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The Origin of Digital Forensic Triage

Posted by Richard T. Frawley on January 31, 2019
Richard T. Frawley
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Origin of Digital Forensic Triage - ADF SolutionsIn the early 18th century, triage was used to refer to the action of sorting items according to quality and was taken from the French word trier which means to sort, separate out or cull. 

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Originally used in the wool trade by merchants and manufacturers who would separate out refined or prime wool, the term was later used in the coffee trade when coffee berries were sorted into best quality, middling or the broken berries (triage coffee). The etymology of the word triage means to break into three pieces.

Our current understanding of the word triage dates back to the 1930s, from the military system of assessing the wounded on the battlefield, however the first known use of triage in a medical sense was used by Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842). He was as surgeon-in-chief of Napoleon's armies from 1797 to the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and he formed a practice of sorting battlefield casualties into three groups:

  1. Patients who would probably die, no matter what

  2. Patients who would most likely live, no matter what

  3. Patients who would survive with immediate treatment, but would not survive without

The World Medical Association in 2007 referred to triage as:

  • Those who can be saved but whose lives are in immediate danger, requiring treatment immediately or within a few hours (red triage tag: "immediate"; priority 1)

  • Those whose lives are not in immediate danger but who need urgent but not immediate medical care (yellow triage tag: "delayed"; priority 2)

  • Those requiring only minor treatment (green triage tag: "minimal"; priority 3)

  • Those who are psychologically traumatized and might need reassurance or sedation if acutely disturbed (no specific triage tag).  

  • Those whose condition exceeds the available therapeutic resources, who have severe injuries such as irradiation or burns to such an extent and degree that they cannot be saved in the specific circumstances of time and place, or complex surgical cases that oblige the physician to make a choice between them and other patients (black triage tag: "expectant"; no priority) 4' 

In the case of the current use of triage as it relates to digital forensic triage, we move from the medical triage of people to the triage of electronic devices and relate it to the term investigate which refers to carrying out a systematic or formal inquiry to discover and examine the facts (an incident, allegation, etc.) so as to establish the truth.  

Read: What Is Forensic Triage?

With foundations in the wool and coffee trades, Triage is a process further developed by the medical community and later adopted by the computer, IT security, law enforcement and digital forensic investigator community to further computer and internet investigations, identify suspect data, malware, and evidence during investigations. 

Topics: Triage-Investigator, Triage, Internet Investigation, Forensic Triage, IT Security

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