What Is Digital Forensics?


Cybersecurity includes a vast number of different components, aspects, techniques and disciplines. From cyber intelligence to continuous threat monitoring and risk assessments, the full spectrum of cybersecurity activities spans an extensive range. One discipline within this range is digital forensics, and like all of the other activities in the security world, fully understanding what it is and how it operates within a larger cybersecurity program is an important part of using this powerful tool effectively to defend agains cyber crime.

A Valuable Part of the Cybersecurity Equation

At its most fundamental function, digital forensics gives law enforcement and legal professionals as well as IT and information security teams a reliable avenue of investigation and way to gather trustworthy evidence to help prosecute criminals and defend the innocently accused. It also provides highly useful information that can be used to build stronger defenses for future crimes and cyber attacks.

Perhaps one of the oldest cybersecurity activities, especially when compared to some more recent techniques enabled by significant technology advances in recent years, digital forensics grew out of courtrooms and the need to verify whether or not certain digital documents were legitimate and admissable as reliable evidence. Since then, the same techniques used in those early days have evolved so that the application of digital forensics now spans a much broader set of use cases. In addition to helping in the prosecution and defense of court cases, digital forensics now plays a critical role in uncovering clues that can point to other criminal actors or a wider expanse of criminal activity.

As the digital world expands, so does a criminal’s digital footprint. The advent of the Internet means that investigative reach that was once isolated to a single server or computer can now expand exponentially into the far reaches of the globe. Digital forensics provides a way to follow extensive connective paths between criminal actors to conduct comprehensive investigations.

Cybersecurity Techniques That Validate Court Admissability

Cybersecurity techniques honed in other areas of the discipline help increase the effectiveness of digital forensics. Teams use proven cybersecurity methods to dig into the devices, servers, networks and Darknets to uncover events and activities that invaluable clues in solving cases and bringing criminals to justice. Using these techniques, digital forensics experts can identify beyond a shadow of a doubt whether or not a crime occurred and how it happened.

Most importantly, cybersecurity technologies and techniques enable teams to make a complete copy of a machine and verify that it is a legitimate copy using an algorithm called a hash. Digital forensices pros can use an MD5 algorithm or SHA-1 or any number of algorithms out there to say that the data we’ve taken a copy of is exactly like the machine that was copied. Then the teams perform all of the investigative work on that machine. In this way, they are able to properly preserve the evidence and ensure that it can be admitted in a court of law.

Digital Forensics Techniques That Advance Cybersecurity Efforts

Just as cybersecurity techniques are used to advance digital forensics efforts, digital forensics techniques contribute to a stronger cyberdefense stance. Cybersecurity teams can use the same investigative process used to resolve criminal cases in the courtroom to find clues that point to evidence of cyber attack so that information security teams can stop the attack, remediate the damage, and put stronger defenses in place. These techniques can idenfity whether or not malware is on a machine. It can determine whether or not someone from the outside has broken in and left traces of their presence that the teams can track down. Digital forensics techniques can be used to help find the artifacts that can help a team respond to a cybersecurity incident effectively.

To learn more about the interplay of digital forensics and cybersecurity, watch this video with Director of Intelligence Services, Monty St John.

About the author

Monty St John

Monty is a security professional with more than two decades of experience in threat intelligence, digital forensics, malware analytics, quality services, software engineering, development, IT/informatics, project management and training. He is an ISO 17025 laboratory auditor and assessor, reviewing and auditing 40+ laboratories. Monty is also a game designer and publisher who has authored more than 24 products and 35 editorial works.