What is Digital Forensics

March 6, 2024
| Computer Forensics
Digital forensic science is a branch of forensic science that focuses on the recovery and investigation of material found in digital devices related to cybercrime. The term digital forensics was first used as a synonym for computer forensics. Since then, it has expanded to cover the investigation of any devices that can store digital data. Although the first computer crime was reported in 1978, followed by the Florida computers act, it wasn’t until the 1990s that it became a recognized term. It was only in the early 21st century that national policies on digital forensics emerged. Digital forensics is the process of identifying, preserving, analyzing, and documenting digital evidence. This is done in order to present evidence in a court of law when required.
“Digital forensics is the process of uncovering and interpreting electronic data. The goal of the process is to preserve any evidence in its most original form while performing a structured investigation by collecting, identifying, and validating the digital information to reconstruct past events. The context is most often for the usage of data in a court of law, though digital forensics can be used in other instances.” -Techopedia

How Well Do You Know Digital Forensics?

Steps of Digital Forensics

In order for digital evidence to be accepted in a court of law, it must be handled in a very specific way so that there is no opportunity for cyber criminals to tamper with the evidence.

1. Identification

First, find the evidence, noting where it is stored.

2. Preservation

Next, isolate, secure, and preserve the data. This includes preventing people from possibly tampering with the evidence.

3. Analysis

Next, reconstruct fragments of data and draw conclusions based on the evidence found.

4. Documentation

Following that, create a record of all the data to recreate the crime scene.

When Is Digital Forensics Used in a Business Setting?

5. Presentation

Lastly, summarize and draw a conclusion.

When Is Digital Forensics Used in a Business Setting?

For businesses, Digital Forensics is an important part of the Incident Response process. Forensic Investigators identify and record details of a criminal incident as evidence to be used for law enforcement. Rules and regulations surrounding this process are often instrumental in proving innocence or guilt in a court of law.

Learn How Important Cyber Forensics Is for a Business

Who Is a Digital Forensics Investigator?

A Digital Forensics Investigator is someone who has a desire to follow the evidence and solve a crime virtually. Imagine a security breach happens at a company, resulting in stolen data. In this situation, a computer forensic analyst would come in and determine how attackers gained access to the network, where they traversed the network, and what they did on the network, whether they took information or planted malware. Under those circumstances, a digital forensic investigator’s role is to recover data like documents, photos, and emails from computer hard drives and other data storage devices, such as zip and flash drives, with deleted, damaged, or otherwise manipulated.

History of Digital Forensics

How Is Digital Forensics Used in an Investigation?

Looking back at the history of digital forensics, law enforcement during that age had a minimal understanding of the application of digital forensic techniques. However, during the 1970s and 1980s, the forensics team were mostly representatives of federal law enforcement agencies with a computer background. The first area of concern for law enforcement was data storage, as most documentation happened digitally. Undeniably, seizing, retaining, and analyzing the documentation was a long task for the authorities. In this situation, the FBI launched the Magnet Media program in 1984, which was the first official digital forensics program. Following this, other techniques to identify cybercriminals when they intrude into computer systems were developed. In 1986, Cliff Stoll, a Unix System Administrator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, created the first honeypot trap. Eventually, digital forensics picked up professionally due to the spread of child pornography online. The war between Iraq and Afghanistan also led to the demand for digital forensic investigation. Concurrently, digital forensics played a major role in extracting the evidential data from the digital assets gathered by the U.S. troops during the war. In 2006, the U.S. implemented a mandatory regime for electronic discovery in its Rules for Civil Procedure.

Digital footprint is the information about a person on the system, such as the webpages they have visited, when they were active, and what device they were using. By following the digital footprints, the investigator will retrieve the data critical to solving the crime case. To name a few –Matt Baker, in 2010, Krenar Lusha, in 2009, and more cases were solved with the help of digital forensics.

Cyber forensic investigators are experts in investigating encrypted data using various types of software and tools. There are many upcoming techniques that investigators use depending on the type of cybercrime they are dealing with. Cyber investigators’ tasks include recovering deleted files, cracking passwords, and finding the source of the security breach. Once collected, the evidence is then stored and translated to make it presentable before the court of law or for police to examine further. The role of cyber forensics in criminal offenses can be understood with a case study: cold cases and cyber forensics

Recent Case Study –

Thousands of digital devices that have been seized by police as evidence for alleged crimes, including terrorism and sexual offenses, are sitting in storage in a growing backlog that investigators are struggling to tackle.

