Digital forensics is the process of storing, analyzing, retrieving, and preserving electronic data that may be useful in an investigation. It includes data from hard drives in computers, mobile phones, smart appliances, vehicle navigation systems, electronic door locks, and other digital devices. The process's goal of digital forensics is to collect, analyze, and preserve evidence.
Steps of Digital Forensics
Now that you understand what is digital forensics, let’s look at its steps:
This is the initial stage in which the individuals or devices to be analyzed are identified as likely sources of significant evidence.
It focuses on safeguarding relevant electronically stored information (ESI) by capturing and preserving the crime scene, documenting relevant information such as visual images, and how it was obtained.
It is a methodical examination of the evidence of the information gathered. This examination produces data objects, including system and user-generated files, and seeks specific answers and points of departure for conclusions.
These are tried-and-true procedures for documenting the analysis's conclusions, and they must allow other competent examiners to read through and duplicate the results.
The collection of digital information, which may entail removing electronic devices from the crime/incident scene and copying or printing the device(s), is critical to the investigation.
Objectives of Digital Forensics
Knowing the primary objectives of using digital forensics is essential for a complete understanding of what is digital forensics:
- It aids in the recovery, analysis, and preservation of computers and related materials for the investigating agency to present them as evidence in a court of law
- It aids in determining the motive for the crime and the identity of the primary perpetrator
- Creating procedures at a suspected crime scene to help ensure that the digital evidence obtained is not tainted
- Data acquisition and duplication: The process of recovering deleted files and partitions from digital media in order to extract and validate evidence
- Assists you in quickly identifying evidence and estimating the potential impact of malicious activity on the victim
- Creating a computer forensic report that provides comprehensive information on the investigation process
- Keeping the evidence safe by adhering to the chain of custody
Types of Digital Forensics
As digital data forensics evolves, several sub-disciplines emerge, some of which are listed below:
It analyzes digital evidence obtained from laptops, computers, and storage media to support ongoing investigations and legal proceedings.
Mobile Device Forensics
It entails obtaining evidence from small electronic devices such as personal digital assistants, mobile phones, tablets, sim cards, and gaming consoles.
Network or cyber forensics depends on the data obtained from monitoring and analyzing cyber network activities such as attacks, breaches, or system collapse caused by malicious software and abnormal network traffic.
Digital Image Forensics
This sub-specialty focuses on the extraction and analysis of digital images to verify authenticity and metadata and determine the history and information surrounding them.
Digital Video/Audio Forensics
This field examines audio-visual evidence to determine its authenticity or any additional information you can extract, such as location and time intervals.
It refers to the recovery of information from a running computer's RAM and is also known as live acquisition.
Challenges Faced by Digital Forensics
Due to the evidentiary nature of digital forensic science, rigorous standards are required to withstand cross-examination in court. Challenges faced by digital forensics are:
- Extracting data from locked, or destroyed computing devices is one of the challenges that digital forensic investigators face
- Finding specific data entries within massive amounts of data stored locally or in the cloud
- Keeping track of the digital chain of custody
- Ensuring data integrity throughout an investigation
Advantages of Digital Forensics
The following are some advantages of digital forensics:
Enables Digital Evidence Analysis
Computer forensics uses investigation and analysis techniques to collect and preserve evidence from a specific computing device to present it in court.
Aids in the Identification of Criminals
Law enforcement officers can frequently track down suspects and piece evidence together to prosecute them by analyzing data on computers and other digital devices.
It Is Capable of Recovering Deleted Data
One advantage of using computer forensics to recover deleted data is that it is relatively simple to do. Most of the time, all you need is the right software and a little know-how.
Enlightens on How Crimes Are Committed
Computer forensics can shed light on how crimes are committed by analyzing digital evidence.
It Has the Potential to Be Used to Prevent Future Crimes
Law enforcement can better target their investigative efforts if they understand how criminals use computers to commit crimes.
Disadvantages of Digital Forensics
The following are some disadvantages of digital forensics:
Computer forensics is a lengthy process. Data collection and analysis can take days or weeks.
Requires Specialized Knowledge and Skills
Computer forensics is a process that collects, examines, and reports digital evidence using specialized skills and knowledge.
Can Be Costly
Computer forensics can be costly because it requires specialized equipment and software and is frequently performed by a specialist.
Obtaining Evidence May Necessitate a Court Order
Obtaining the evidence may necessitate a court order. It means there could be a delay in getting the evidence, giving the perpetrator time to destroy or tamper with it.
Evidence Can Be Easily Destroyed or Manipulated
One of the most severe issues with computer forensics is the ease with which evidence can be destroyed or tampered with. Even if investigators successfully recover deleted files or damaged hard drives, there is no guarantee that the evidence has not been tampered with.
