What Is Digital Forensics?
Table of Contents
- By Greg Brown
- Jun 26, 2023
Inventions of the microchip and transistors in the late 1950s ushered in a digital transformation, unlike any other evolutionary phenomenon in history. The modern world continues to expand digital horizons, technological ingenuity, and unabating misery.
Computer crimes began in France in 1834, when attackers stole financial information by way of the French telegraph system. Cyber warfare was first recognized in 1978 with the Florida Computer Crime Act. What followed was the evolution of a remarkable industry; Digital Forensics is the process of preserving, extracting, and documenting computer evidence that can be used in a court of law.
Significant challenges exist for any agency tasked with solving complex crimes using digital forensics. The challenge; hackers have access to the same forensic evidence to commit the crime, as do the investigators. Secondly, any evidence submitted in court must also prove the evidence has never been tampered with.
Digital forensics has a mountain of branches, types, and different iterations of the original. Cyber forensics, as an example, includes computer systems for the commission of a crime along with network and internet crime. Digital forensics is more precise in its application and end results, including disk, network, mobile phone, and database forensics.
What Is Digital Forensics?
The first job of digital forensics in criminal cases is to assist law enforcement agencies and private firms to locate, extract, and track digital evidence. There are phases that teams of digital investigators must take when uncovering computer evidence to be court worthy.
- First, response and identification teams of investigators recover, analyze, and preserve any computer-related material, helping law enforcement present the evidence in a court of law. Teams try to uncover motives and main culprits as soon as possible and ensure any digital evidence is not corrupted.
- Any data or physical evidence in the preservation phase is isolated and secured. Investigators seize any digital equipment at the scene, ensuring criminals have no access and the device cannot act. Digital investigators begin to recover deleted files and partitions from digital media, extracting and validating the evidence.
- Evidence is identified quickly, and its negative impact on the victim. Additional evidence is collected to establish a timeline and preserve evidence to establish a chain of custody.
- Securing and data acquisition of evidence is carried out by investigators using proper procedures to avoid altering data and sacrificing its integrity. Once any digital data is obtained, it is stored in a safe environment where it can be authenticated and proven accurate.
- Documentation and presentation are the final two steps in the forensics process. All collected and visible data are recorded for crime scene review. Proper documentation of the crime is created involving photographing, sketching, and crime-scene mapping. The final step is the summarization and explanation of all conclusions.
Types of Digital Forensics
Digital forensics is constantly growing and evolving as the digital universe expands. The process and types of digital forensics are used in various criminal cases. Computer crimes include intellectual property theft, cybercrime, fraud and ransomware, and any criminal investigation where electronics have been used.
- Computer Forensics involves analyzing any electronic device discovered at the scene of a crime. Devices may include hard drives, flash drives, and memory cards. It is the job of the forensics investigator to extract any and all data from the media. The goal is to uncover deleted or hidden files from damaged drives. Memory forensics is part of this type and involves collecting raw data from a computer’s RAM and cache.
- Network Forensics monitors traffic in search of patterns to determine any malicious activity. This type of digital forensics concerns monitoring, analyzing, and preserving network traffic.
- Mobile Device Forensics zeroes in on analyzing mobile devices, tablets, and smartphones. Investigators attempt to retrieve contact information, call logs, incoming and outgoing SMS messages, and audio. This forensics type looks into any incident of loss or stolen device as it pertains to the primary case.
- Web, Email, and Database Forensics targets for examination and email or database relating to metadata. This type also concerns examining all emails, deleted emails, calendars, and contacts held within public or private platforms. Internet and web forensics examines the massive amount of data associated with websites, server logs, and any communication. The goal is to uncover any security breach of classified documents and the loss or hidden data on web pages.
- Malware Forensics examines all instances of malicious code sent or received. The purpose is to find the origin of the malicious code.
Challenges Faced by Digital Forensics
Investigators always fight an uphill battle to control or stay ahead of digital crimes. To stay current, any digital forensic department must invest in costly tools and personnel. Equipment can no longer get the job done as soon as appropriations are settled and funded. Additional challenges include the legal and investigative communities’ lack of urgency to establish standards and techniques to help law enforcement.
- A high level of expertise is needed to analyze and correctly catalog evidence without contamination. Digital forensics faces a shortage of well-trained and capable personnel.
- The rapidly growing amount of data being seized by law enforcement is exceeding the capability of forensic departments to control and analyze the data effectively. Tools quickly become obsolete to sift through massive amounts of data to retrieve relevant information on a crime.
- Criminals are using encryption to hide and shift information around the globe making the job of a forensic investigator much harder. Digital devices, just like data encryption, have become increasingly complex. Expert hackers are using storage devices to counter any law enforcement efforts.
- Digital data becomes corrupted over time, making the investigation job nearly impossible. With a lack of evidence, prosecution is not guaranteed. Digital and technological advancements happen with or without law enforcement.
To Wrap Up
It is vital for law enforcement, along with state and national governments, to realize how crucial digital forensics is to their departments. These organizations must begin to invest the necessary resources to ensure data and digital devices are secure. Digital Forensics will continue to be a vital part of every law enforcement agency and private firm tasked with our security.