The Enfuse Experience
I knew Champlain College was a special place the moment I first set foot on its campus. Even then, I did not realize the wealth of opportunities it would offer me in the years to come. This past May, I was fortunate enough to attend EnFuse, Guidance Software’s annual Digital Forensics Conference, alongside several of my professors and peers. Some of these fellow students were in no small part coworkers and managers from the Senator Patrick Leahy for Digital Investigation. If you told me when I was a junior in high school four years ago that Champlain would send me to a cutting edge conference filled with industry professionals from around the world, I doubt I would have believed you. Being able to attend EnFuse was an honor and a privilege. The benefits of sending students to a conference, especially one of such renown, are remarkable.
I had attended two of these conferences previously, but back then it was known as CEIC. With the new branding came an exciting new energy. Though the scenery, and even some of the faces, had begun to grow familiar to me, the topics were as new and exciting as ever. The sessions at EnFuse are things that you won’t get to learn about in school, at least not in such depth. These lectures are the result of copious amounts of industry research and experience, and everyone’s experience is their own to create. EnFuse has many different tracks you can follow depending on your interests. This is something that can be of particular interest to students, especially since the LCDI brings students from such a wide variety of backgrounds and prior knowledge. Attending a session on malware analysis can either immediately spark a passion or help you realize that you would prefer to focus your career on something else. Digital forensics is an expansive field, and EnFuse helps to give both students and professionals a taste of what exists both within your niche and throughout the big picture of the industry.
Being a third-year student with a double major in Computer and Digital Forensics as well as Computer Networking and Information Security, I wanted to spread my experiences across both the forensics and the cybersecurity areas at equitable levels. I also attended a few sessions that were not as down-in-the-weeds technical, but still important. For instance, a lecture on writing expert reports and providing expert testimony presented by Lars and Larry Daniel pointed out several stark differences between investigative reports students write at school, and an investigative report a professional would deliver. The major difference being in a report for a class the priority is to cram in every little piece of potential evidence to prove to the professor that you know what you’re doing and explain what you’ve found, sometimes for partial credit. However, in the real world, there is no partial credit so you should only put things that are objectively and factually correct, and in his opinion you shouldn’t include every tiny detail (this is something I’ve asked a few other professionals about and they’ve questioned).
Perhaps my favorite session was “The iOS of Sauron – How iOS Tracks Everything You Do”, researched and presented by Sarah Edwards. This was my favorite session for a few reasons: the obvious Lord of the Rings joke, my particular interest in mobile forensics, and I have an android so I wouldn’t get to play with the highlighted features on my own. Sarah Edwards was hilarious, intelligent and an all around an awesome presenter, spending a lot of time researching a jailbroken iPhone 6 and an Apple Watch 1. Some of Edwards findings included numerous health/activity related artifacts stored in SQLite databases generated from apps and other devices, GPS coordinates of frequent locations, cell tower and wifi locations, and information about the device state. Interestingly, Edwards noticed quite a few discrepancies with timestamps and their accuracy. In short, it was an incredibly informative and entertaining session, and definitely my personal favorite.
However, EnFuse is not just about the sessions. There is also a huge vendor area where you can meet the people behind some of the software you use (or will get to use) in your classes and beyond. Also, everyone had to go there to eat. These factors already make it a very important room, but it’s compounded with the opportunity to put yourself out there and network. Even if you’re just waiting in a line, talk to someone. Start small and work your way up if you can. Go with a friend, just make sure you make connections. Matt McFadden, a Guidance Software employee that Kayla Williford and I met at our first conference two years ago, remembered us and came to say hello and see how school is going. This isn’t just about trying to get a job or an internship, this is about getting to know the field and the type of people in it. This is a truly unique opportunity for you to chat with people from all around the world who share the same passion as you. Ask questions during the sessions or introduce yourself afterwards. People will be excited for you when you tell them you’re a student. I have never met a person at this conference who did not want to help me in some fashion. Everyone you meet will be supportive and incredibly receptive to any questions you might have. If you’re not sure what to talk about, come up with some questions beforehand. Everyone you meet will have an interesting story and a different perspective; try to hear as many as you can.
EnFuse would not be EnFuse without a little fun. There a tons of things to do in Las Vegas, but you do need to keep in mind that it’s a school trip. Get a group of students together and go see a show, though I would recommend getting tickets prior to flying into Vegas! There is an insane amount of places to eat as well. Despite its alluring promise of a good deal, I do not recommend taking the free shuttle to Gold Coast to go to the Ports O’ Call Buffet. If you can handle the price tag, the buffet in Caesar’s Palace is incredible – the desserts almost made me tear up! There are many awesome pools around too. The one at Caesar’s is nice, but there are a few at other hotels that you might be able to get into for free. While I was waiting for my plane home, I went to the Planet Hollywood pool and rode the FlowRider, which is a kind of surfing simulator. If you have never done one of those and you have the time and the money, it was around $25, do it.
EnFuse and conferences like it are an incredible opportunity for us to have, one that I know I am very grateful for. They are a treasure trove of connections and information that can jump start both your career and your academic performance. Not only can you gain a lot of new technical knowledge, but you also have a very unique networking opportunity that you won’t get anywhere else. As a whole is not only rewarding and beneficial for your education and career, but also just a great time. My advice to you is to take advantage of all the opportunities that the LCDI and Champlain will offer you while you are there, as you will not find another school who goes this far for their students.