When Is Digital Forensics Used in a Business Setting?
Digital forensics is an integral part of the Incident Response process for businesses. Forensic Investigators identify and document details of a criminal incident as evidence for law enforcement. The rules and regulations that govern this process are frequently helpful in proving innocence or guilt in a court of law.
Who Is a Digital Forensics Investigator?
A digital forensics investigator wants to follow the evidence and solve a crime virtually.
Assume a company suffers a security breach, resulting in stolen data. In this case, a computer forensic analyst would investigate how the attackers gained access to the network, where they went on the network, and what they did, whether they stole information or planted malware. In such cases, a digital forensic investigator's role is to recover data such as photos, documents, and emails from hard drives and any other data devices that store data such as flash drives that have been damaged, deleted, or otherwise manipulated.
History of Digital Forensics
The following is a brief history of digital forensics:
The term "digital forensics" is relatively new, having first appeared in the late 1900s after being known as "computer forensics." The first group of computer forensic analysts consisted of law enforcement officers who enjoyed playing with computers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) established the Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART) in 1984, followed by the Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom a year later.
At the turn of the century, law enforcement, investigators, and specialists recognized the need for standard techniques, procedures, and protocols in digital forensics and other forensic sciences. Many informal guidelines were used until discussions and conferences were held to establish computer forensic methodology and practices on what computer forensics is today.
Phases of Digital Forensics
The following are the phases of digital forensics:
Phase I - Initial Response
The first response is the action taken immediately following a security incident. The nature of the incident heavily influences it.
Phase II - Seizure and Search
During this phase, the professionals look for the devices used in the crime. These devices were then carefully seized to extract information from them.
Phase III - Gather Evidence
Following the search and seizure phase, professionals collect data using the acquired devices. They have well-defined forensic methods for handling evidence.
Phase IV: Protect the Evidence
The forensic team should have access to a secure location where they can store the evidence. They determine whether the information gathered is correct, authentic, and accessible.
Phase V - Data Collection
Data acquisition is when Electronically Stored Information (ESI) from suspected digital assets is retrieved. It aids in gaining insights into the incident, whereas an improper process can alter the data, jeopardizing the evidence's integrity.
Phase VI - Data Analysis
The accountable staff scans the acquired data to identify the evidentiary information that can be presented to the court during data analysis. This phase involves examining, identifying, separating, converting, and modeling data to convert it into useful information.
Phase VII - Evidence Evaluation
The evidence assessment process connects the evidential data to the security incident. Based on the scope of the case, a thorough assessment should be performed.
Phase VIII - Reporting and Documentation
It is the post-investigation phase, which includes reporting and documenting all findings. In addition, the report should contain sufficient and acceptable evidence following the court of law.
Phase IX - Testify as an Expert Witness
Forensic investigators should approach the expert witness to confirm the evidence's accuracy. An expert witness is a professional who investigates a crime to obtain evidence.
What Are Digital Forensics Tools?
Digital forensic tools were developed to examine data on a device without causing damage to it. Digital forensic tools can also assist ICT managers in proactively identifying risk areas. Digital forensic tools are currently classified as digital forensic open-source tools, digital forensic hardware tools, and various others.
Popular instruments include:
- Forensic disc controllers: enable the investigator to read the data from a target device while preventing it from being modified, corrupted, or erased.
- Hard-drive duplicators: enable the investigator to copy data from a suspect thumb drive, hard drive, or memory card to a clean drive for analysis.
- Password recovery devices: crack password-protected storage devices using machine learning algorithms.
Here are some of the most popular digital investigation tools:
- The SleuthKit
- FTK Imager
- Hex Editor Neo
- Bulk Extractor
Key Job Roles of a Digital Forensic Investigator
Here are some of the key job roles of a digital forensic investigator:
- Forensic Analyst, Senior
- Cyber Forensic Investigator
- Digital Forensics Analyst-Mid-Level
- Senior Consultant, Digital Forensics
- Senior Digital Forensics and Incident Response
- Security Analyst (Blue Team) – Forensic investigation
- Senior Associate-Forensic Services-Forensic Technology Solutions
- Cybersecurity Forensics Consultant
- Digital Forensics Analyst
- Computer Forensic Technician
- Senior Principle, Digital Forensics
- Digital Forensics Analyst, Senior
- Security Forensics Analyst (SOC)
- Forensics Engineer
Skills Required to Become a Digital Forensic Investigator
Employers seek certified forensic investigators who have a solid understanding of all concepts related to what is digital forensics along with essential digital forensic skills, which include the following:
- Understanding hard disks and file systems
- Defeating anti-forensic techniques
- Operating system forensics
- Cloud forensics in a cloud environment
- Investigating email crimes
- Mobile device forensics
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