What is Digital Forensics and Why Is It Important?

We know that the days following a cyberattack on your organization can be confusing. You need answers on how the attack happened, how it affects your data, and how to move forward from here. A digital forensics investigation is the first step toward the closure of ransomware and cyberattacks.

You probably want to know how ransomware found its way into your network. This information is vital to help both the criminal investigation and to increase your network security and prevent new attacks.

The digital forensic experts at Proven Data have helped hundreds of organizations navigate the rough waters of a cyberattack.

A digital forensic investigation can help you answer any questions you might have about the attack, including

  • What networks, systems, files, or applications were affected?
  • How did the incident occur? (Tools, attack methods, vulnerabilities, etc.)
  • What data and information were accessed or stolen?
  • Are hackers still on my network? Is the incident finished, or is it ongoing?
  • Where did the attack come from?

What is digital forensics

Digital forensics describes a scientific investigation process in which the investigator collects computer artifacts, data points, and information about a cyberattack. 

Computer forensics is a branch of digital forensics that focuses on extracting evidence from computers. It’s common, though, to use both terms for the same cyber investigation.

According to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), the goal of computer forensics is to 

  • Identify
  • Collect
  • Preserve
  • and Analyze all data collected 

This is to preserve the integrity of the evidence collected so that the cyberattack victim can use it in a legal case. 

A digital forensic examiner’s job is to provide information such as: 

  • Identify an entry point used by the attacker into the network
  • Find which user accounts the attacker used
  • Attempt to geolocate the logins and map them on a world map
  • Identify the duration of unauthorized access on the network

The forensics investigator can then provide you with a written report in layman’s terms that outlined what the attacker did and the steps they took. 

Cyber crimes are not easy to investigate because the crime scene exists in the digital world. 

In the case of a home burglary, you might come home to find physical damages that offer evidence of a crime. In the cyber world, the evidence is much less obvious. It might even be difficult to determine how the cyber threat entered your network if the attackers attempted to hide their tracks. 

And that is where digital forensics investigation and computer forensics investigation enter.

Step-by-step of a digital forensics investigation

Maybe you’ve just been infected by ransomware and want to find out how your files were encrypted. A proper digital forensics investigation will help your organization draw more conclusions about cybercrime and what happened on your network. 

Digital forensics experts can explore your network and probe digital artifacts such as security event logs, network traffic, and access credentials to deliver closure on a cyberattack.

To understand how digital forensics works, the process of digital forensics has 5 steps:

  1. Identification
  2. Preservation
  3. Analysis 
  4. Documentation
  5. Presentation

The digital forensics investigation is a crucial part of a digital forensics report.

The Process of Digital Forensics
1. Identification

The first step of a digital forensics investigation is to establish the scope of the investigation. Here are defined the investigation and the digital forensics report goals and objectives. 

This step also identifies which type of evidence to collect, and which devices require analysis, such as computers, network traffic logs, and storage media devices.

2. Preservation

In this step, the digital forensics investigators take appropriate actions to preserve as much digital evidence as possible on the affected network. 

Preservation is typically performed in the form of an image backup file. It is critical to use imaging software that utilizes “write blockers” to ensure there are no additional digital footprints left by the forensic examiner who is creating the image. 

As it creates the image backup, all the evidence before the image is captured as well. 

Computers are constantly receiving and changing the information they store in the form of access logs, data backups, etc. You must preserve these logs as soon as possible, to avoid having them overwritten since the forensic investigation will need them. 

Although the forensics techniques vary, largely forensics investigators will extract digital artifacts such as:

  • Event logs
  • Packets of data
  • Containers

The longer you wait to do the digital forensics investigation might mean that older data is overwritten, and entry logs will change. Just like any crime scene, evidence gathered closer to the incident date will help investigators provide a more accurate picture of what happened.

3. Analysis

The third step is crucial for the digital forensics investigation, and later for the digital forensics report. 

In this step, the digital forensics professional analyzes the collected data and digital artifacts throughout the investigation. They also piece them together to tell a full story of what happened during the cyberattack. 

Forensic investigators use tools and techniques to dig into the incident and create a timeline of events.

Digital forensics professionals use tools to inspect and extract the information they seek. An example can be a program (or script) used to try to identify different files on a network. 

It’s essential that only qualified and certified recovery professionals analyze the data for a digital forensics report.

A digital forensics script runs to find artifacts of a cyber attack
4. Documentation

The documentation step collects all evidence and records it as it pertains to the cybercrime at hand. Good digital forensics documentation only includes the most critical information needed to make an accurate conclusion. These findings are prepared in professional documentation (reports, graphs, pictures) and will be useful during the presentation stage. 

There are also steps and requirements for a complete digital forensics report.

5. Presentation

This is the most critical step in carrying out a quality digital forensics investigation. 

The presentation of findings and discoveries via documentation helps stakeholders understand the attack. 

Digital forensics investigators will cite what happened during the attack and present it in a way that people of many backgrounds can understand the digital forensics report. 

