Intern Report: Crafting a Digital Forensics Lab

This is a guest post by our Digital Archives intern for summer 2018. The intern worked on implementing, testing, and piloting equipment for the Digital Forensics Lab to capture content off of decaying computer media which are present in our collections. 

This summer I worked with UCSF’s Digital Archivist Charles Macquarie on building up the UCSF Archives & Special Collections Digital Forensics Lab. It was such an honor to come and join the UCSF team because of the great people, and the unique and important collections that the Archives preserves and provides access to. I am grateful for the experience and the shared wisdom of the staff, and to be able to contribute to this growing piece of the work of the Archives.

What exactly does it mean to build a Digital Forensics Lab? In the case of UCSF, many of the collections contain obsolete and legacy media – things like floppy disks and ZIP disks, and even personal digital assistants (PDAs, remember those pre-smart phone devices?) and SD cards. As more time passes, it isn’t so easy to read or utilize these formats effectively without access to the machines and software that are used to read and create them.

Without access, we risk losing important parts of collections when outdated digital document formats and research materials become no-longer readable. By creating a lab environment where we can rescue these items, we can give them life again. This is why I love this kind of work.

Building a lab like this is no small challenge! I’ve worked on configuring new software to power old hardware, testing lab equipment with “dummy disks” and files, troubleshooting the problems that arise with new implementation, and even building a new housing for a few select drives using the 3d-printing equipment in the UCSF Makers Lab. It has been a busy summer.

Throughout my time here I was able to contribute documentation, workflows, and hardware (my favorite part) to the lab implementation process, and to create software troubleshooting steps that should make it easier for archivists and researchers to use the lab equipment to retrieve difficult-to-read media and file formats from our archival collections.

I also appreciate being able to learn more about archival processing for digital collections in the context of digital forensics and born-digital archival materials. I gained practical field experience with both digital forensic work and digital curation that I can take back with me in the final year of my Master’s degree. Though I’m sad to be leaving the UCSF Library, I am grateful for the experience I’ve gained working on this challenging project, and I hope to return to visit next year.

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