What is Computer Forensics?| Definition, Uses, Role, Skill Required, and Importance

What is Computer Forensics?

With the increasing number of cybercrimes and criminal offences executed through computers, you might have often come across the term computer forensics.

The term is not new. Moreover, it has been used for the past few decades. However, less is known about it to people.

Therefore, this write-up will talk about computer forensics in detail.

Explore what is computer forensics, its definition, uses, Role, importance, and its key elements.

Along with these, get your hands on other relevant details with us.

Define computer forensics?

The branch of forensic science concerned with the application of intensive analysis techniques on computers for retrieving and preserving the evidence in a legally admissible manner is termed computer forensics.

This indicates that a significant aspect of the science of computer forensic finds days in the potential forensic experts to find the way which the court of law accepts and uses.

The objective of computer forensics is to perform a structured Investigation on a computing device to determine what happened or who was responsible for an incident alongside keeping a record in a formal report of the properly documented chain of evidence.

Today, computer forensic is an integral tool for fighting against cybercrime.

  • As stated by the US Department of Justice, “Cybercrime” indicates any illegal act which involves the use of a computer as the primary method of transmission, commission, or storage.
  • Moreover, the volume of criminal activities executed using computers has exponentially grown over the last decade.
  • This might include, but is not limited to, network intrusion, identity theft, cyberbullying, computer viruses, stalking, and even terrorism.
  • Traditional, computer forensics was primarily and widely used by law enforcement organizations for legal purposes.
  • Presently, it has found several areas of applications with commercial and private organizations using it for many purposes.
  • All this refers to computer forensics as the amalgamation of computer-data recovery methods with the guidelines and rules from the law to produce or obtain a legally acceptable report.

Initially, in the 1980s, computer forensics methods were used and applied to collect digital evidence and information for the court of law.

This paved way for the rapid emergence and growth of personal computer usage by individuals as well as organizations.

Over years, with the increased and widespread usage of personal computers, cyber crimes also experienced a steep rise and diversification.

  • The varied usage of computer forensics range from helping law enforcement officials, criminal investigation, to investigation for fraud, murder, rape, child and adult pornography, rape, and cyberstalking among others
  • In the private sector, commercial organizations use computer forensics to unearth or investigate a wide spectrum of cases such as fraud, espionage, forgeries, intellectual property thefts, employee disputes, bankruptcies, regulatory compliances, and inappropriate data usage among others.

Computer forensics discipline is concerned with presenting legally acceptable evidence, conclusions and reports greatly.

This has made it evident that computer forensics experts have to follow a set of rules and guidelines to withhold the integrity of their work.

To ensure the accuracy of the data and information, the procedures followed are accepted by the court.

In computer forensics, the forensics analyst holds the responsibility to prevent or avoid any alteration of data on the device being used as evidence in court.

Also, the audit trail should be easily interpreted alongside the third party being able to obtain similar results by using the same process.

What are the uses of computer forensics?

With digital devices being a primary and widely used standard for storing, transmitting and handling sensitive information, governments and private organizations require a way to track its usage and unearth critical data and information.

The discipline of computer forensics helps the government and private agencies to fulfill their purpose.

  • Track computer use, discover critical data, and make copies of information that will be used in the court, it helps the government agencies as well as private enterprises to control their risk and maximize security
  • It helps the investigators in making copies of evidence from seized electronic devices which is critical if any data shows any requirement for government agencies. Moreover, the data extracted shown should be accurate and not impact its original integrity.
  • Computer forensics is also used to know about the extent of a data breach or any attack on the network. This will help in finding a solution or remedy for the same.
  • It can be effectively used to help law enforcement in discovering critical data on devices that are seized to be used in litigation. With the right tools, police or concerned authorities can uncover critical or criminal files on the devices.
  • Hacking has become common with people becoming more and more dependent on technology. Individuals, as well as private companies, are prone to hacking and cyber-attacks. With computer forensics, one can track the hacking or attacks to know their source or origin.
  • It can be used for securing private servers or data from attacks or breaches. Proactive measures can be designed and taken with the help of the right tools to prevent potential threats to the data.

What is the role of computer forensics?

With digital crime increasing manifolds, the needs for computer forensics increases simultaneously.

Several parties such as government organizations, police, private organizations, and more use computer forensics to trace and catch criminals.

It has quickly escalated as a new technology that is being used in several areas of criminal investigations.

Recently, a wide application of computers has been found in committing crimes.

However, forensics has now the advantage of computer forensics to detect and catch criminals who assumed that they do not leave any imprints while committing crimes through computers.

To collect evidence

A primary role with computer forensics hold has been serving as evidence in the court of law.

Maintaining and collecting the evidence in a particular way is crucial to ensure that it comes under law enforcement.