This is especially important as these findings may be used for internal investigations and audits for businesses following the cyberattack. 

How can Proven Data help protect your business with digital forensics?

At Proven Data, we always recommend that you seek legal advice. This will help you to determine any specific regulatory requirements in your jurisdiction. 

Our professionals are experienced in conducting investigations cooperatively with legal counsel to satisfy a variety of requirements. 

Proven Data digital forensics investigators have helped hundreds of organizations in the critical days following a cyberattack and provided them with a detailed report about the threat. Our digital forensics investigation processes and services can quickly and accurately help your business understand the scope of the cyberattack and walk you through the next steps for improving your data security. 

Digital forensics FAQ

When do you need a digital forensics investigation?

Ransomware victims can use ransomware forensics services to determine how their network was infiltrated.

Businesses that have experienced a cyberattack must understand the attack in full context to see what data was breached. 

It’s possible to use a digital forensics investigation for: 

Identifying the cause and possible intent of a cyberattack

Safeguarding digital evidence used in the attack before it becomes obsolete

Increasing security hygiene, retracing hacker steps, and finding hacker tools

Searching for data access

Why is digital evidence important?

Digital evidence is information stored or transmitted in binary form that may be relied on in court” as outlined by the U.S. National Institute of Justice. Organizations can collect and store very confidential data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which is meant to be private and secure. This type of data is protected under privacy acts and data protection laws for consumers, and digital evidence can help trace where the information was copied or stolen. 

In many local, state, and federal jurisdictions, your business must disclose if this information was compromised. Digital forensics is used to trace the cyber attack path and scrutinize every move the attacker made on your network. 

A comprehensive digital forensics investigation will provide a report of any data that was copied or removed from the network. Your organization must become aware of this type of activity as it relates to breach notification laws, and if your company becomes liable to disclose this information. Only a proper digital forensics report can give you and your business leaders the further insight needed to make the data breach disclosure decisions moving forward.

How do I know if my network is still compromised?

Organizations that fail to perform a digital forensics investigation may risk the possibility that the attacker is still on their network. 

The removal of the ransomware does not guarantee the safety or security of your networks and data moving forward. 

Digital forensics examiners can determine if there is still suspicious activity and alert you if steps need to be taken to mitigate those possible cyber threats.

How can I know if the attacker looked at or removed any files from my network?

Victims of a cyberattack should be curious to know exactly what actions were taken once an unauthorized user gains access to your files and network. A digital forensics investigation can look more closely at which data became compromised during an attack. This is one of the information that later is on in the digital forensics report.

Cyber threats, like ransomware, are designed to encrypt your files and lock access to this data. However, it is becoming increasingly popular for cybercriminals to exfiltrate or remove these files from the network. Cybercriminals are increasingly using more aggressive extortion techniques that include threatening to leak your data if a crypto ransom is not met.

Can digital and computer forensics discover if my data was copied or sold?

Businesses should be concerned about their data and the information that might have been copied throughout the course of a cyberattack. Especially with several laws about data usage and compliance.

Cybercriminals can withdraw your information from a network and use it for malicious purposes and intent. Your data may be leveraged on the dark web, where stolen data is auctioned and sold to the cybercriminal economy. 

This is one of the reasons why you SHOULD NEVER PAY FOR RANSOM, as it can finance cyber criminals and even terrorists.

Unfortunately, once a data breach occurs and the information was exfiltrated, there is no guarantee that the cyber attackers will not sell your information. 

However, a digital forensics expert can determine what has been exfiltrated from the network. Additionally, a digital forensics company may be able to estimate the likelihood that your data was leaked by utilizing threat intelligence from previous cases.

Will a digital forensics investigation help prevent a future cyberattack?

While a digital forensics investigation does not prevent a future attack, a digital forensics examination can detect gaps that need to be filled in security infrastructure. 

These examinations can also provide an opportunity to identify additional security vulnerabilities to proactively address them the next time a hacker comes knocking on their doors. 

Armed with vital intelligence from a digital forensics expert, you can determine the next logical steps to take to ensure your cybersecurity. Whether you choose cyber security services from a team of experts, improving your cybersecurity after an attack is crucial.  

Actively patching the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of your organization can 

  • Reduce the risks of malware entering your network
  • Keep your sensitive data from unwanted eyes
  • Reduce the potential of experiencing costly cyberattacks in the future

Businesses seeking digital forensics services need to act fast to ensure the digital evidence is preserved for the investigation process. 

Organizations that wait a long time before beginning their digital forensics investigation, risk the effectiveness of the investigations. That’s because the data and evidence are harder to obtain in an attempt to pinpoint the vulnerabilities.

According to the US Computer Emergency Readiness, “Should an intrusion lead to a court case, the organization with computer forensics capability will be at a distinct advantage”.

Want to learn more about Digital Forensics?

Our dedicated Digital Forensics page will give more insight on how you can open a case for this service!

More Digital Forensics Information

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