Digital forensics

Digital forensics and cybersecurity: Setting up a home lab

Louis Livingston-Garcia
February 11, 2024 by
Louis Livingston-Garcia

Setting up your home digital forensics lab can help you gain crucial experience in cybersecurity needed to land a job. Learning about digital forensics techniques and tools is one thing, but organizations want to know that you have the skills to put that knowledge into practice. Infosec Skills author and Paraben founder and CEO Amber Schroader has tips on inexpensively setting up your home digital forensics lab. 

But what is a digital forensics lab? It is a workspace dedicated to recovering and examining digital assets and evidence found on computers, smartphones or other technical devices. 

Unsure about setting up a lab and what digital forensic lab equipment you'll need? You need a little space and a small amout of funds to do it, and Schroader said the immediate experience gained from having one is crucial.  

Paraben CEO and Founder Amber Schroader discusses building an inexpensive home digital forensics lab in this episode of Cyber Work Hacks.

“It's what you do after hours that makes that impact, and you can do that with a digital forensic lab at home,” Schroader says. “Just a lot of people don't think they can put it together.” 

How to set up a cybersecurity lab at home 

Schroader recommends a private home office, as creating a lab in your bedroom can be cumbersome. But really, any place where you can have a proper chain of custody, maintain evidence and keep equipment separate will work. Maintaining best practices is crucial in digital forensics.  

One of the first places to begin is buying a safe; you need a place to put evidence like phones and hard drives when you’re away. It would be best if you had a virtual machine dedicated to forensics.  

Learn Digital Forensics

Learn Digital Forensics

Build your skills with hands-on forensics training for computers, mobile devices, networks and more.

“I think they're a fantastic way to do forensics when you're on a budget because you can keep all your evidence inside that virtual machine, which is a bonus,” Schroader says. “You need software. There are some good open-source platforms. There are good purchase platforms. Then, if you're doing computers, you need write-blockers," which prevent data from being written to devices while examining it.

If you are using phones, you need a Faraday cage. Schroader recommends purchasing an old microwave oven at Goodwill or another used item thrift store. Cut the cord off, and you have your Faraday cage.  

But what exactly is a Faraday cage?  

“A Faraday cage is just to block all the signals going into it,” Schroader explains. “When you process smartphones and any type of mobile devices, you've got to control the signal with the device. So that's the best way to store it. Even though it's powered off, you never know what will happen. So, you want to make sure you're maintaining that best chain of custody, and a great way to do it is that microwave.” 

And don’t do the work on your personal computer; you should have a separate computer for the job 

Paul Giorgi of XM Cyber shares tips for setting up a home cybersecurity lab in this episode of Cyber Work Hacks.

If you have some extra money, a disc duplicator is recommended 

That is nice because it has much more of the automated process,” Schroader says. Some of those allow you remote examinations, which is fantastic, especially where everyone is kind of everywhere. But I would upgrade my software, and I know it's lame; I always upgrade my RAM. You can never have too much RAM in a machine. I truly believe that. 

Building a digital forensics lab

Schroader keeps two separate workstations in her lab set on old kitchen tables. She switches back and forth in an L configuration. She keeps a camera for evidence intake.  

I always make sure I take photos of everything because I want to document everything,” Schroader says. That's a big part of digital forensics different from the rest of information security. We have to take a lot of notes.” 

Items are placed on a yoga mat so they aren’t damaged.  

Once your lab is set up, you’ll want to begin a project. Make sure everything works. Make sure nobody else at home is handling your items. Get used to a proper workflow.  

Learn Digital Forensics

Learn Digital Forensics

Build your skills with hands-on forensics training for computers, mobile devices, networks and more.

I think [those with new home labs] also need to work on paperwork,” Schroader says. I know this is a part no one ever talks about, but you've got to have a set chain of custody, a letter of engagement, all the different protections that you put in place."

She added, "I share mine with others because, again, we don't all have to fund lawyers. We might as well share. 

Check our Amber Schroaders and others' forensics training courses for more on digital forensics.


Louis Livingston-Garcia
Louis Livingston-Garcia

Louis Livingston-Garcia has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Japanese language and education from the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. He has written for newspapers in Kodiak Island, Alaska, Wisconsin and Minnesota. His written work has been featured in many publications including Growler Magazine, Heavy Table, City Pages, 507 Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, Game Informer, GamesRadar, October and more. He has professionally photographed Kodiak bears in the wild, Minnesota United FC soccer matches and countless breweries. If he isn’t traveling around the world with his wife, he is most likely playing video games or reading with his cat, Miyamoto (yes, named after the creator of Super Mario Bros.), in his lap, and a beer nearby.