It’s safe to say that most — if not all — cases in the modern legal landscape involve at least a small amount of digital evidence. Because of this, the importance of digital forensics cannot be overstated.
The collection and analysis of digital evidence are crucial in modern cases, and best practices must be used for collection and preservation to ensure evidence isn't altered throughout the digital forensics journey.
Throughout this blog post, we'll explore the five steps in a process to collect digital evidence and outline the most important features of each step.
The first step in digital forensics is identification, where potential digital evidence is recognised and documented. Throughout this stage, it's crucial to identify the scope of the investigation and determine which types of evidence are relevant to the case.
Let's explore the best practices for this stage.
Maintaining a chain of custody
Throughout the identification process, it's vital to document every step taken. To maintain this chain of custody, use forensic tools to capture and log relevant information.
You should ensure that all of your actions throughout identification and beyond are well-documented to maintain the integrity of evidence.
Verifying legal authority
Processes should be in place to ensure that your identification is conducted within the boundaries of legal authority. You'll want to obtain the necessary authorisation and adhere to legal procedures.
Much like the chain of custody, you'll want to document the legal basis for the investigation.
Once you've identified the digital evidence relevant to your case, it must be preserved to prevent any alterations or tampering.
Preservation is crucial to maintaining the integrity and admissibility of evidence in court. If evidence has experienced spoliation or tampering, it could be detrimental to your case.
Creating a forensic image of the original data can assist in the event of lost or tampered data. To do so, you'll want to make exact copies of forensic images of the original data and use validated tools to ensure the integrity of copies.
You'll also want to store forensic images securely to prevent accidental changes or intentional spoliation to the data.
Write-blocking hardware or software can also be used to prevent any modifications occurring to the original evidence.
Plus, you can demonstrate your commitment to preserving evidence by documenting the use of write-blocking software tools throughout the digital forensics journey.
Next up in the best practices for collecting digital evidence is examination. During examination, a detailed review of the preserved evidence is performed.
This includes identifying and extracting relevant information to prepare digital evidence for trial.
Using advanced search techniques can help identify relevant information. Keyword searching is often a popular method for sifting through large batches of evidence. However, this can sometimes be cumbersome and cause those without experience in the case to miss important documents.
Other tools, such as sentiment analysis, leverage AI to search documents by analysing the language used.
During examination, metadata is vital to understanding the context of the evidence. Metadata is data that describes data and is essentially a digital footprint of the evidence in question.
It's vital to spot any metadata anomalies, as inconsistencies in metadata can either suggest the potential of spoliation or call the validity of evidence to be called into question.
During analysis, digital forensics experts interpret the extracted information to draw conclusions from evidence deemed relevant to the case.
Experts can create a narrative based on the relevant evidence in this step. Let's look at some analysis best practices.
After examining evidence, investigators will identify any relationships or correlations between different pieces of evidence.
This is an essential step in building a case and a timeline of events with the batch of digital evidence that's been presented.
Maintaining data integrity
Throughout the analysis process, it's essential to not alter original evidence, as this could endanger the validity of any evidence you put forward.
Working on forensic copies or duplicated data sets can help prevent unintentional changes while analysing your digital evidence.
The final step of the digital forensics process is to document your findings, note how you achieved them and create a comprehensive report ready for presentation.
Your report should serve as a formal record of your entire investigation, often presented throughout legal proceedings.
Ensure your documentation is clear and concise, articulating the methods you used to reach your conclusion and outlining your findings.
You should explain the tools and techniques you used during your investigation, as this will showcase your commitment to collecting evidence safely and without tampering.
Adherence to standards
Your report should comply with all legal standards and be admissible in court. You should include all relevant information, even if it may be unfavourable to your case.
The digital forensics process is meticulous, requiring close attention to detail and adherence to best practices and legal standards.
By following these five steps and using the best tools available, digital forensics experts can contribute to the integrity and admissibility of digital evidence in legal proceedings.
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