Moreover, owing to this, the demand for computer forensic expertise is very high.  

The FBI takes the help of its professionals to obtain serious evidence in investigations for hacking, bank fraud, or even espionage.

For forensics tools and tasking

Several tools and tasks are available to the forensic investigators to use, implement and fulfill.

Alongside, several methods and software are used in the latest techniques available.

All these rules and tasking are a crucial part of criminal investigations search is recovering deleted files, checking for security breaches for recovering deleted password.

Upon obtaining and collecting the evidence, it is contained and translated for law enforcement procedures.

To solve old cases

With computer forensics gaining immense significance, law enforcement agencies have started using it to reopen old cases and solve them.

This serves as a great benefit as technology has been advanced so far to extract information from old devices and drives to solve cases that remained unsolved for years or even decades.

In criminal investigations

Eventually, the role of computer forensics in the criminal investigation will escalate owing to its requirement for retrieving information to be used in the court of law.

Today, the role of computer forensics can be understood by the fact that IT professionals are considered the number 1 profession.

It has the power to change the face of law empowerment with tools common techniques and practices that can help in solving cases to make an impact.

Why is computer forensics important?

To ensure the overall integrity and survivability of the network infrastructure, adding the potential of sound computer forensics is crucial.

With an in-depth understanding of the technical as well as legal aspects of computer forensics, one can efficiently grasp vital information in case the network is compromised or intruded.

Well, you might wonder that what will happen if you neglect computer forensics or implement it badly.

Even if there is the slightest possibility, chances are there that you are risking vital evidence or destruction of it which can be considered as inadmissible evidence as per law.

It can help in saving money for organizations by safeguarding confidential information or detecting security breaches that might lead to potential losses.

It helps in identifying, collecting, analyzing, and preserving data in a manner that protects the integrity of the information and evidence collected so that it can be used effectively if and/ or when required.

Today, technology touches every aspect of human existence.

Therefore, there are no second thoughts about having it as a crucial part of investigative procedures.

What is a computer forensics report?

Performing a structure Investigation on computing devices to ascertain an event or person responsible for the same is the primary goal of computer forensics.

The information obtained is maintained in a proper document as a chain of evidence which is a formal report for a forensic report.

Explore the components or template of a computer forensic report which is as follows:-

Summary

This section provides the background data of the situation that requires an investigation.

The summary or executive summary is read by the senior management as an overview of the detailed report.

This section usually has a short description, important points, and details.

The following are the basic information that an executive summary consists of:-

  • Information of individual authorizing the forensic examination
  • Short detail or list of significant evidence
  • The reason explaining the necessity of forensic examination
  • Signature block of the examiners
  • Name of individuals related or involved in the case including other personal information

Objectives

This section enumerates all the tasks which are planned to be completed in the investigation.

While reviewing the contents of the device or media, it might happen that it does not require a fully-fledged investigation.

The legal counsel, decision-makers and clients must discuss and approve the objectives before the forensic analysis starts.

The list should have the task and methods undertaken by the examiner at the end of the report.

Analysis of computer evidence

Consisting of all the gathered evidence and their interpretations, this section put forth the detailed information of the assignment and evidence considered throughout the process such as evidence tag numbers, descriptions and media serial numbers.

Relevant findings

In this section, a summary of pieces of evidence is provided. In case of a match being found between a forensic material recovered from the Crime Scene and a reference sample provided, it is considered as strong evidence.

Supporting details

For an in-depth analysis of the relevant findings, this section outlines the conclusions. Supporting details has the complete details of vital files.

Along with this, all the tasks performed for accomplishing the objectives are enumerated under this section.

Technical depth is seen in supporting details alongside charts, illustrations and tables to convey the information and findings.

Usually, it is the longest section of the report which starts with the background information.

Leads

These leads are helpful in discovering additional information regarding the investigation.

Performing all the outstanding tasks to extract more information is usually done when time is left.

This section serves are a critical element for law enforcement. The extra tasks to discover information allows a move on the case.

Additional information

The forensics report can have additional information or subsections such as attacker methodology, user application, internet activity, and recommendations.

The presence of these subsections in a computer forensics report depends on the needs and wants. However, they are also useful in specific cases.

Is computer forensics a good career?

When you consider computer forensics as a career, it can prove to be an exceptional option for many individuals.

This can be due to several reasons. Also, for several individuals, it might not be the best fit.

It all depends on several factors. Overall, if you are willing to make a career in computer forensics, it can be a good choice.

The compensation of a computer forensic analyst on average is around $73,000.

It comes along with exceptional opportunities in the industry. This is because the need for computer forensics is expanding, so is the need for computer forensics experts.

Also, the growth in the industry is expected to be an impressive 30% over the decade.

