operations Manager
LinkedIn | Cybercriminology & Security Studies
Why Forensic Notes?
A big part of Digital Forensics is not only acquisition and analysis but reporting.
Rather than relying on a typical Microsoft Office Word environment, we wanted to have something more geared toward Digital Forensics.
That is where Forensics Notes came in.
I noticed it was geared towards Digital Forensics in both the way it is designed and in the way it is used. So I decided to teach my students how to use Forensic Notes in the classroom and also use it within the Vigo High Tech Crime Unit that I operate.
What did you use prior to Forensic Notes?
Prior to Forensic Notes, I was requiring students to use Microsoft Word for documenting their investigations.
Microsoft Word is a general office application, meant for writing and not specifically for Digital Forensics. This is why I began to look for a new solution when I was setting up the new Vigo High Tech Crime Unit.
What is the Vigo High Tech Crime Unit?
The Vigo High Tech Crime Unit (HTCU) grant was awarded in November 2021 as a result of a collaboration between the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office, the Indiana State University (ISU) School of Criminology and Security Studies, the Terre Haute Police Department, and the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office.
The grant we received from the state goes towards buying hardware, software and salaries for our students that work at the High Tech Crime Unit (HTCU).
My students that work within the HTCU are sworn in as digital forensic investigators for the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office and have law enforcement powers while on duty.
Indiana has 92 counties and they awarded 10 High Tech Crime Units throughout the state.
They divided up the counties among the 10 High Tech Crime Units, so we have 8 counties that we are responsible for within the West Central region of Indiana.
So within those 8 counties, when they have Digital Forensics work, they come to us.
The local law enforcement agencies used to rely on Indiana State Police, but they have an ever-increasing backlog of investigations to assist with.
This is why the state of Indiana passed its law to create the 10 High Tech Crime Units to do what the State Police used to do but in a much quicker and more efficient timeframe.
The Vigo High Tech Crime Unit is not taking over all the investigations, but rather supplementing since the Indiana State Police have enough cases without taking on every agency across Indiana.
So we help with the backlog and to take away the workload that they have.
Local law enforcement agencies receive our Forensic Notes report as part of the case we provide to them after completing the Digital Forensics analysis.
Any challenges implementing Forensic Notes in the classroom or High Tech Crime Unit?
I haven’t had too many challenges in implementing Forensic Notes.
After 1 or 2 classroom instructions, the students are ready to use the application as it is simple and straightforward to understand since it does work like Microsoft Word.
And those students that learn how to use Forensic Notes in class are the same ones that then get hired in the High Tech Crime Unit.
Do students document differently using Forensic Notes?
I haven’t seen a big difference in how the students document as they were using Microsoft Word prior which has similar functionality from their perspective.
I teach the students to describe everything and include all the evidence, whether it is a screenshot or an attachment.
For me, using Forensic Notes makes it much easier since I can see everything they are doing due to the timestamping and audit logs that are created.
Whenever they create something, whether it is inside my class or the High Tech Crime Unit, I can see in real-time what work they have completed.
Compare this to Microsoft Word where I would have to collect a separate Word document from every student before I could look at their work.
For me, Forensic Notes is a one-stop shop for me to see and monitor the work being done both within my classroom and the HTCU.
Does Forensic Notes help with transparency & credibility?
The timestamping feature of Forensic Notes helps ensure proper tracking of the work completed by each student. Since copying and modification of notes is tracked, students are aware that they must complete the assignments as assigned on their own.
For the High Tech Crime Unit, the timestamping feature is essential as it ensures transparency around when evidence is discovered during an investigation.
For this reason, and many others, I would say that Forensic Notes does increase transparency during the investigation and increase the credibility of the examiner.
Why do you use Forensic Notes and not pen & paper?
I’ve never used pen & paper. I’m an electronic guy.
For me, with pen and paper, things get lost.
When I do everything electronically, my investigation is stored in one place and I know where to find the information I am looking for.
What positive outcomes have you seen in implementing Forensic Notes?
Students understand timestamping, how to organize their evidence in chronological order, how to add attachments and include screen captures that will assist them with their final report.
All of this will help differentiate them from other students when applying for jobs.
Within the High Tech Crime Unit, whenever I say Forensic Notes, all the law enforcement agencies we serve, know what Forensic Notes are because that is how I refer to them.
I often state “Look at your Forensic Notes report”.
The name Forensic Notes is starting to get ingrained in the minds of all the law enforcement we deal with.
Within the classroom, students learn how to document cases the right way.
What advice would you give to others that are considering Forensic Notes?
Forensic Notes is designed for Digital Forensics.
I suggest anyone try it.
Forensic Notes is a great tool.
I’ve come across a lot of software in my time, not just in Digital Forensics.
Forensic Notes is one of the best software tools out there in terms of Graphical User Interface (UI), it is relatively simple to use, and the owner is responsive when you have issues.
Summary of Interview
A big thank you to Dr. Jason James for taking part in this interview.
As Jason mentioned, he implemented Forensic Notes in his University program to ensure his students were properly documenting their assignments.
This not only gives the students experience with Forensic Notes but also allows Jason to better manage assignments and help ensure each step of the assignment is done properly.
Jason also implemented Forensic Notes within the Vigo High Tech Crime Unit which is helping them properly manage their numerous investigations.
If you are an instructor in Digital Forensics, Incident Response or Cybersecurity or would like to incorporate Forensic Notes in your organization, please contact me or click the “More Information for Instructors” button below.
I’d be happy to discuss your options.
Until next time, have an amazing day.