10 Things Attorneys Should Know About Digital Forensics

In the modern day, the vast majority of legal matters have a digital forensics component that, if properly unearthed and analyzed, has a high likelihood of aiding your case. A thorough inspection might disclose several intriguing details. It is crucial for the forensic examiner to have a thorough grasp of the nature of the case, as the breadth and expense of the study depend heavily on its specifics.

Sometimes questions are like this:

  • What is forensics?
  • How can computer forensics assist me with my case?
  • Why do we need a forensic picture of the hard disc when the IT man can produce a copy?

Your legal team may have asked some of these questions before. The purpose of this article is to assist you in identifying the ten most prevalent forensic applications and features of a well-executed forensic application strategy, as well as the beneficial influence it may have on the result of your legal cases.

So let’s go!

1. What is Computer Forensics or Digital Forensics?

Computer forensics/digital forensics is a field of study involving the recovery and examination of objects found in electronic equipment, which are typically related to criminal or business investigations. Computers, laptops, external hard drives, thumb drives, memory cards (such as those used in smartphones and digital cameras), CDs, DVDs, mobile phones, tablets, and GPS systems can all undergo forensic analysis. If anything is digital and holds data, it should be possible to analyze it.

2. Forensic Imaging

A forensic image, or (as it is sometimes referred to) a bit-by-bit duplicate of the device being studied, should be the initial step performed prior to any investigation or analysis. It is a read-only copy of the complete hard disc or storage device, including all data and unallocated or unused space. A forensic picture is created using either hardware or software duplicators.

When encryption is involved (described in the next section), it may be essential to create a “live forensic picture.” A live image is created by capturing a forensic image of the machine while it is powered on and the user is signed in.

3. Forensic Copy

A “forensic copy” is used to gather and preserve active files and is an identical, unmodified copy of the data, which includes the original file’s metadata. A forensic copy may be used to preserve data from a user’s home share on the server or, given that cloud computing is increasingly prevalent, to preserve a forensic copy of the data in question.

The disadvantage of a forensic copy is that it cannot capture deleted files or information; it only applies to active files or files that are visible.

4. Encryption

Encryption is the process of converting data into a format that is difficult to access without a password or key. This is something that is frequently disregarded. If the picture is encrypted, the examiner will require the key to decode it.

Since the data has already been encrypted, it will be essential to create a live forensic picture if the key cannot be provided. Numerous businesses and people employ encryption as an additional degree of device security.

While this is an excellent method for securing data, it complicates forensics if the kind of encryption is unknown and/or the key is not made public. Popular encryption software includes SafeBoot Encryption by McAfee, Endpoint Encryption by Symantec, and Whole Disk Encryption by PGP. Bit-locker (Windows) and File Vault (Apple OS) are built-in encryption features that are disabled by default but can be enabled (Apple).

5. Deleted Files vs. Deleted Overwritten Files

The investigated device or medium will likely include deleted files. A forensic investigation can establish a list of deleted and overwritten deleted files. Deleted files may typically be retrieved in their entirety.

When a file is removed, the space it uses on the hard disc is designated for deletion and becomes “free space.” As soon as the operating system writes to that location, the file is overwritten. Deleted files that have been overwritten may not be recovered.

The absence of deleted files on an inspected device or hard drive may indicate data erasure, reinstallation of the operating system, or another method of concealing data.

6. Unallocated Space

With every forensic picture, there is a part of the hard drive known as “unallocated space” that is unused. Deleted chunks of data or files may be stored in unallocated space.

When the operating system reuses this space to write new data, the prior file is no longer recoverable; however, if the new data is less than the old data, a portion of the former file may still be recoverable. In other words, if a five-page document is erased and replaced by a three-and-a-half-page document, you may still be able to retrieve 1.5 pages from the original document. This is referred to as “carving” or “carving unallocated space.”

7. Link Files (.lnk)

Depending on the circumstances,.lnk, files may be relevant. It indicates that the file existed and/or was viewed at some time on the system, even if it no longer exists or has been destroyed. A.lnk file is a shortcut file that points to a program or file.

This file, which is produced by the operating system or the user, contains essential information, including:

  • The file’s original path or location.
  • File metadata (creation, accessed, and modification dates)
  • File size
  • File location—whether on a network share, volume name, local disc, or external devices like a USB flash drive or external hard drive.

8. External Devices

A forensic analysis might identify which external devices were connected to the in-question PC or laptop. In essence, they provide a breadcrumb trail to other devices that may have been overlooked and may contain relevant evidence.

Some gadgets, such as external hard drives, display the device’s manufacturer and model. Some will even display the device’s serial number, making it easy to request it for additional study.

9. Metadata

What is metadata? Metadata is data about data. It displays the creation, access, and modification dates and times. Some papers can display the author or originator of the data, the number of revisions it underwent, and the last time it was printed using specialized tools.

Photos and images can identify the camera used, as well as the date, time, and place the image was captured. For instance, if you have an iPhone with location services enabled on the camera, each photo you take will have the coordinates of the area where the photo was taken.

10. Pricing

This is one of the inquiries I hear the most frequently. As stated previously, computer forensics is a scientific field. A forensic examination requires time. Continuing education is required to stay up with modern technologies. We recognize this but have established a more efficient approach for all attorneys, especially those in small or solo practices, to apply forensics in their cases.

Do you want to know how much a personal injury lawyer charges? Read our blog.