How We Review:
If something we review is not up to the job, buggy, not finished or has poor support/warranty - you will find out about it here - allowing you to avoid buying something that is going to cause you hair loss - or having to call the client and make up some excuse when the product crashes half-way through processing - if I had ten pence/cents for every time that has happened in my career..... I would be a rich man.
However, should we stumble across something really good, we will be singing its praises and recommending that our readers purchase it! Remember vendors, good recommendations spread like wildfire so get in touch with us and submit your product!
If you would like to see a particular product reviewed, contact the manufacturer and ask them to submit it to CFRO for long-term review!
Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter on the home page for the latest news, updates and upcoming reviews!
If you are a vendor, use the submit product page and get in touch, we would love to hear from you!.
Paid Reviews Suck:
1. This isn't PC Pro, or SC Magazine where we install the product, fiddle with it for a couple of hours one afternoon and give it a 9.5 out of 10 rating and tell you it is a must have in your toolkit.
2. This is also not "other" forensic review websites who prepare a "quote" for a vendor and then if accepted go ahead and create a review that is not thinking of you the examiner. These never mention any issues or bad points and are designed for vendor approval, so that the sack of cash they agreed is duly delivered.
CFRO Does Not Do Short Term Licence Trials:
Here at CFRO, I only accept products that are licenced (software) or loaned (hardware) for 12 months, as the long-term review section relies on this - and you can also see how good the vendor is at fixing bugs and issuing updates over this period.
My reviews take many hours to complete and prepare (usually around 100 for testing and 30 to write the review), they are written by an experienced digital forensic examiner - for both new and experienced digital forensic examiners. As I have a day job, I can't simply stop work and sit down to review a product from start to finish. Some reviews take months to put together - with small blocks of free time being used here and there to get the job done.
I aim to periodically revisit all reviews, refreshing them with our experiences, exploring new features and most importantly reporting on bug fixes - see the "long term updates" segment at the end of each review for that.
CFRO's Aim: Improving Standards in the Industry:
There are two types of vendor - ones that shy away from exposing parts of their software that are not fit for purpose - or not as described, and those that embrace our reviews and use our testing to supplement their own and thus improving their product. We like the latter kind.
We do have some vendors which want us to sign NDA's (Non disclosure agreements) before they submit their product for review as they already know it has issues - we will be naming and shaming those!.
As the site expands and we generate some revenue from advertising, we will be covertly purchasing products from some of these "shy" vendors products and reviewing them here.
Do You Have Bugs & Issues ? - Talk to CFRO!
If you are a vendor who has a product that has some issues, then come and
talk to CFRO about a review, I would love to hear from you - I don't bite.
Known issues can be laid out in the review and customers will certainly recognise this as the
decent thing to do - that way you don't end up in the head in the sand club detailed below;
Do you Have Bugs ? - Bury Your Head in the Sand!
We have certain vendors that prefer this route to deal with their issues.
These are exactly the sort of vendor that CFRO is here to warn you about.
We will have absolutely no qualms to list issues that you are not disclosing publicly to your customers.
You have been warned.
All of our reviews follow a standard format, with slight variations for training courses and at other times when the need arises.
1. About the Vendor
All of our reviews start with a vendor (or manufacturer) getting in touch, or us seeking them out if a product is something that we think our readers will find interesting.
We let you know how this went, were they polite, professional, did the contact know their product, was there any issues or Gotcha's that could have been avoided.
We also give you a bit of history about the vendor, are they new to the game, do they have a bad reputation etc...
2. Feature Overview
A list of the most prominent features of the product will be provided. We will pick out standout features that we like and want to test, no one wants to see if the hex editor tab of the latest release of Encase still works, so we will only be looking at the interesting or new things!
3. The Gotcha! & Pro Tips
Seeing Gotcha! in a review is something to take note of, if we find something that may trip you up or catch you out when you use the software, we issue a Gotcha! warning to help save you frustration and falling in the same pit that we did during the review.
Gotcha!'s are usually not bugs or flaws in the program on test, they are just there to help you as a consumer.
Pro Tips are snippets of information that will be useful to our younger readers and will be an egg sucking excercise to our more seasoned readers.
4. Purchasing Process
We run you throught the purchasing process from start to finish (if the product is something we use and have purchased ourselves.
5. Download or Unboxing
I don't know about you, but I always find it satisfying opening a shiny new product box, here we take you through unpacking the product and first impressions - plenty of photographs and the odd video to give you as much information as possible. Some vendors still ship physical media, but in all honesty a digital download is the way to go, with software updates being so frequent.