The career choice requires a combination of both hard and soft skills.

Also, the individual should have a well-rounded skill set to succeed in the industry due to the highly technical nature it has.

For those capable and interested, it is a rewarding career option.

What degree is needed for computer forensics?

Computer forensics has its main objective as examining devices and media in a prescribed forensic manner to identify, recover, analyse and preserve facts and information required for use.

Also, it requires forensics techniques and knowledge to excel in the field.

Bachelors

An individual interested to make a career in computer forensics can go for a Bachelor of Science degree with a specialization in computer forensics.

The individuals must look for the pre-requisites of the degree to enroll in the course.

The courses or degree instructions will teach you the required aspect of forensics.

You will learn the necessary skills, techniques, and knowledge which the field requires.

Several Bachelor degrees in the computer forensics discipline are available to the individual through various universities.

You just need to ascertain which university/ college and degree align with your interests.

Masters

Coming to the master of graduate level, you can advance your knowledge and skills obtained in the undergraduate or bachelor degree.

A Master’s Degree serves a precise blend of theory and practice which refines the knowledge and skill set of the individuals.

Students get to understand the legal, scientific and criminal context of technology while developing the ability to effectively communicate their knowledge and information.

Moreover, students analyse complex scenarios or case studies, examine and analyse the digital media and learn to create detailed reports/

Individuals should choose the appropriate master degree which many schools make available.

Aligning the interests and skills with the teachings and curriculum is very important to get the best out of the degree.

Does computer forensics require math?

Yes, if not every, the majority of the aspects of computer forensics require mathematical applications and use.

  • It helps in developing the ability to doing basic to complex math required throughout the process.
  • Moreover, on the professional front, you will require mathematics applications directly and indirectly.

Is computer forensics in demand?

Yes, computer forensics is in high demand today and the demand is rapidly growing over time.

  • As per MarketsandMarkets forecast, the forensics market is expected to grow from 4.15 billion USD in 2017 to 9.68 billion USD by 2022.
  • These figures come with a compound annual growth rate of 15.9% during the period of forecast.
  • Moreover, the demand for computer forensics is expected to be pushed by the government rules and regulations alongside the growing cases of cyber attacks on organizations.
  • Also, the large-scale use of the internet and devices is expected to drive the demand for computer forensics during the period.

Top Technical Skills Required for Computer Forensics Investigator

For individuals interested in pursuing a career in computer forensics, they require several skills.

The top skills required by a computer forensics investigator are as follows:-

With a high emphasis on technology, a computer forensics expert or investigator has to work on several devices, software, and technologies to perform the tasks.

This is only possible when he or she has sound technical knowledge and skills. A few of the basic technical skills required are as follows:

  • Data and evidence handling procedures
  • Electronic device knowledge and collection
  • Threat intelligence
  • Digital forensic acquisitions
  • Creating detailed reports
  • Cracking protected or sealed files or information
  •  Reverse engineering
  • Anti-forensics detection’s
  • Handling evidence

Soft skills Required for Computer Forensics

Along with technical abilities, soft skills are also an important aspect for computer forensics investigator.

This helps them in performing their tasks and duties effectively. A few of the soft skills required are as follows:

Communication skills

The ability to communicate technical information in a clear, concise and effective manner is a crucial skill to hold.

Usually, the work requires teamwork; therefore, communication skills play a vital role in delivering information and in the process of action.

Analytical skills

Every individual involved in computer forensics should have analytical skills and thinking.

This helps in interpreting data, analyzing evidence or information, observing situations, noticing patterns or errors, and solving cases or crimes.

Attentive skills

You should have the ability to pay attention to details if you choose this field as a career.

This skill will help you in better understanding the cases and scenarios.

Also, individuals can effectively sort through huge data while precisely discovering information and analyzing digital evidence.

Learning skills

The field is rapidly evolving and changing; therefore, individuals should possess a desire to learn and acquire knowledge and skills at all times.

They must be committed to explore and learn new things, techniques and practices and maintain pace with the current trends.

Challenging skills

Often with computer forensics, people have to work with offensive or disturbing information or material.

This requires the individuals to have skills that make them capable of dealing with such situations or content without interrupting their work or ability.

How is computer forensics used in investigations?

  • It is used for policy and procedure development which helps in establishing and following the strict guidelines and procedures for the related activities
  • Assessing the potential evidence in cybercrimes to obtain a clear understanding of the details and information
  • Following a rigorous and detailed plan to acquire evidence from the investigated device or extensive documentation or files
  • To effectively investigate the potential evidence and examine it to obtain useful information to present it in the court of law or for law enforcement procedures or activities
  • For documenting information related to hardware and software specifications and reporting the details in a prescribed manner and keep all the accurate records

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