Our digital forensics tools test this month was full of surprises. One of the pleasures of doing this job is that we can share these “voyages of discovery” with the SC readership. The first surprise was that in the realm of computer forensic tools very little has changed since we tested the same category last year. After those reviews, some readers attacked our results with religious fervour. Those we favoured fought back with equal zeal, leaving me to believe that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and these core computer forensics tools are all equally competent. It’s just the users who are different. The users become enamoured of a particular tool and will fight for that choice. What amazed me, however, was that the vendors have done very little to put some distance between themselves and their competitors.

Here, again, however, there were some unexpected discoveries. As I wasstruggling to come up with a theme for digital forensics tools, an ideafell into my lap, almost literally. A colleague brought a bunch ofmanuals for this month’s reviews into my office, dropped them on my deskand asked: “Have you ever heard of these?” Well, of course I had, buteach one of the products he brought me had a unique purpose beyondsimply analysing a computer’s hard disk.

That gave me an idea. When we looked at a collection of forensics toolsthat went beyond straightforward computer forensics last year, we did itin the context of incident response. The common theme in our currentbatch of products is that each is unique and innovative. So, in additionto looking at the traditional products, this month we also examinespecialised digital forensics tools. So, the theme this year isuniqueness and specialised capabilities.

However. that can make it a little hard to review since no two productsare exactly alike. What they have in common is that they belong in thedigital investigator’s tool kit. So, and this is a good time to makethis point, each tool in this group is scored on its own merits. This isthe way we do things here at the SC Labs. We do not compare products. Wehave two sets of standards against which we test. One is fairly generic,while the other is product-specific.

Finally, for those of you in the UK vendor community, please rememberthat admin for all group tests is now handled out of the US SCoffices.

HOW WE TEST AND SCORE THE PRODUCTS

Our testing team includes SC Magazine Labs staff, as well as externalexperts. In our group tests, we look at several products around a commontheme.

Generally, we do not compare products to each other. We test and reviewthem within the group based on a predetermined set of standards, whichhave been compiled from several sources.

The general test process is a set of criteria built around the sixreview areas (performance, ease of use, features, documentation, supportand value for money) and comprises roughly 50 individual criteria in theoverall process.

We develop the second set of standards specifically for the group undertest and use the Common Criteria (ISO 1548) as a basis for the testplan. Given that we need to give a good picture in 350 words, reviewsfocus on operational characteristics.

Once the testing is completed, we rate each product according to theresults, assign star ratings and, if appropriate “Best Buy” and”Recommended” awards.

Our final conclusions and ratings are subject to the judgement andinterpretation of the tester and are validated by the reviewer.

All reviews and tests are reviewed for consistency, correctness andcompleteness by the technology editor prior to being submitted forpublication. Even so, errors, though rare, are possible. If you believethat an error of fact has affected a review of your product, pleasecontact the technology editor directly.

WHAT THE STARS MEAN
Our star ratings indicate how well the product has performed against
each of our test criteria.
These are marked as follows:
– Seriously deficient
– Fails to complete certain basic functions
– Carries out all basic functions to a satisfactory level
– Carries out all basic functions very well
– Outstanding

WHAT THE AWARDS MEAN

Best Buy goes to products the SC Lab rates as outstanding. Recommendedmeans the product has shone in a specific area. Lab Approved is awardedto those tools that are extraordinary stand-outs that fit into the SCLab environment.