The age of digitization has made the lives of criminals difficult, to say the least. However, when seen from an investigator’s point of view, it was high time that cyber forensic investigation comes to the fore. Especially, as law enforcement has finally decided that the time had come to put the brains of IT professionals into work.
It also helps investigators to track criminals and bring them to justice by tracking any uncanny activity that the accused was carrying out on his/her private computer.
How to conduct digital forensics investigation?
Every one of us needs to acknowledge that we live in a time where cyber-crimes have not only become rampant in society, but it has changed the nature of crime itself as well.
From ATM frauds to hacking one’s personal information, cyber-crime is at an all-time high, giving us even more reason to put our faith in digitized forensic investigation.
After all, it is your personal well-being that is at stake!
And it is not only about protecting your personal information. A cyber investigation is a vital tool when it comes to safeguarding sensitive government information as well, a step that is crucial when it comes to protecting the interest of a country.
So, for those who are in uniform and working in the fields, here are five steps that they would like to keep in mind while carrying out a cyber forensic investigation.
- Developing a policy and procedure
Irrespective of whether or not a suspect is involved in some kind of a criminal cyber activity or has shown intent to commit a crime, we must understand that digital evidence of any kind is of immense importance.
The professionals who deal with such information fully acknowledge this fact and know very well that they can easily fall into the wrong hands if they are not appropriately protected.
And it is for reasons like this that strict guidelines and procedures are set up and need to be followed to preserve this evidence.
Such strict procedures include guidelines as to when forensic investigators can recover these documents. How to put systems in place for retrieval of evidence, where to store them, and finally, making sure that the authenticity of these data is kept intact.
It has become commonplace to see various forensic units around the world, relying heavily on digital forensic services. Not only that, they are increasingly hiring professionals who are well acquainted with the protocols and practices and knows how to make use of such evidence.
What forms the core of the various investigative procedures and policies of law enforcement departments utilizing cyber forensic investigation is the codification of a set of explicitly-stated regulations. It includes things that constitute as evidence, and place to look for this evidence. It also focuses on how to handle the information once they have been retrieved.
Before carrying any kind of investigation, it is absolutely essential to follow appropriate steps to determine the crime that is at hand. It also analyzes every investigative action that is related to the case.
This includes going through the case briefs, assessing the warrants, and lastly to get permission before pursuing the case.
- Assessment of the evidence at hand
It goes without saying that it is incredibly crucial for any investigative process to accurately assess the evidence whether the crime is cyber or otherwise. And central to this processing of evidence is a clear understanding of the details of the case.
To understand this, let us take an instance. For example, if an investigative agency is trying to prove that a suspect has indeed committed a crime like identity theft, cyber investigators use a set of highly sophisticated methods. It helps them to go through the suspect’s email account, hard drives, social networking sites, and other digital footprints that can act as suitable evidence of the crime.
Before going ahead with the investigation, the concerned investigator must state the type of evidence sought. The investigator should also have explicit knowledge of how to preserve the data in question.
After this, the investigator must move on to identify the source and authenticity of the data before entering them as viable evidence which might actually assist in solving a crime.
- Acquisition of evidence
This is the most essential aspect of a successful cyber forensic investigation that includes thorough and detailed planning of acquiring evidence.
Moreover, extensive documentation is also a must before, during, and after the acquisition of any such evidence. Detailed information has to recorded and adequately preserved. This includes all kinds of hardware and/or software specifications, any system that is used during the investigation process, and any system that is being investigated.
And this is precisely where the steps required for preserving crucial data are most applicable.
The general guidelines for preserving such evidence include crucial steps like removal of any physical storage device, usage of controlled boot discs to retrieve relevant information and ensuring functionality. Finally taking any action necessary to transfer evidence to the investigator’s system.
Investigators need to remember that acquiring evidence must be done in a way that is both legal and deliberate. Being able to accurately document and link the chain of evidence is something that is an integral part of pursuing a case. Especially if you are riddled with the complexity of cybercrimes of any sort.
- Examining the evidence
For the purpose of an active investigation of the evidence at hand, strict procedures must be put in place to retrieve, copy, and storing evidence within proper databases.
More often than not, investigators usually examine and cross-examine data from a designated archive and use a wide variety of methods and approaches to analyze the information that they retrieve.
Methods like these may include using analysis software to search from a massive archive of data for specific file types. It might also include procedures for retrieving files and data that have been recently deleted.
Investigators find data that has been tagged with time and date the most useful, just like they prefer files or programs that have been intentionally encrypted and hidden.
A proper analysis of the file names is also essential because it helps to determine the exact time and location when a specific data was created, downloaded, uploaded. It helps in assisting the investigators in connecting files on any storage device to online data transfers.
The reverse procedure can also be followed as file names usually indicate a directory that actually holds them. Files that are already online, or on any other system, points to that server and computer from which they were uploaded in the first place.
This provides an investigator with essential clues as to where exactly the system is located. Matching the online file name to a particular directory on the suspect’s hard drive is another way of verifying digital evidence.
This is the time that forensic investigators work closely with criminal investigators, lawyers, and other personnel to understand the true essence of the case. It helps them to decide on the permissible investigative procedures and the type of evidence that can actually serve as evidence.
- Documentation and reporting
Along with fully documenting in detail the information related to the hardware and software, cyber forensic investigators must also keep an accurate and detailed record of each and every activity that is related to the investigation.
This record must include all of the methods used by the investing team for testing the functionality of the system, and also the means for retrieving, copying, and storage of data. It must also include all methods used for acquiring, examining, and assessment of the evidence in great detail.
This demonstrates not only how the integrity of the retrieved data had been properly preserved, but it also makes sure that the correct procedures and policies and procedures have been strictly followed by all the parties involved in the investigation.
Moreover, as the entire process involves the proper retrieval of data that is presented in court as evidence, the investigator’s failure to properly document his/her methods and procedures will compromise not only the validity of the retrieved data, but it will also jeopardize the entire case itself.
In the case of cyber forensic investigation, the investigators must make sure that the claim and every action associated with it should be accounted for in a digital format and stored correctly in designated archives. This process helps to make sure that the authenticity and integrity of any findings by allowing the investigators to tell when and where the evidence in question was recovered.
In addition to the above, it also helps the experts to confirm the validity of the evidence. It’s being done by matching the investigator’s digital records that have been documented accurately, with the date and time of exactly when the data was accessed by the potential suspect, either from internal or external sources.
Hence, as you can see, the 5 steps mentioned above are crucial for any cyber investigation to go in the right direction and help bring the suspect to justice.