In the lack of efficient resources to analyze the evidence, the PA news agency has found that 12,122 devices (includes phones, tablets, and computers) are awaiting examination across 32 forces. Unlikely, the backlog has remained the same previous year resulting in hampering prosecutors in criminal cases. In another case, a Times investigation from the last year confirmed awaiting examination of 12,667 devices from 33 police forces. The long-pending investigations show how overwhelmed a digital forensic team is due to the sheer volume of digital evidence collected.

Phases of Digital Forensics

The action performed right after the occurrence of a security incident is known as the first response. It is highly dependent on the nature of the incident.
Under this phase, the professionals search for the devices involved in carrying out the crime. These devices then carefully seized to extract information out of them.
After the search and seizure phase, professionals use the acquired devices to collect data. They have well-defined forensic methods for evidence handling.
The forensic staff should have access to a safe environment where they can secure the evidence. They determine if the collected data is accurate, authentic, and accessible.
Data acquisition is the process of retrieving Electronically Stored Information (ESI) from suspected digital assets. It helps to gain insights into the incident while an improper process can alter the data, thus, sacrificing the integrity of evidence.
Under data analysis, the accountable staff scan the acquired data to identify the evidential information that can be presented to the court. This phase is about examining, identifying, separating, converting, and modeling data to transform it into useful information.
The process of evidence assessment relates the evidential data to the security incident. There should be a thorough assessment based on the scope of the case.
This is a post-investigation phase that covers reporting and documenting of all the findings. Also, the report should have adequate and acceptable evidence in accordance to the court of law.
The forensic investigators should approach the expert witness to affirm the accuracy of evidence. An expert witness is a professional who investigates the crime to retrieve evidence.

What Are Digital Forensics Tools?

In the 1990s, digital investigations were carried out via live analysis and using the device in question to examine digital media was commonplace. In time, the increasing use of devices packed with huge amounts of information made live analysis inefficient. Eventually, digital forensic tools were created to observe data on a device without damaging it. Presently, digital forensic tools can be classified as digital forensic open source tools, digital forensics hardware tools, and many others.

The Sleuth Kit

The Sleuth Kit (earlier known as TSK) is a collection of Unix- and Windows-based utilities that extract data from computer systems. It is an open-source software that analyzes disk images created by “dd” and recovers data from them. With this software, professionals can gather data during incident response or from live systems. Professionals can integrate TSK with more extensive forensics tools.

FTK Imager

FTK Imager is an acquisition and imaging tool responsible for data preview that allows the user to assess the device in question quickly. The tool can also create forensic images (copies) of the device without damaging the original evidence.


Xplico is a network forensic analysis tool (NFAT) that helps reconstruct the data acquired using other packet sniffing tools like Wireshark. It is free and open-source software that uses Port Independent Protocol Identification (PIPI) to recognize network protocols. The tool is built on four key components: Decoder Manager, IP Decoder, Data Manipulators, and Visualization System.

Here are a few more tools used for Digital Investigation

Digital Forensics Job Profiles

If you have good analytical skills, you can forge a successful career as a forensic
computer analyst, tracing the steps of cybercrime

The role of a forensic computer analyst is to investigate criminal incidents and data breaches. These forensic analysts often work for the police, law enforcement agencies, government, private, or other forensic companies. They use specialized tools and techniques to retrieve, analyze, and store data linked to criminal activity like a breach, fraud, network intrusions, illegal usage, unauthorized access, or terrorist communication.

Key Job Roles of a Digital Forensic Investigator

  • Cyber Forensic Investigator
  • Forensic Analyst, Senior
  • Digital Forensics Analyst-Mid-Level
  • Senior Digital Forensics and Incident Response
  • Senior Consultant, Digital Forensics
  • Security Analyst (Blue Team) – Forensic investigation
  • Cybersecurity Forensics Consultant
  • Senior Associate-Forensic Services-Forensic Technology Solutions
  • Computer Forensic Technician
  • Digital Forensics Analyst
  • Senior Principle, Digital Forensics
  • Security Forensics Analyst (SOC)
  • Digital Forensics Analyst, Senior
  • Forensics Engineer

Skills Required to Become a Digital Forensic Investigator

Employers look for certified forensic investigators with key digital forensic skills, including: are as follows:

  • Defeating anti-forensic techniques
  • Understanding hard disks and file systems
  • Operating system forensics
  • Cloud forensic in a cloud environment
  • Investigating email crimes
  • Mobile device forensics

The Average Salary of a Digital Forensics Investigator

Is Digital Forensics a Good Career?

