Home Forensics Laboratory - The Building Blocks - Physical Location

Forensics Laboratory - The Building Blocks - Physical Location



This is the beginning of a series of posts detailing my lovely experience of building up a new Forensics Laboratory(Lab) for $lastjob. I was put in the unique position to (partially) design and manage the construction of the new facility, and move all our infrastructure over while adding to the backbone and other infrastructure we had previously. As some background, I was managing this facility due to the prior lab manager leaving, and I, while not terribly close to the facility, had spent the most time in forensic labs, including that one, to anyone local, and was thus delegated to managing that facility. The move was not something I had ever planned to take on, but corporate changes with the building required a new facility to be built. Most of what was in the old facility, in terms of both setup, logic, and physical infrastructure, was all tribal knowledge, so alongside the planning/building/move, it was critical to actually document why things were done in such a way for anyone else who took over after me.

Additionally, we also had the FBI CJIS audit and ISO 27001/27002 audit and attestation to contend with. Both have extremely similar, if not identical compliance requirements for most items, however, FBI CJIS is what let us work with local/state/federal governments on various cases if need be. The CJIS audit also comes with the lovely reminder that if the evidence is mishandled, the data custodian gets time in a comfy cell!

A lot of this information is based on this lovely book here: Digital Forensics Processing and Procedures: Meeting the Requirements of ISO 17020, ISO 17025, ISO 27001 and Best Practice Requirements and Building a Digital Forensic Laboratory, which was recommended to me by my former co-worker/mentor(thanks J.W!) who has a hell of a lot more experience with this stuff, and who guided me through the finer points of the entire process.

Physical Location

I suppose the obvious comes first- the actual location and general access rules of the lab itself. Not anyone can walk into the lab willy-nilly, let alone the building itself. A low-key area, one wholly owned and operated by the company tends to be ideal. All of the usual physical security steps apply to both the building and the lab. Employees must have at bare minimum a badge to enter the building, and ideally some sort of ‘2FA’ factor, such as the ones listed below:

  • PIN code
  • Fingerprint
  • Retinal Scan
  • A combination of the above
  • So on and so forth

You can get even crazier with this such as using a gait scanner, although I don’t think many go to that degree. If possible, I would recommend a combination of PIN + biometrics. While just having the badge and one of the above is enough, it never hurts to have more steps and to annoy anyone trying to enter. These requirements solve the ‘something you have and ‘something you are requirements.

Additionally, a man-trap is ideal to have at the entrance to the building itself. After that, the lab itself must have ‘2FA’ for entry. Only allowed personnel can badge into the lab. Exceptions can be made, eg for maintenance/cleaning, if the lab manager or other authorized personnel can be on-site and monitor others in the room. Such occurrences should be kept to a minimum, but I definitely know the pain of having to travel to the site due to a burst pipe or faulty air conditioning system, and occurrences like that are seldom planned for.

Only the Lab Manager and Consulting Director at my last job were the ones allowed to add people to the access list for the lab. While the command structure may be different at your job, I HIGHLY recommend doing a few items when adding or removing people from the access list, or even other lab changes:

  1. Have a minimum of two people sign off on the addition/removal of personnel
    • Ideally this would be the Lab Manager and their supervisor, but that can vary
  2. Create a change form and seek approval
    • This form detailed changes made, who requested the change, peer reviewers, and the final approval
    • The final approver in our case was the Global Director of ProServ, but titles change. In other words, my boss’s boss.
    • This changed form was something I inherited as part of the CJIS audit, however, we quickly utilized it for any physical/logical changes in regards to the physical lab itself.

Cameras should also be monitoring the lab area as well as points of ingress and egress. We logged all motion activity and kept entrance/exit logs of both the card readers and motion for some time (eg one year) for compliance reasons - this includes all successful and failed attempts to badge in, and motion activity as detected by the cameras. The company’s security team also had alerts for this room treated as a priority above all others to verify the person entering. Essentially, we did our best to turn this room into a SCIF.

For the new location, we were able to segregate the lab into two rooms:

  1. Forensic Machines
  2. Evidence and Infrastructure

The primary room housed our forensic machines and basic supplies, adapters, etc. Anyone on the ProServ team was allowed into this room. The second room housed evidence safes and servers. Only the Lab Manager and Data Custodians were allowed into this room.

Additional Considerations for Physical Location

Aside from the access requirements above, we also added several extras that aren’t entirely required but are helpful.

Both rooms had anti-static flooring, which was linked to grounding straps throughout the room. This was a good addition to a room where sensitive electronics(evidence) would be handled. We also had security mesh installed throughout the walls/floors/ceilings of the room. This is essentially mesh made of some alloy that prevents people from bashing through the walls, or slows down access if someone attempts to cut through with an angle grinder or plasma cutter. This, in my mind, is the coolest thing by far done to the room, even if it’s hard enough to get access to the building alone.

Each room also had its own HVAC system, separate from house air. As much as I’d like to claim this was for security reasons to prevent toxins from entering the room, it’s simply what’s needed to keep all the equipment in the room at cold temperatures. We set the rooms to 69°F(I promise I’m an adult), and obviously that can be adjusted a tad to personal preference. We did have beefier air filters(four-inch MERV 13 if I recall correctly) to keep dust to an absolute minimum, which we combined with weekly cleanings.

If I had another go, I would have also requested mass-loaded vinyl or layers of drywall with green glue in between to be installed in the walls/ceiling/floor to prevent noise from escaping the room, eg if there is a client call with sensitive information going on. While we did add more insulation than normal, and voices are hard to make out, it made sense to me after the fact, something I gathered from adding mass-loaded vinyl inside my car to reduce road noise.

The lighting in the room was also brighter than what was installed elsewhere, to allow for easier reading of the tiny serial numbers on hard drives or M.2 SSDS.


In my mind, that constitutes the absolute bare bones building block to start building a lab. The next blog post should be about the actual equipment we used for day-to-day work.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.


Forensics Laboratory - The Building Blocks - Hardware Pt. 1

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