The life of an internet detective: what is digital forensics?

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Digital forensics is the use of scientific techniques to obtain hidden data on a computer or other device. Many people think of this fairly recent area of science as being used specifically to collect evidence in crimes.

The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) defines digital or computer forensics as “the discipline that combines the elements of law and computer science to collect and analyze data from computer systems, networks, wireless communications, and storage devices in a way that is admissible as evidence in a court of law.”

The problem with this definition is that it fails to include the many non-criminal justice ways digital forensics are used. Not only do companies often lose data, but many of them lack the technical skills to understand where the breach occurs. Cybersecurity is the protection against thieves who want to steal your data. But it’s also protection against data loss any time a breach occurs.

Data is one of the most important assets that small, medium, and large businesses have today. They store data for their business, retain their customers/clients information, and store data they use to operate. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of accidentally deleting a file. Other instances occur without any clues about what caused the breach or where the data went. That’s when the services of an internet detective who is highly skilled in digital forensics can help. They can help determine the cause of the breach and recover the data while retaining its integrity.

When digital forensics might be useful

One of the worst mistakes a business makes is failing to understand how secure their data storage system really is or isn’t. It’s also common for businesses not to have a plan in place when a threat arises. Some companies and organizations think they are too big and too sophisticated to be at risk. History has proven that there is no such thing as total internet security.


When Equifax announced in 2018 that their security breach affected 2.4 million more consumers than originally thought the year before, it brought the number up to 148 million. More than 145 million of the original people had important data stolen like their driver’s license, social security, and credit card numbers.

Deleting a file

Many SMBs share data and often share the devices that they work on. All it takes is for one team member to accidentally delete a file to lose the data that multiple employees rely on daily. A digital forensic expert can help retrieve the file without corrupting it. Even more importantly, they can find the reason that the file was permanently deleted or why it couldn’t be retrieved. When computers don’t perform the way they’re supposed to, there’s a reason. Collecting forensic evidence allows them to pinpoint the cause and prevent it from happening again.

Hidden and inaccessible files and folders

It isn’t unusual for systems to protect information by assigning special file attributes or permissions. These steps prevent unauthorized access and often prevent users from accessing the data they need. Forensic analysis tools help bypass security attributes set by the file system.

Digital forensics doesn’t just apply to computers. It also applies to any type of device that stores data, including laptops, smartphones, memory cards, external hard drives, and more. The broad range of devices digital forensics gain information from requires extensive skills.

That’s why it’s vital to have an experienced cybersecurity company that knows how to gather and protect data whenever any issue arises. Simply buying software to try and accomplish this on your own is too big of a risk. Some of the things a forensic analyst accomplishes include:

  • Retrieving obscured files
  • Providing a fast response when an incident occurs
  • Obtaining destroyed evidence
  • Accessing hidden and inaccessible files and folders
  • Searching for deleted files
  • Helping businesses prepare an Incident Response Plan in case of data breaches
  • File carving, or reassembling files from raw data fragments
  • Recovery and remediation to help you restore your data after an incident

Who benefits from digital forensics?

Some businesses think of digital forensics as a tool for large organizations. But as an increasing number of small and mid-size businesses rely on their computer systems, the technology is quickly becoming a vital tool for SMBs too. In fact, small businesses are more vulnerable to cybercrime because they lack the sophisticated systems that protect them. During 2018, 58.9 million SMBs were targets of cybercrime. That accounts for 2/3 of all such crimes committed in this country.

Examples of digital forensics at work

Cell phones are everywhere you look these days. They are as much a part of your business relationships as they are your personal ones. Individuals store all types of personal and financial data on their phones. Those used for communication within a business or organization can also have data stored related to businesses and customers.

Cell phones are also at risk for cyber crimes where access to personal data could be beneficial to a thief. Digital forensics allows for the same types of services to protect your phone and everything important you store in it.

Businesses and organizations of all sizes rely increasingly on their ability to acquire and store big data. The data you use in your business applications is a valuable resource that is also at risk of data theft. Digital forensics can analyze corporate and consumer records that help reveal the source of data breaches. As proven in the Equifax incident listed above, one breach isn’t always the end of the problem. Once a hacker is successful, they might try again. That’s why you need to get to the source and stop it before it happens.

Businesses of all sizes have both unique and similar needs. Unfortunately, failing to take preventive measures ensures most of them will have some type of legal conflict eventually. Ignoring forensics altogether isn’t a good option for anyone.

Tools like firewalls and keystroke trackers aren’t enough. As our computer systems become more sophisticated, we need reliable technology that prevents criminals from accessing vital data. We also need options to help us recover data whenever the system fails to protect it. Digital forensics is a variable tool that works on every level for every business of any size.

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