BY Preeti Shah | August 16, 2022
It is the complete guide to digital forensics. Here I will cover the essential points you must know if you want to start a career in this field.
I will keep updating the guide as per the new trends currently in demand.
So, if you want to start your digital forensic specialist journey, you will love this guide.
It is a forensic science branch focusing primarily on investigating cybercrimes and recovering the data from digital devices that can be used as evidence to solve the crime.
Several times it is confused with computer forensics. However, both are different.
It is about investigating any device that can store digital data and involves the identification, preservation, analysis, documentation, and reporting of digital evidence acceptable in a court of law. In comparison, computer forensics only focuses on crimes related to computer data theft.
1970s: 1978 Florida Computer Crimes Act was introduced by the United States based on the law against illegally removing or modifying computer data.
1983: Legislation passed by Canada related to cybercrimes and computer forensics.
1985: The computer crime department was created by Britain.
1989: Cybercrimes got entry into the list of official crimes in Australia.
1990s: It gained worldwide popularity, and the credit goes to Britain’s Computer Misuse Act.
1992: “Computer Forensics” term used by Collier and Spaul.
2001: National Hi-Tech Crime Unit was created by Britain.
2004: The Convention of Cybercrime signed by 43 countries.
2005: Advent of an ISO standard for digital forensics.
Its primary usage involves investigating events that include digital information as a tool to commit the crime. The investigators handle both civil and criminal cases. They collect, store, protect, and analyze digital evidence and present the expert report in a court of law.
You can either work as a consultant or be a part of the cybersecurity team in private companies. You help them to prevent the occurrence of cyberattacks and protect sensitive data. And if the attack occurs, you are required to recover lost data and minimize the effect of the threat on the organization.
You primarily deal with cases related to cybercrimes. Your role involves retrieving deleted, encrypted, manipulated, or confidential data while ensuring the truthfulness of the information to make it feasible to be presented in court.
You deploy several tools and techniques during investigation depending on the type of cybercrime.
You also interrogate victims, suspects, and witnesses in the process.
Many information technology organizations, large-scale financial companies, the defense sector, networking companies, etc., require specialists' expertise.
It purpose is to ensure cybersecurity at all levels and help law enforcement agencies solve cybercrime cases.
The rapid development and usage of new technologies in all sectors have given rise to the need for skilled experts to fulfill specific purposes. These are:
• Data recovery, analysis, preservation, and preparing the report for court representation.
• Implementing safety measures to protect gathered digital evidence so it does not get corrupted.
• Data recovery from digital devices if it is beneficial for case solving.
• Suspect identification and establishing motive behind committing the crime.
• Ensuring the authenticity of the digital evidence.
• Preparing forensic report that aids in further investigation.
Digital evidence can consist of all types of data stored and collected from any electronic storage device for investigation purposes.
There are various types of digital evidence present. Here are the most common types of electronic evidence:
• Web browser’s history
• User profile like username and passwords
• Digital files like docs, spreadsheets, PDFs, text files, etc.
• Images, audio, and video files
• Email content
• Audio and video phone calls
• Accounting program files
• Networking devices’ records
• CCTV camera footage
• Printer, fax, and photocopy machine logs
• ATM transaction records
• RAM system files
• Computer backups
• Secret and encrypted data
• GPS records
• Electronic door logs
• Windows registry system files
The technology revolution has resulted in an increased digital crime rate; hence, the need for digital forensics has increased manifolds.
It is further divided into sub-fields to have field-specific professionals, thereby speeding up the investigation process.
Here is the list of its different branches:
It comprises collecting, identifying, preserving, and analyzing data from digital devices like laptops, personal computers, and other computing devices.
It involves retrieving data (audio, video, contacts, call logs) from mobile phones, smartphones, SIM cards, tablets, PDAs, game consoles, and GPS devices to be used as evidence in a court of law.
It involves monitoring, registering, and analyzing network activities and traffic exchange to investigate cases related to cyberattacks, security breaches, and other cybercrimes.
It involves analyzing structured data and mainly focuses on financial crimes and fraud investigation.
It involves investigating all activities performed on the database and preparing a report if any alterations in the data are found. It is used to solve large-scale financial crimes and authenticate commercial contracts.
