What Is Digital Forensics?

Daniel Tobok
E: dtobok@cytelligence.com
Posted on: February 15, 2018

Digital forensics is the modern day version of forensic science and deals with the recovery and investigation of material found in digital devices. It is most often used in cybercrime situations, including but not limited to:

  • attribution
  • identifying leaks within an organization
  • assessing any damage occurred during a breach

Using the data collected from electronic devices, digital forensic investigators can stop hackers and other cybercriminals from compromising an organization’s digital infrastructure. They can also assist in recovering lost or stolen data, discover where a specific attack came from and trace it back to the source, and help create a detailed investigative report that can remedy any crime.

The field is spread across a number of subdivisions, all of which depend on the nature of the digital device that is the subject of the investigation, such as:

  • computer forensics
  • network forensics
  • forensic data analysis
  • mobile device forensics

Digital forensics and cybersecurity are connected in many ways and provide information to each other. For example, analyzing a breach may produce insights that could prevent future breaches and understand how particular threats work makes it easier for cybersecurity professionals and digital forensics investigators to establish a timeline and provide a direction for the investigation.

Digital forensics is a highly detailed investigative approach that collects and examines digital evidence that resides on electronic devices and subsequent response to threats and attacks. In the world of cybersecurity, Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) applies forensics to examine cases involving data breaches and malware, among others.

In many cases, digital forensics investigators have a background in computer sciences, which can help them develop the knowledge necessary to understand how virtual networks tick and work with one another. Most importantly, perhaps, they understand the vulnerabilities that exist within these systems and how they can be compromised.

Digital Forensics and the Corporate World

The likelihood of your company having to conduct a digital investigation is quite high. Many threats could be solved with a digital forensics approach, including litigation, data breaches, fraud, insider threats, HR issues and other cybersecurity problems.

Companies that hire a digital forensics professional will have firsthand information about their electronic data and how it may be interpreted in a court of law or by an investigator. The examiner will determine if any data has been altered within the system (which would indicate a breach of some nature). A digital forensic report provides the court with verified details about an incident and when it happened.

Unfortunately, it’s not always outside sources that commit these cyber crimes. Many companies turn to digital forensics experts to investigate members of their teams. This can provide eye-opening insight into the company’s digital vulnerabilities, both as they pertain to outside sources and those within the business who may not otherwise have access to the system. Key to the investigation is determining whether anyone within the company has violated company policy with regards to the use of any computer hardware or software. That’s why it’s essential for the investigator to have a thorough understanding of operating systems in their entirety.

Companies that lose valuable digital information may also seek the skilled assistance of digital forensics professional to recover lost data from a hard drive that’s been erased. For example, they can trace a hack to its source, uncover valuable evidence that provides information about the culprit, and work in tandem with law enforcement to identify the crimes that have been committed. These people are invaluable to a digital investigation that requires a more in-depth view of enterprise-level technological information.

Find the Answers you Need

Research shows that motive and opportunity are the two primary reasons for people to commit crimes. While motive is the predominant factor, recent advancement in technology has changed the landscape for opportunities.

While each case will present its own set of challenges, key considerations in cyber investigations include:

  • The ability to identify, collect and analyze droves of electronic documents, databases and other sources of information promptly
  • Recognize and retrieve electronic documents that are intentionally hidden, password-protected or encrypted
  • The skill necessary to ensure data isn’t damaged or altered during an examination
  • The tools to maintain the evidentiary value of the data and the media it’s stored within

Our digital world has made it easier to commit cyber crimes, which has created many challenges related to how to investigate these incidents (e.g., fraud, unauthorized access, theft of intellectual property and sabotage). This has created an environment where a multi-disciplinary investigative approach is required to uncover a solution to these crimes.

Companies that lose valuable digital information may also seek the skilled assistance of a digital forensics professional. The investigator may be able to recover that lost data from a hard drive that’s been erased. They can trace a hack to its source, uncover valuable evidence that provides information about the culprit, and work in tandem with detectives and police officers to solve a case.

For businesses, many of which have or will likely encounter a cyber breach in the near future, the skills possessed by digital forensics professionals are invaluable in investigations that require the ability to decipher in-depth technological information.