As per Payscale, the average salary of a Digital Forensic Computer Analyst is $72,929

Requirements to Become a Forensic Expert

The eligibility criteria for a cyber forensic expert can vary widely. Many private firms like to hire candidates with a relevant bachelor’s degree, while law enforcement agencies prioritize hands-on experience.

The Life of a Digital Forensic Investigator

Watch this to learn more about what a digital forensics investigator does and how they gather data:

Challenges a Computer Forensic Analyst Faces

The most notable challenge digital forensic investigators face today is the cloud environment. While cloud computing is incredibly beneficial to an organization, they are also challenging for forensics investigators. The basic principle that the cloud is somebody else’s computer holds some truth, but huge server farms host most data. Since the cloud is scalable, information can be hosted in different locations, even in different countries. This makes it extremely difficult to gather accurate and trusted evidence in a case because establishing a proper chain of custody becomes nearly impossible. In addition, the jurisdiction of the data must be considered since different laws apply to depend on where it is located.

How Can CHFI Help You Become a Skilled Cyber Forensic Investigation Analyst?

The rising significance of digital forensics is creating an increased demand for computer forensic talent. As the role requires a specific set of skills that can be acquired via formal education and practice, EC-Council has the Computer Hacking and Forensic Investigator (CHFI) program to offer to those aspiring to become cyber professionals. The CHFI certification will fortify the application knowledge of law enforcement personnel, security officers, network administrators, legal professionals, and anyone concerned about the integrity of the network infrastructure. EC-Council’s CHFI is a vendor-neutral comprehensive program that encapsulates the professional with required digital forensics knowledge.

10 Reasons Why the CHFI Is Your Go-to for All Things Digital Forensics

1. Methodological Approach

CHFI presents a methodological approach to computer forensics, including searching and seizing digital evidence and acquisition, storage, analysis, and reporting of that evidence to serve as a valid piece of information during the investigation. A CHFI can use different methods to discover data from a computer system, cloud service, mobile phone, or other digital devices.

2. Comprehensive Online Learning

It is a comprehensive program that comprises 14 modules and 39 lab sessions. The program can be taken completely online with a duration of 40 hours, during which you will be trained on the computer forensics and investigation process. CHFI also helps you understand the law enforcement process and rules that guide you through the legal process of investigation.

3. Include Real-Time Forensic Investigation Scenarios

CHFI includes major real-time forensic investigation cases that were solved through computer forensics. The study enables students to acquire hands-on experience in different forensic investigation techniques that were adopted from real-life scenarios.

4. Pre-Requisite

The required skills for being a digital forensic investigator include knowledge of information technology and cybersecurity, but EC-Council does not restrict candidates with pre-requisites, specific qualifications, or experience to join the program.

5. ANSI Accreditation

EC-Council is one of the few organizations that specialize in information security (IS) to achieve ANSI 17024 accreditation. American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private non-profit organization that ensures the integrity of the standards as defined by them.

6. Mapped to NICE

CHFI is 100% mapped to the “Protect and Defend” Workforce Framework of NICE (National Institute of Cybersecurity Education), which categorizes and describes cybersecurity job roles.

7. Updated Timely

The current CHFI program is version 9, and that means it is continually updated to adhere to evolving forensic tools and methodologies. CHFI is updated with case studies, labs, digital forensic tools, and devices.

8. Equipped with Detailed Labs

The program has detailed labs making up almost 40% of the total training time. CHFI also comes with cloud-based virtual labs that allow the candidate to practice investigation techniques that mirror real-life situations in a simulated environment.

9. White Papers and Students Kit

For additional reading, the program comes loaded with many white papers. The student kit also contains various forensic investigation templates for evidence collection, chain-of-custody, investigation reports, and more.

10. Report Writing and Presentation

CHFI has a module dedicated to writing a report and presentation that enhances your skills in presenting the authenticity of the evidence collected and analyzed, explaining its significance in solving the case.

Computer Hacking and Forensic Investigator (CHFI) is the leading training program for anyone aspiring to be a digital forensic investigator. If you are a cybersecurity enthusiast and know information technology, get trained today!
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