Counselling and Psychology

What is Digital Forensics? Types, Process, Challenges

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Advanced technology increases the rate of cybercrime, and many criminals use technology to commit it. Each year the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases a Crime Survey for England and Wales. The most recent survey for the year ending in March 2018, states that –

  • In England, around 4.5 million cybercrimes were committed.
  • In Wales, about 3.24 million were fraud offenses during those twelve months, and about 1.23 million were related to computer misuse (encompassing child pornography and hacking).

As digital evidence, computers, smartphones, flash drives, and cloud data storage are essential to forensic experts. Even these items are legally accepted in the judicial process. Digital Forensics helps the forensic team analyse, inspect, identify, and preserve digital evidence on various electronic devices.

Read the blog and learn about digital forensics and its types, processes, and challenges.

What is Digital Forensics?

Digital Forensics is the procedure of preservation, identification, extraction, and documentation of computer evidence that a court of law may employ. It’s a science of finding evidence from digital media, such as –

  • Computer
  • Mobile
  • Server
  • Network
  • Cloud server

The term “digital forensics” was initially used as a synonym for computer forensics. It has expanded to cover the analysis of information technology on all devices that can store digital data.

In recent times, commercial organisations have used digital forensics in the following cases:

  • Intellectual property theft
  • Industrial espionage
  • Employment disputes
  • Fraud investigations
  • Inappropriate use of the internet

Tech devices and icons connected to digital planet looks like earth

What Does Digital Forensics Do?

Digital forensic specialists play an essential role in the investigation of cybercrimes. He provides the best techniques and tools to resolve complicated digital-related cases. They deal with the retrieval of data, such as.

  • Encrypted
  • Deleted
  • Hidden
  • Cracking password
  • Volatile memory

The task also includes the integrity of the information used in court. At different stages of the investigation, computer forensics analysts may investigate suspects, victims, and witnesses. They also help to prepare evidence for court and represent it.

Private companies cooperate with digital forensic specialists as well.

Their expertise is also required

  • In personal and network security
  • The defence sector
  • Large-scale financial institutions
  • Information technology companies

5 Main Branches of Digital Forensics

The technical investigation is divided into several sub-branches. Based on the type of devices, media or artefacts, digital forensics investigation is branched into the following types.

Computer Forensics

Computer forensics involves extracting and analysing electronically stored information (ESI) from devices such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and hard drives. Computers are integral to everyday life, and digital evidence is essential. It can be recovered within various criminal, civil and corporate investigations. Computer forensics deals with a broad range of information, from logs (such as internet history) to acquiring the actual files from a drive. For example,

In the case of Joseph Edward Duncan, prosecutors used a spreadsheet recovered from the computer, showed premeditation, and secured the death penalty in 2007.

 A man is testing some devices on a lab


Mobile Device Forensics

Mobile devices relate to recovering digital evidence or data from a mobile. Unlike computer forensics, it has an integrated communication system, e.g. GSM, and proprietary storage mechanisms. The investigation process under this category involves:

  • Investigations generally focus on simple data such as call data and communications (SMS/Email). An example of an actual incident is-SMS data from a mobile device investigation that helped declare innocent Patrick Lumumba in the murder of Meredith Kercher.
  • Mobile devices are also helpful for providing location information, GPS/location tracking or via cell site logs, which follow the devices within their range. In 2006, using this information helped to track down the kidnappers of Thomas Onofri.

Network Forensics

This branch of forensics is concerned with monitoring and analysing –

  • Computer network traffic for both local and WAN/internet
  • For information gathering
  • Evidence collection
  • Intrusion detection

Usually, it is intercepted at the packet level and preserved for later analysis or examined in real-time. In another area of digital forensics, network data is often volatile and rarely logged, making the discipline reactionary.

In 2000, the FBI lured computer hackers Aleksey Ivanov and Gorshkov to the United States for a fake job interview. By monitoring network traffic from the pair’s computers, the FBI identified passwords, allowing them to collect evidence directly from Russian-based computers.

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Forensic Data Analysis

  • It is a branch of digital forensics that actually –
  • Examines structured data discovered from the crime scene
  • For financial issues, they analyse fraudulent activity patterns resulting from financial crime

Database Forensics

It relates to the forensic study of databases and their metadata. Experts usually use the below components-

  • Database contents
  • Log files
  • In-RAM data to build a timeline
  • Recover relevant information

How Is Digital Forensics Used in An Investigation?

Digital forensic investigators are experts in investigating encrypted data using various software and tools. Investigators use many upcoming techniques depending on the cybercrime they are dealing with. Their tasks include –

  • Recovering deleted files
  • Cracking passwords
  • Finding the source of the security breach.

Once collected, the evidence is stored and translated to make it presentable before the court of law or for police to examine further.

Investigation Process of Digital Forensics

The investigator does their work with scrutiny and honesty. While these can vary, most processes have the following steps:


The first step in the forensic process. The identification process mainly includes what evidence is present, where it is stored, and lastly, how it is stored (in which format). The individual pieces of data are relevant to the case at hand while the below incidents happen —

  • Warrants are involved and issued for a specific person
  • The access to information is limited to the examiners

In this process, digital evidence is acquired, which often involves seizing physical assets, like-

  • Computers
  • Phones
  • Hard drives

Various methods are used to identify


Various methods are used to identify and extract data. The entire process of study is divided into 3 steps-

  • Preparation
  • Extraction
  • Identification

Important decisions to make at this stage are whether to deal with a live system –

  • To power up a seized laptop
  • Connecting a seized hard drive to a lab computer


The data gathered is used to prove or disprove the case being built by examiners. For each relevant data item, examiners will answer the fundamental questions about it and attempt to determine the below points to relate to the investigation-

  • Who created it?
  • Who edited it?
  • How was it created?


