As the world goes increasingly digital, so do crimes. Digital forensics is a field that investigates and analyzes digital data to identify evidence of crimes, cybersecurity breaches, and other illicit activities online. With increased internet usage and online presence, the digital forensics market is expected to grow to $23.62 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 11.2%. If you’re a beginner or are curious about the world of digital forensics, here are some basics of the field.
What is Digital Forensics?
Digital forensics involves identifying, acquiring, and analyzing digital or electronic evidence. Also known as computer forensics or cyber forensics, the field analyzes digital devices and data for legal or incident response scenarios. The evidence-gathering process relies heavily on computers, mobile phones, IoT (Internet of Things), and other computerized devices. Database Forensic Service Providers now leverage AI and automation to make their incident response process more efficient.
Digital forensics has been handy in mitigating cyber crime cases, where all evidence is often digital. That includes cyberattacks, malware, hacking, identity thefts, etc. Incident response aside, data forensics is also very useful in the aftermath of any cyber attack, as it can provide detailed and conclusive information to auditors, legal teams, or law enforcement.
The Key Objectives of Digital Forensics
While digital forensics may seem narrow, considering it deals with online and digital evidence, its applications to the real world are much broader. With technological advancement, most legal cases, especially crime-related ones, require data analysis and digital processing proof before they appear in court.
Mass amounts of data related to any individual are available now. Cars, mobile phones, routers, personal computers, traffic lights, and many other devices now produce enormous amounts of data that can be useful as evidence. Digital forensics can process it so it’s usable for such purposes.
On a company scale, digital forensics can be helpful to analyze how safe and secure the organization’s system is against cyber attacks. It can also be beneficial if a breach has occurred and a fast response is needed to determine how much of a company’s data has been affected. Digital forensics serves some key objectives, which include but are not limited to:
1. Processing Digital Evidence
The primary purpose of digital forensics is to collect relevant exhibits that could be admissible in court as electronic evidence. Evidence processing in digital forensics is quite similar to traditional methods. The goal and scope of the cyber issue or crime under investigation are studied. Relevant evidence is collected, preserved, analyzed, and reported wherever needed.
Any digital information that could be useful, such as the IP address or location of a cybercrime, is preserved so that its integrity is maintained. After finding evidence, forensic experts systematically organize the proof according to how, why, and where the crime happened.
2. Preparation for Court Proceedings
Presenting digital evidence in court can be a complex process. Before evidence is presented in court, it needs to be declared “legally admissible”. Evidence is only legally admissible if it proves the facts of the case and fulfills the legal formatting requirements. All digital proof must be well-documented, either electronically or physically, in the form of reports to prove a crime. Forensic experts play a crucial part in converting digital excerpts into tangible evidence and conducting in-depth analysis for court proceedings. They also run tests for the reliability, justifiability, and authenticity of the evidence, which makes digital evidence more dependable.
Branches of Digital Forensics
Digital crimes, such as data or privacy theft, cybercrimes, white-collar crimes, and violent crimes, are incredibly complex and require multiple teams for their assessment. These include:
1. Computer Forensics
Computer forensics deals with any evidence found on a computer or a storage device like hard disk, CDs, and DVDs. Since this category involves taking a large device into custody, building a legal trail of custody is necessary to ensure the evidence remains safe and untampered.
2. Mobile Device Forensics
Mobile device forensics involves analyzing digital evidence on handheld devices, like mobile phones, PDAs, tablets, and similar devices with GPS or location services available.
Mobile forensics experts are trained to recover data that is either hidden or deleted from a mobile phone. This includes text messages, call logs, photos, videos, social media messages, and app data. Once they have extracted the data, they are tasked to extract relevant information that could be evidence of criminal activities, communication records, location data, etc.
3. Network Forensics
Network forensics experts look into data and information on a network. This network could be over the internet or the intranet for a company. Data on a network is often very dynamic, volatile, and vulnerable to attack. It’s necessary to determine how secure the data transfer channel is. In a cyber breach, network forensics is crucial since companies and organizations often use a network or cloud to manage their data effectively.
4. Database Forensics
Database forensics deals with different database structures employed to organize data for a company. The level of access that personnel have to the database plays a vital role in this analysis, and any unauthorized access indications might point you in the direction of why or how a cyberattack happened. You can also look through transactions via database forensics.
Alternatively, an analysis of timestamps associated with when data was updated in a database can also help verify the actions of any specific database user or indicate some form of unauthorized access.
DFIR: Digital Forensics and Incident Response
Digital forensics has further categories based on its use. DFIR, or Digital Forensics and Incident Response, is a subcategory of digital forensics that caters to incident response. This aims to identify and mitigate cyber attacks as fast as possible. The process includes assessing previous incidents to determine the best possible course of action against a threat and advising accordingly. The system learns with every new incident and attempts to mitigate every forthcoming threat better than the previous one.
Incorporating DFIR with your existing system means proactively preparing for any future attacks your network or database might face. This technology is now becoming more sophisticated with AI and machine learning applications and is evolving to hunt threats to your system actively.
Digital forensics is a developing system of processing and using digital data to mitigate cyber risks. It also has applications in traditional crime solving, where online evidence is processed effectively to ensure it’s admissible in court. There can be several types of digital forensics, such as network, database, mobile device, and computer forensics, depending on what resource your evidence is on. The industry is now leaning into technology, such as AI or automation, to streamline its incident response processes.