Digital Forensics 101 for Attorneys in 2017

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Digital Forensics 101 for Attorneys in 2017

Digital forensics, also often called computer or cell phone forensics, is the process of uncovering and interpreting electronic data. The goal is preserve evidence in its most original form.  Electronically stored information (ESI) may include photographs, messages, emails, voicemails, metadata, and databases.  With recent technological advancements, digital forensics has grown significantly. It’s no longer only about PCs and laptops, but also includes:

  • Cellular devices: Mobile-based digital media and data
  • Computers : Computer-based digital media
  • Databases: Database digital media and metadata
  • Networks: Network data and traffic

So, what all does a digital forensics investigation entail? Its primary purpose is to locate, recover, store, and investigate data, even deleted data, and media found on digital devices to reconstruct past events. The analysis of such media and data is typically used to prove or disprove theories and accusations in a legal setting. It may also be used to track down potential suspects and criminal activity. Investigators can use the data to determine someone’s whereabouts at a given time, or even to authenticate documents.

The Digital Forensics Process

The process is the most important and critical element to a digital forensics investigation. Experts must take care to accurately preserve and store any information so that is admissible in court.  The digital forensic process usually consists of three stages:

  • Acquisition and imaging of exhibits
  • Analysis
  • Reporting

Any data seized must be replicated exactly. This is typically done with forensic imaging. This process creates a read-only image of all the files and leftover space from the hard drive. The result is essentially a mirror image of the hard drive. The original data cannot be modified from this point to ensure the accuracy of the findings. The data is then analyzed using a number of tools and methods to recover evidence. That evidence is reconstructed to recreate actions and to reach conclusions. When the investigation is completed, a written report is created regarding the findings.

Social Media and Digital Forensics

With the rise of platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat, social media has become a crucial part of computer and cell phone forensics. Any activity on social networks can be used as evidence. Status updates, photographs, videos, likes, replies, and comments live on your hard drive and the network’s server even if you’ve deleted them from your own profiles. If you’ve shared this information with others, it will also be present on their hard drive too.

A Word on Encryption, Metadata, and External Devices

Data may be encrypted to prevent access without a passcode. Businesses often encrypt data to provide an extra layer of security. Investigators must decrypt the data with software to view it or use live forensic imaging.

Data doesn’t just include communications and images. There’s actually data about data, which is referred to as metadata. Metadata can reveal information about the creator of documents, revisions, and dates and times of access and modification. This can be particularly useful if you’re trying to determine when and where a photograph was taken or when a file was last edited and by whom.

Analysts can also determine if external devices were connected to a given computer. These devices may leave behind data that can be used as evidence. They will often reveal the make of the device and the time of it was last accessed.

How to Use Digital Forensics and Electronically Stored Information

There is almost no limit to what computer and cell phone forensics can prove. As we conduct more and more of our lives online, we leave behind a digital trail. This information, if accessed and analyzed correctly and legally, can be used in divorce, child custody, criminal, and civil cases. Findings have even been used to solve missing persons’ cases that had been cold for decades.

When digital information becomes part of a potential court or legal case, a trained and certified digital forensics expert is a valuable asset to completing the investigation. If you are considering a digital forensics investigation in the Maryland, Virginia or Washington, DC areas, contact our professionally trained forensic experts today!


Download our Infographic:  The Beginners Guide to Digital Forensics