Brett's Ramblings

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Everything I Needed to Know about Working in DFIR, I Learned in Boot Camp

You don’t need to experience military life to learn the valuable lessons that are drilled into military recruits.  In fact, you can probably enjoy the benefit of the lessons more quickly than spending months of being bombarded with ‘training’ every day..recruits have no clue of the value of most lessons that they experience on a daily basis until years after graduating boot camp. You can most likely get it the first day at this stage of working in DFIR, because you know the problems that need to be solved already. You just need a gentle push to the solutions.

These are my Top 10 Marine Corps Boot Camp Lessons for DFIR success

1.  Set the example

Be the leader that you want to follow. Set the example that others want to emulate. If you are not in charge, support the leader as you would want to be supported. You can’t force others to stop complaining or do a better job; but you can do your best so that others may follow, whether you are in charge or not. Take the initiate. Get the job done. This is the person everyone Looks to for answers and direction.

2.  Communicate

Effective communication sets the stage for success. Give clear and concise directions for the casework to be handled. Be sure that you understand the directions given to you. Brief-back (ie; paraphrase back to make sure you understood) your mission and only start your work when you know what the work is.  Communicate throughout the engagement and tasks as an essential part of the work. Share information. This is you being the one who understands the big Picture.

3.  Mission first

Get the job done. Do what you are being paid to do. Learn the skills needed for your job title and responsiblities. Overcome adversity in getting the job done; It is never easy and that is why you were tasked to get it done. You are the only one that can do it, so get it done. This is you being the person that is known as able to get things Done.

4.  Keep calm

Panic breeds panic. Panic destroys confidence in those around you. There is no situation where panic will be helpful, so keep calm by focusing on finding solutions. Abstract reasoning will solve more problems than any scientific model ever will. Reassure others with your command presence and confidence. This is you being the Rock in the storm.

5.  Attention to detail

Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. Taking care of the little things takes only small bits of time but not only will save large chunks of time later but will also reduce the risk of failure.  Look for the little things and make sure they are taken care of. Even something as simple as checking the appropriate box on a check sheet, or making sure you check for the common things in an exam that you should always check, like certain registry keys that commonly hold forensic clues. This is you doing everything Right.

6.  Learn from mistakes

You make mistakes. I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. The chasm between making mistakes and owning them is huge!  If you didn't write-protect the evidence while imaging, fess up to it. When (not if) you make your next mistake, identify it, and most importantly - own it. Be accountable. Be responsible. Fix it. Learn from it. Better yet, learn from the mistakes of others.  Even better, teach others about your mistakes so they can learn.  This is you being a Mentor and coach.

7.  Be honest

Be honest with yourself. Know your limitations. But also know your stuff. Do only that which you can do before needing assistance. Be honest with your supervisors and subordinates. The truth of an error or unexpected (ie: unwanted) analysis finding may sting now, but not as nearly much as a lie will hurt later. Be the person whose word is the Gold standard.

8.  You need a team

Drop everything to help a teammate. Your job cannot be done alone or in a vacuum. To claim to know all is to state that you don’t even know that you don’t even know. Choose your team wisely, accept no one can do everything alone, connect each other by individual strengths, and acknowledge their individual and team successes. Assign tasks not by rank or title, but by capability and competence. Be an effective team Leader.

9.  Security

A Marine on duty has no friends. That means to not make any exception for anyone that will cause a break in security. Make for no lapse in security for no one or no thing. Without security, most any work can be lost, including reputations and even entire organizations. If responsible for security, you are the Lock.  

10. Be grateful

No one promised you a rose garden. Being comfortable never solved a problem. Make discomfort your friend. If the job was easy, anyone could do it and it would pay barely above minimum wage. Appreciate the slow times because the hectic times are waiting for you.  Appreciate your team as they will be the ones who solve problems by working together toward a common goal. Appreciate and comprehend the seriousness of every task we have, whether that involves any part of securing a national infrastructure, ensuring that justice is served in a legal matter, or that a hard drive has been stored appropriately. Be Gracious of the gratitude of others.

The list of lessons from boot camp has filled books, created many successful people and organizations, won wars, and saved lives. And the lessons are not proprietary. They can be learned and used by anyone looking for an edge to success or problem-solving solutions.

What’s the biggest problem to solve?

I have found that the most difficult problem to solve is that of a lack teamwork because of not having a leader take charge to lead the team to success. By “leader”, I mean the person who is the leader by action and influence, not by title or paygrade.  This is where a bully in a team can be the leader and destroy a team, yet any team member can do just the opposite by leading from within, title irrelevant. An effective team can solve any problem. Build the team and rule over any problems.

How long does it take for a team to follow and trust a leader?

That depends on you and the team members. How do you handle yourself? How to you treat others? How do you exhibit confidence? How formed is the team now? The time it takes is basically "It depends. But few situations are impossible to fix in regards to building and encouraging an effective team.

One day, many many years ago, I was placed in charge of a different squad unexpectedly and gave my first orders to a team of Marines that I never met before; but I did it as if I knew them all my life, with the expectation that I would lead them in the same manner that I would want follow another, and in a manner that no order I give would be any different than anything I have done or would do. After the first formation, I heard one Marine ask another, “Who is that guy?”, with a reply of, “I don’t know, but he knows his shit.” We made a good team; every single one of them. I was honest, forthcoming, admitted mistakes, asked for suggestions, supported them, disciplined in private, and praised in public.  All the things I want to see in a leader.

The key of Marine leadership is nothing that you see in the movies. Marines follow leaders not due to threats or yelling, but simply in the respect, trust, and confidence of the Marine leader.  Boot camp has a lot of yelling and screaming, but that is just to get the lessons across in a short period of time. After the lessons are learned, it’s gravy train from there.

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