In this step, investigation agents reconstruct data fragments and draw conclusions based on evidence. However, it might take numerous iterations of examination to support a specific crime theory. In addition, it involves proper documentation of the crime scene along with photographing, sketching, and crime-scene mapping.


In this phase, data is isolated, secured, and preserved, preventing people from using digital devices to avoid tempering the digital evidence. While doing so, forensics must ensure that no information is damaged or lost. To preserve the digital data, storage media is copied or imaged at this stage to keep the original in a pristine state for reference.


It analyses the data and synthesises it into a format people can understand. Creating reports is a crucial skill for anyone interested in digital forensics.


In this last step, the summarization and explanation of conclusions are done. However, it should be written using abstracted terminologies in a layperson’s terms. Therefore, all abstracted languages should reference specific details.

A digital forensic expert showing data processing in a monitor to his juniors


Challenges Faced by Digital Forensics

Digital forensic experts use forensic tools for collecting shreds of evidence against criminals, altering or removing the traces of their crimes. In this process, they faced challenges, such as:

  • The rise of PCs and extensive use of internet access
  • Easy availability of hacking tools
  • Lack of physical evidence makes prosecution difficult.
  • The massive amount of space stored in Terabytes
  • Any technological changes need an upgrade or changes to solutions.

What Are the Sources of Digital Forensic Evidence?

When searching for digital evidence, it’s not enough to look at a suspect’s internet history. Forensic Investigators are specifically responsible for the source of evidence related to criminals or criminal behaviour. All evidence is used by law enforcement in court. However, this process is often instrumental in proving innocence or guilt in a court of law. Below some sources are described –

The Internet

Let’s get this one out of the way. What people do on the Internet is typically not easily erased. Internet-based evidence may include websites that have been visited, searched keywords and even items downloaded from the web to a user’s device. This category can also encompass the ever-prevalent social media activity that may give police valuable leads in their investigation.


Computers or laptops may be the most apparent evidence of digital crimes since the backend of a system can tell the story about what a criminal might have been up to the days leading up to their arrest. Stored files may become important evidence, but looking into files or programmes that the suspect may have tried to hide or delete is essential. Evidence of digital crimes may be on the computer’s hard drive or other peripheral equipment.

Removable Media

Removable media such as disks, flash drives, and memory cards are often a viable hiding place for a criminal’s unpleasant work. IT means that files saved on a flash drive or photographs taken and stored on a camera’s memory card may be admissible in court proceedings.

Mobile Devices

If you’ve ever watched a crime show on television, you might know that investigators frequently use a suspect’s mobile devices to track their location (using cell towers to pinpoint where they are) and examine text message conversations or mobile web searches. For example, investigators might even check social media accounts to see what photos were posted to learn more about suspects’ movements. Mobile devices may include tablet devices as well as smartphones.

GPS Systems

What better way to find out where a suspect may have been (or not been) than checking their GPS records? The program’s history often saves previous locations, whether it’s a stand-alone GPS unit or a GPS smartphone application. Investigators might also use a satellite radio installed in a vehicle to verify an individual’s place.

A smartphone with gps application


What are examples of digital evidence?

In recent times, commercial organisations have used digital forensics in the following a type of cases:

  • Intellectual property theft
  • Industrial espionage
  • Employment disputes
  • Fraud investigations
  • Inappropriate use of the internet and email in the workplace
  • Forgeries related matters
  • Bankruptcy investigations
  • Issues concerned with the regulatory compliance

Is Digital Forensics A Promising Career?

The world’s increasing connectivity has led to significant growth in the digital forensics field, with new devices now providing investigators with numerous avenues for pursuing digital investigations. Some examples include smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and even cloud applications. Expanding with this digital equipment, digital forensic experts are quite popular. You can take a look at the following things to choosing your career as a forensic expert:

  • Digital forensics experts are now in demand by almost any type of organisation. For example- Law enforcement agencies
    • District attorney offices
    • Police
    • FBI (The Federal Bureau of Investigation)
    • DEA(The Drug Enforcement Administration)
    • CIA (The Central Intelligence Agency)
  • All the agencies mentioned above often look for additions to their digital forensics teams. For example, the FBI recently created the Forensic Examiner Talent Network, designed to provide a stable of expert talent in cybercrime forensics.


  • As per, digital forensics professionals make an average annual salary of $86,000.
  • In addition, bonuses, commissions and profit-sharing can add as much as $25,000 annually.
  • Finally, a quick search of job posting sites uncovered one position that paid $160,000.


Digital forensic tools are much more accurate and helpful to investigating officers who try to find the culprits performing digital crimes or attacks. To ensure the law and regulation, the present world feels the importance of technological aspects.
I hope the blog shares the exact portion of digital forensics-related information you have been searching for. Thank you for your time!

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