It involves retrieving email data to solve email forgery. The data can be senders’ and receivers’ information, message content, metadata, timestamps, and attachments.
It involves detecting, analyzing, and investigating various malware types that are a part of the attack and the damage caused by the attack. And it further helps in tracing the suspect and their motive behind the attack.
It is also known as live acquisition and involves retrieving data from the RAM even if the hackers leave no evidence on the hard drive.
It involves analyzing and investigating traffic in a wireless network using specialized tools. It is used when cybercrime is committed by breaking the wireless network’s security protocol.
It involves retrieving data from the hard drive and other physical storage devices like servers, flash drives, USB sticks, memory cards, etc.
Earlier, very few tools were available to help specialists analyze digital evidence. They have to face several problems related to analysis.
However, with time, various high-tech and advanced analytical tools and software have been developed to cater to experts' needs.
Some of them are:
Disk and data capture tools: These assist in discovering encrypted data and seize and show the information on the physical drives.
File viewers and file analysis tools: These are used to extract and analyze separate files.
Registry analysis tools: These help obtain user information and their activities from the Windows registry.
Internet and network analysis tools: These help obtain in-depth traffic information and monitor users' internet activity.
Email analysis tools: These are specifically designed to analyze the email content.
Mobile device analysis tools: These help extract data from mobile devices' internal and external memory.
Mac OS analysis tools: These are meant for disk imaging and retrieving data only from Mac operating systems.
Database forensics tools: These help analyze any manipulation done with the database records.
Like any other forensic science branch, it also follows a series of steps to evaluate whether you can present digital evidence in court or not.
Let us look at the various steps involved:
The first step involves making a list of the investigation goals, finding and identifying the evidence, the type of data to be searched for, the type of storage devices that might store the data, and additional resources required.
The second step involves isolating, securing, and preserving the data. It means no person other than the investigating team members has the right to use the device until the investigation is completed.
The third step involves in-depth data research to reconstruct the evidence and reach a relevant conclusion.
The fourth step involves documenting or recording details of all the relevant evidence found together. It can be in written or pictorial form. It helps to reconstruct the crime scene and aids in further investigation.
The fifth and final step involves summarizing all the findings and conclusions in a report per forensic procedures. The report contains a detailed analysis and explanation of all the findings to make it suitable to be presented in a court of law.
You use various tools and software to gather evidence to solve cybercrime.
And hackers also have access to the same tools you use to modify and erase evidence of their criminal activity.
Hence, it is the major challenge you can confront while solving a cybercrime.
Here are a few of the challenges you can face:
Technology is changing at a pace like never before. Every day a new technological development flocks the market. In such a scenario, developing a universal methodology for digital forensic analysis becomes quite challenging.
Nowadays, digital devices like laptops, mobile phones, game consoles, PCs, etc., are no longer considered luxury items. Even an average person can easily access them.
There is much information about various tools and software on the internet. Anyone with access to the internet can use these tools and learn how to hack conveniently.
Nowadays huge amount of information can be stored on personal hard drives. It becomes difficult for you to analyze and preserve such vast data.
Preserving and presenting digital evidence in a court of law is quite complex and sometimes leads to rejection by the court.
You can work in the public sector, private sector, law enforcement agencies, financial organizations, defence sector, and almost all industries that rely on technology to run their day-to-day operations.
You have the liberty to choose from two job roles; one is preventing cybercrimes from occurring and creating a cybersecurity plan to mitigate the effect of cybercrime. The second is to investigate the already committed cybercrime.
The job role you get depends on your academic qualification, experience level, and skills.
As an expert you can work as:
• Computer forensic investigator
• Cyber forensic investigator
• Digital forensic investigator, consultant, or analyst
• Cybersecurity specialist
• Cybersecurity consultant
• Digital or computer forensics engineer
• Digital or computer forensic technician
• Computer or information security analyst
• Security forensic analyst
It is a rewarding career, and the demand for trained specialists is growing with technological advancement.
An essential factor in becoming a digital forensic expert is having relevant academic qualifications and work experience. For freshers, work experience is not mandatory.
A few firms require you to have a degree in the forensic field, while a few prefer work experience over degrees.
