Michaela Bradshaw, Digital Forensics Expert
The field of forensics has evolved over centuries and uses blood, fingerprints, toxicology, ballistics and DNA analysis to help crack complex crimes.
More recently however there has been a rise in digital forensics, using technology to help solve crimes and secure convictions.
But according to GCHQ almost 90 per cent of the worldwide cyber-skills workforce is male, and women make up just 22 per cent of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce here in the UK.
And so as part of the recent International Women’s Day and British Science Week, we caught up with Michaela Bradshaw, a computer science expert who heads up a team of 10 computer analysts in our digital forensic division.
Michaela explained that the education system can pose a barrier to women in science and cyber.
Discussing how she came involved in the industry, Michaela said: “I always had an interest in technology and computing from a young age. Throughout secondary school I continued to select IT as a subject until A-Level and from there I chose to study computer forensics at university.
“Many young women just don’t see cyber as a career for them, and schools don’t encourage girls to pursue STEM subjects. But that is changing and there are several programmes out there that are actively trying to develop the talents of young women in these fields. If you have an interest in it - my advice is to go for it.
“Digital forensics is simply a branch of forensic science that includes the identification, recovery, investigation, validation and presentation of facts regarding digital evidence found on computers or similar digital devices and is constantly changing.
“As society’s use of machines intensifies, so does the requirement for the police to keep up with advancements in technology. We need to keep on top of the latest trends to help investigators bring criminals to justice. There are always new skills to learn."
The volume of cases dealt with by West Midlands Police Digital Forensics division has significantly increased over the last few years and this trend continues.
Michaela explained what the rise in data actually means for police forensics: “In the past, data was extracted from a computer hard drive. In today’s world, mobile phones, speakers, satnavs and even fridges can connect to each other and the internet. These devices hold information that can be extricated and used in evidence.
“If we were to extract and print out every piece of information held on a single computer, it would take years to go through, the same applies to a phone.
“Our resource is finite which means officers need to know precisely what they’re looking for. It’s not quite how it is portrayed on the TV, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting; it’s our job to investigate computer-based crime ranging from, fraud to child abuse and money laundering!"
The rise of cloud storage is a relatively new type of infrastructure and poses a fresh challenge for digital forensic experts.
Michaela, who has completed a Masters in Computer Forensics, continued: “Cloud storage breaks up resources like music, pictures and video and stores the pieces in remote physical locations - the pieces are retrieved via the internet to form a complete file.
“The problem comes when authorities in one country want to retrieve that data as part of an investigation, especially if it is held in another jurisdiction with a different set of laws around disclosure.
“It’s quite a challenge but as professionals in a field that is constantly adapting and changing we have to find solutions."
If you’re a young person with an inquisitive mind and enjoy problem solving, computer science is something you should consider. There are plenty of courses, and no shortage of jobs in the industry.
Visit the youth employment hub to find out how you can embark on a career in the field: https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/careers-hub-job-role/forensic-computer-analyst/
We have launched an interactive game where you can become a forensic scene investigator and help crack the crime. The game can be played on our West Midlands Police Facebook page.