Their can be drama in downloading software, so we explore all of that and let you know about any issues we experienced.
6. Initial Setup / Installation & Uninstallation
Once the product is out of the box (or downloaded) we run through the setup procedure, this should be smooth and seamless after reading the instructions - but time after time we see vendors that just don't think and make a call to support necessary to get the product up and running. Hopefully our experiences here will save you hair loss!
We also uninstall software products and let you know if there are any issues you should be aware of.
7. Licencing Fairness:
This new section takes a close look at the fairness of the licence, is it perpetual, are you going to be stung by expired SMS charges if you let the licence run out. Always worthing knowing this, to avoid any nasty surprises!
8. Further Reading:
This is perhaps my favourite section, here we explore relevant material that you can read online - to get a real indepth understanding of some of the things we come across in the review. Hats off to these people as they know way more about their subject material than I do !
9. Using the Products Features
In this section we turn the key and start using the product, we can't test everything as our review would be like war and piece for a massive forensic suite such as FTK or Encase, but we test the most common features that we think you would use the most.
We often detect serious issues with products at this early stage - which prevents them going into the long-term test cycle, most vendors are usually pretty quick at issuing a fix - but all of that is scrutinised here.
This section is often divided up into specific sections, to expect to see labels fpr each major or interesting feature that is tested - keeping things nicely organised.
10. Log Files
In this section we lift up the bonnet/hood and see what makes the program tick, notably examining log files to see what they record and how helpful they are to you the consumer when things go wrong.
Sometimes we see horror stories in these logs, where the shiny GUI reports no issues, yet when you dig deeper and see that potential evidence has been missed.
Not something for everyone, but our geeky readers will find this section interesting!
11. Stability & Bugs
Stability for me, is key to whether I want to continue to use a product. I've been through the days of crashing to desktop with no error, out of memory errors and crazy bugs, if anything shows up like this, we will comment on it here.
No one cares if you have whizzy bang feature a, b and c, if the program is badly coded and about as stable as a plate of jelly/jello!
The news of your amazing features won't spread, the news that its a buggy nightmare will!
Vendors absolutely hate this section - you should hear the rants and excuses I have had for reasons why bugs are in products that are sold as "forensic" and are on sale to consumers as final versions!
I think I will probably do an article on this in the near future, subscribe to be notified when this and other new content drops.
12. Support and Warranty
When was the last time you were onsite and a product or piece of software failed, leaving you with an expensive paperweight or a blank screen and a client breathing down your neck. Support and warranty are critical components of any vendor package.
We will be contacting the vendors support teams to determine how helpful they are, from the basics as to how quickly they pick up the phone, their support hours, right down to some technical issues that we will put to them to test their mettle.
Long term we will also be testing warranty and service peformance of the vendor.
13. The Verdict & Score
A summary of our review, along with ratings for the initial ordering, setup process, ease of use, build quality (stability for software) feature set and value for money. We also give a score out of 10 for the product overall, along with assigning special awards for products that are very good or exceptional.
14. Alternative Products
The marketplace for digital forensic tools is small but growing rapidly, unless your product is incredibly niche there will always be competition.
If we have reviewed a product that does the same thing, we will let you know, or if we know of another product but have not reviewed it, we will share that too!
15. Long Term Review Updates
Depending on the product type, reviews may be updated every few months.
We will share our experiences with the product, here we pay attention to areas such as speed of software updates (critical for mobile/cell phone software), build quality (important for hardware devices) and any issues we have experienced.
Reviews are given critique in the following sections:
Products can receive "Poor, Below Average, Good and Excellent" in each of these criteria, I have dropped the numbering system in favour of using this wording - maths never was my strong point.
All products achieve a final score out of ten - so that remains the same.
Products that perform really well and achieve over 7.5 out of 10 in their overall score are bestowed with an award!
Products that are very good at what they do, but don't quite fall into the "exceptional" category are awarded the "Sizzler" award, they sizzled, but did not quite knock the ball out of the park. The products are definetely worth having in your tool box and are given to products which score 7.5 or over in the overall final verdict score.
Vendors that communicate professionally, can take on board constructive criticism - and implement bug fixes to problems we identify are granted "Super Vendor" status. This is not a paid accolade or an indication that we prefer one vendor over another - it just means that we found them to be particularly responsive and open. There is no room for "Eliteist" programmers and vendors on this review site.