NIST Releases Results from a Black Box Study for Digital Forensic Examiners

NIST Black Box Study for Digital Forensic Examiners

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published the results from a black box study for digital forensic examiners. The study, released in February 2022, describes the methodology used in the study and summarizes the results.

The study was conducted online and open to anyone in the public or private sectors working in the digital forensics field. Survey participants examined and reported on the simulated digital evidence from casework-like scenarios. NIST said study’s goal was to assess the performance of the digital forensic community as a whole.

Results from a Black-Box Study for Digital Forensic Examiners (NISTIR 8412) can be viewed at

From Results from a Black-Box Study for Digital Forensic Examiners, page 33:

Summary Key Takeaways

Despite the limitations of the study, two key takeaways about the state of the digital evidence discipline emerged:

  • Digital forensics examiners showed that they can answer difficult questions related to the analysis of mobile phones and personal computers. Questions ranged from basic, such as identifying who the user of the phone had contacted, to advanced questions that related to the use of the TOR browser.
  • The response to the study underscored the size, variety, and complexity of the field. The study received responses from examiners working in international, federal, state, local government, and private labs whose major work included law enforcement, defense, intelligence, and incident response/computer security. There were also responses from people outside of these areas.


Results Available from OSAC Registry Implementation Survey

OSAC Registry Implementation Survey: 2021 Report

The Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) released the results from its first annual Registry Implementation Survey. The report, published in February 2022, provides a detailed look at the respondents and the implementation status of the 46 standards represented in the survey.

In the summer of 2021, OSAC released the survey targeted at forensic science service providers from across the country. It was designed to help OSAC better understand how the standards on the OSAC registry are being used, the challenges around standards implementation and what support is needed to improve it.

The OSAC Registry Implementation Survey: 2021 Report is available at

From page 10 of the OSAC Registry Implementation Survey: 2021 Report:

Priority for Implementing Standards
When asked what priority survey participants considered standards implementation for their organization, half of the respondents (50%) said it was a medium priority, or important. This was followed by 34% of respondents indicating that implementation was a high priority, or very important. Twenty-three respondents (14.8%) indicated that implementation was a low priority or not a priority at this time (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Priorities for Standards Implementation
Click on image to enlarge. Figure 4. Priorities for Standards Implementation

Insights: A Practical Tool for Information Management in Forensic Decisions


A Practical Tool for Information Management in Forensic Decisions:

Using Linear Sequential Unmasking-Expanded (LSU-E) in Casework


While forensic analysts strive to make their findings as accurate and objective as possible, they are often subject to external and internal factors that might bias their decision making. Researchers funded by CSAFE created a practical tool that laboratories can use to implement Linear Sequential Unmasking-Expanded (LSU-E; Dror & Kukucka, 2021)—an information management framework that analysts can use to guide their evaluation of the information available to them. LSU-E can improve decision quality and reduce bias but, until now, laboratories and analysts have
received little concrete guidance to aid implementation efforts.

Lead Researchers

Quigley-McBride, A.
Dror, I.E.
Roy, T.
Garrett, B.L.
Kukucka, J.


Forensic Science International: Synergy

Publication Date

17 January 2022



Identify factors that can bias decision-making.


Describe how LSU-E can improve forensic decision processes and conclusions.


Present a practical worksheet, as well as examples and training materials, to help laboratories incorporate LSU-E into their casework.


Cognitive biases can emerge from a variety of sources, including:

Figure 1. Eight sources of cognitive bias in forensic science (Dror, 2020)


As shown in Figure 1, there are many potential sources of information that can influence analysts’ decisions. Of particular concern is suggestive, task-irrelevant contextual information (such as a suspect’s race, sex, or prior criminal record) that can bias analyst’s decisions in inappropriate ways.

In one famous example, FBI latent print analysts concluded with “100 percent certainty” that a print linked to the 2003 Madrid train bombing belonged to a US lawyer, Brandon Mayfield. It transpired that these analysts were all wrong—that was not Mayfield’s print. Mayfield was Muslim, which might have biased the analysts given the strong, widespread attitudes towards Muslims post 9/11. Also, Mayfield was on the FBI’s “watch list” because he provided legal representation to someone accused of terrorist activities. Combined, these facts led to confirmation bias effects in the analysts’ evaluations and conclusions about Mayfield’s fingerprints.


LSU-E is an approach information management which prioritizes case information based on three main criteria:

Biasing power:

How strongly the information might dispose an analyst to a particular conclusion.


The extent to which the information might be interpreted to have different “meanings” from one analyst to another.


the degree to which the information is essential to the analytic task itself.


Quigley-McBride et al. have created a practical worksheet for laboratories to use when assessing new information.


First, the user specifies the information in question and its source


Second, they consider the three LSU-E criteria, and rate the information on a scale of 1-5 for each criterion


Finally, they describe strategies to minimize any adverse effects the information may have on the decision-making process

Focus on the future


Ideally, LSU-E procedures would be applied before the information reaches the analyst. That said, it is still effective when used at any point in the analyst’s workflow and can help analysts become aware of information that can inappropriately influence their work.

In addition to benefits for analysts, implementing LSU-E could help jurors evaluate the reliability of forensic expert testimony. This would not only encourage healthy skepticism among jurors, but could bolster an expert’s credibility by providing documentation of methods used to evaluate and mitigate potential biases in their decisions.