• Bachelor of Science in computer
• Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering
• Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity
• Master of Science in cybersecurity with a digital forensic specialization
• Post-graduate diploma in cybersecurity
Internship-level: No experience required
Entry-level Specialist: 1 to 2 years
Mid-level Specialist: 2 to 3 years
Senior- level Specialist: > 5 years
• Working knowledge of computer networks and different operating systems.
• Understanding of various computer programming languages.
• Working knowledge of computer hardware and software.
• In-depth knowledge of digital forensic tools.
• Know-how of cloud computing.
• Excellent report writing skills to make it feasible for presentation in the court of law.
• Excellent communication skills to ensure proper communication among investigating team members.
• Quick learning abilities to adapt to changing technologies and stay up-to-date.
• Strong analytical and critical thinking skills for effective data analysis and reaching valid conclusions to solve cases.
To become a digital forensic expert, you must have strong theoretical and practical knowledge. You must be aware of various electronic forensic tools and techniques. There are several branches, and each requires specialized training.
You can opt for bachelor’s, master’s, or diploma programs to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge and training.
It would be best if you could get practical hands-on training.
You can opt for either offline or online training at your convenience.
Sherlock Institute of Forensic Science, Delhi, offers:
• Post-graduate diploma & certificate course in Cyber Forensics
• Post-graduate diploma & certificate course in Cyber Law & Digital Forensics
• Post-graduate diploma & certificate course in Ethical Hacking & IT Security
All the courses comprise industry-oriented practical hands-on training and cover all the latest trade techniques.
Q. How does digital forensics work?
A. Though it involves the investigation of crimes related to data theft from digital devices, specialists primarily cater to computer-related crimes. They work with law enforcement agencies to gather, store, preserve, and analyze data and prepare a report to be used as evidence in a court of law.
Q. Why is it important?
A. Cybercrimes cause massive damage to an organization's online assets, leading to financial loss and degradation of market reputation. Forensic experts help solve such crimes and also assist in developing techniques to avoid the occurrence of such incidents in the future.
Q. Is it a good career?
A. With the increasing use of technology in every field, cybercrimes are rising at an alarming rate. And this gives rise to the requirement for skilled digital forensic specialists. Hence, this field offers immense opportunities globally with good salary prospects.
Q. Who benefits from digital forensics?
A. Both public and private sectors nowadays need expert services. Experts not only work to safeguard the online assets of individual firms but also work with law enforcement agencies to provide evidence that further aids in solving cybercrime.
Q. Are digital recovery and forensics the same?
A. No, they both are different. Digital recovery is part of digital forensics and involves retrieving hidden, lost, or manipulated data. Digital forensics also involves an in-depth analysis of the recovered data and checks if it can be used as legal evidence.
Q. What degree should you pursue if you want to be a digital forensic expert?
A. You can go for academic and practical hands-on training to start with. You must also acquire a few industry-specific certifications focusing on specialized training. Apart from this one-time education, you must follow the concept of life-long learning to keep yourself updated about the latest developments in the technological field.
Digital forensics has come a long way and is now an acceptable applied science.
It plays a vital role in protecting digital assets in both the public and private sectors.
Several methods, tools, and software are used to investigate digital evidence depending on the type of devices on which the data is stored.
There are several branches of digital forensics, each requiring specialized training to assist law enforcement in solving crimes.
Professional training is highly recommended if you are keen to pursue a career in this field.
There is a massive demand for a skilled workforce globally. And hence it is one of the best career options for you if you possess strong technical and analytical skills.
SIFS INDIA got established in 2006. It is a renowned ISO 9001:2015 & 10002:2014 certified private forensic science laboratory and training academy registered with the Govt. of India.
Since its inception, it has helped law enforcement agencies solve criminal cases and provided industry-specific training to budding forensic enthusiasts.
It offers expertise services in various domains like document examination, fingerprint analysis, cyberforensic investigation, insurance investigation, forensic biology, key and accident reconstruction, forensic facial imaging, forensic support, and several other services.
Several certificates, diplomas, and PG diploma courses are available online and offline. Along with these regular workshops, summer and winter internships are part of their education program.