Digital forensics is a fascinating field of computer science. It presents unique opportunities to apply technology to assist investigations and uncover information which may otherwise be lost. In the digital era, this is an extremely important field of work. If you’re interested in a career in digital forensics, you may want to consider a specific branch to specialize in. Digital forensics is quite diverse, and it’s important to find the right path for you.
What is Digital Forensics?
Digital forensics is a field at the intersection of computer science and forensic science. It involves investigating, examining, and analyzing digital devices such as phones and computers. Digital forensics may be used in civil or criminal investigations and may also be used in the corporate world for internal investigations and audits, or to recover lost data.
What are the Branches of Digital Forensics?
As digital devices have become more complex and numerous, the digital forensics field has blossomed into a tremendously varied area of work. There are several digital forensics branches and they are frequently evolving. As a result, the list of branches can vary depending on who you ask. Nonetheless, the following 10 branches cover the major areas of digital forensics.
This branch is focused on personal computers, laptops, and storage devices. A computer forensics specialist may help with collecting, identifying, analyzing, and preserving data for the purposes of a criminal investigation. For example, a digital copy of the original storage device known as a forensics image is created to run the investigation, preventing tampering. The data is then analyzed and presented to a judge. Sometimes, specialists in this branch also help with civil cases and even data recovery.
Database forensics specialists work on digital databases. This may involve the data stored in databases like QuickBooks, Windows, Linux, credit card systems, healthcare systems, and more. However, these specialists focus on how and when databases have been accessed while recording changes that were made. Such metadata is often invaluable for investigating financial crimes, for example.
Physical storage devices such as hard drives, solid-state drives, external USB drives, and memory cards sometimes need to be investigated and analyzed. In these situations, disk forensics is the primary branch involved. Analysts may recover, analyze, and present data from a physical storage medium for an investigation. Data includes everything from metadata to deleted or hidden files to tampered folders and is copied over from the original storage device into a disc image for further investigation. This type of work is often frequently used for data recovery, even if the data was accidentally lost.
Digital forensics professionals can also specialize in retrieving data from email. This may include the message content, sender, recipient, timestamps, sources, and other metadata. Email forensics is frequently used when an organization is suspected of forging, modifying or deleting emails related to an investigation.
Forensic Data Analysis
Forensic data analysis is the branch of digital forensics focused on analyzing structured data. It can be involved in many of the other branches. Data analysts may work on criminal or civil fraud investigations. Analyzing, organizing and presenting structured data is often central to such investigations. This means data within specific applications including solid state or cloud storage.
Malware plays a key role in many cyber crimes. Some digital forensics analysts focus on detecting, investigating, and analyzing malware. This may be used to investigate a criminal or civil case. Alternatively, it may be used in a forensic audit to determine how an organization could improve its security. One example is static analysis, the process of reviewing files like files, IPs, and domains for suspicious activity without actually running the code.
This branch of digital forensics is focused on recovering data from a device’s digital memory, specifically random-access memory. Some techniques used by hackers and other digital criminals allow them to avoid leaving any traces of their work in permanent digital storage. However, memory forensics can often find useful information captured in temporary memory. This method only isolates the memory of specific programs running during the time of a RAM dump.
Mobile Device Forensics
Certain digital forensics professionals specialize in mobile devices. They can retrieve data and other useful information from Android, iOS and other mobile devices. In the smartphone era, this is especially important since mobile devices gather an insurmountable amount of data on a regular basis, not only including texts or call logs. Because of mobile device forensics, crimes such as bomb threats, internal company threats, and more have been resolved by law enforcement agencies. Data on mobile devices include everything from contacts and texts to pictures and browsing history with everything in between.
Network forensics is focused on capturing data from networks in addition to analyzing network access and usage. This is highly relevant when analyzing cyber attacks as analyzing this information can help with reconstructing the attack strategy that was used. Law enforcement agencies use network forensics to analyze traffic from the compromised network in question and use that information to determine where any manipulation or vulnerabilities are present.
Between Wi-Fi and mobile data, wireless communications are more prevalent than ever. Some digital forensics specialists focus on analyzing and investigating data in a wireless environment and then presenting that data to a court of law. This can be relevant for cyber security concerns as well as tracking communication related to other crimes. The types of wireless communications include WAP, SSID, Bluetooth, and RFID.
Begin Your Journey
Digital forensics is a rapidly growing field full of options and opportunities. If you’re interested in learning about one or more of the above digital forensics branches, consider INE’s cyber security courses.