Digital Crime Scene Challenge

Digital Crime Scene Challenge

I have focused several of my blogs on middle school and high school education. I sincerely believe that we need to introduce students and teachers in our public schools to the various disciplines of cyber—especially cybersecurity, cyber investigations, and digital forensics. The earlier the better.

I live in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the cybersecurity capital of the entire world. It’s extremely frustrating trying to get the county to create a cyber program, not only at Meade HS where I coach baseball, but throughout the county and the state.

I run a non-profit organization that works to get high school and middle school teachers and kids interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and specifically cyber investigations and digital forensics. We developed a Digital Crime Scene Challenge that I take to conferences, schools, and events. The concept is fun and experiential (you don’t need any knowledge, tools, or cyber expertise). It has always been an interesting event format for law enforcement officials: no one involved claims to be rocket scientists, but participants like to believe they’re Dick Tracy (for younger folks, Dick Tracy is an old comic book detective). I’ve had five- or six-year-old participants who process our mock digital crime scene at Defcon for Kids, as well as hundreds of ‘crusty’ old investigators in many venues. What the participants all have in common is that they all learn something new (yes, even the crusty old investigators). Each and every one of them exits the crime scene with a smile on their face.

Most cyber challenges and events involve someone sitting at a keyboard, which is not very interesting to watch. So we developed our mock crime scene to be a physical challenge that requires participants to work as a team: planning, organizing, and communicating—and the whole search must be completed in only 15 minutes. So with the time constraints, there is a bit of stress. We usually set up a viewing area for visitors, media, and VIPs to watch from.

In November 2015, I met Dr. Edna Reid, Associate Professor at James Madison University (JMU), at the CSAW event at New York University. Dr. Reid recently contacted me to say that she had been able to get a grant to fund her Cyber Hygiene Boot Camp, and asked if I would bring my Digital Crime Scene Challenge to her Boot Camp this past September. I was, of course, happy to do so.

On Saturday, September 9th, Dr. Reid hosted middle and high school teachers from Virginia. We had 30 teachers from 29 different counties give up their own personal time to travel to JMU to participate in the event. The teachers were asked to introduce themselves and say a little about why they were there, as well as what their particular school was doing relative to cyber. The vast majority of them didn’t have a background in cyber but still wanted to implement cyber studies and were looking for resources that would help them.

I had the opportunity to sit down with these teachers in groups of five as they finished their mock search. They were all a bit nervous before the search, but were all smiles afterwards, excited and energized to take cyber back to their schools. I was elated with their passion and excitement to teach their kids about cybersecurity, cyber investigations, and digital forensics.

Virginia is definitely a leader in bringing cybersecurity to its public schools. I’m thankful to Dr. Reid for inviting me and my team to help introduce teachers to cyber crime investigations and digital forensics. This is exactly what I suggested to Anne Arundel County where I live. My hope is that we can apply this model back home as well.



Jim Christy is VP of Investigations and Digital Forensics at Cymmetria. Jim retired from the U.S. government in 2013, ending a career investigating computer crimes and running digital forensics labs that began in 1986 at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Jim can be reached by email at

Connect with Jim on Twitter: @jimchristyusdfc

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