The field of IT forensics is built on performing highly structured, specialized investigations to find out exactly what happened during a cybersecurity incident and what was the root cause. Forensic investigators typically work alongside with cybersecurity incident response teams to get to the bottom of an incident after it has occurred; they use special protocols to preserve and maintain evidence in a manner that will hold up in a court of law. Cybersecurity teams in some organization are large enough to have a forensic investigator on staff, or at least someone who has special expertise in this area. Other teams use outside consultants to provide forensics expertise. Regardless, the cybersecurity team’s most important contribution to forensics is setting up and maintaining systems and records that enable a forensic investigator to extract the necessary intelligence from those sources. Hence, cybersecurity incident response team members and forensic investigators work hand in hand. Let’s review the five most important ways that IT forensics proves its value time and time again to a cybersecurity incident response team:
Forensic investigators have a specialized set of skills that allows them to approach a cyber investigation from a different perspective than the average incident response team member. They are experts at searching and collecting digital evidence and acquiring data that are needed to solve a cybercrime. They know how to deploy a variety of examination techniques and proprietary software forensic applications to conduct high-level analyses, and they know how to write up the findings in ways that are necessary to prove the case in court or to an insurance company.
Data integrity is critical for organizations, and when it’s compromised, an organization often needs a way to get it back. Forensic investigators know how to recover data that has been deleted, encrypted, and hidden, and they know how to do it with speed and precision. For example, “live analysis” techniques enable an investigator to gather data from a system even before it’s been shut down, making it possible to immediately extract intelligence and begin the investigation.
Because forensic investigators are trained to work closely with law enforcement and other authorities, they tend to approach problems with an eye for discerning the criminal elements of a cyber incident. They think about possible motives for a crime and intuitively know how to reconstruct a possible sequence of events. This mindset allows them to move more quickly through an investigation and provide key answers about cause and motive.
It’s no surprise that forensic investigators are often called to testify as expert witnesses when cybercrime cases go to trial. That’s because they are highly skilled in gathering, compiling, and documenting intelligence about a crime that attorneys can use in court to bolster their case. Among other duties, forensic investigators can verify the alibi of a cybercriminal suspect, track unauthorized uses of network resources, and pin down the exact origin point of a breach. If you believe there’s even a chance a cybersecurity incident might end up in a courtroom or in the hands of an insurance company adjuster, you want a forensic investigator on your side.
No cybersecurity professional is proficient in every software tool available to protect assets and monitor systems. Forensic investigators focus their area of expertise on being able to use analysis tools that are particularly effective at solving cybercrimes. They use forensic tools like Encase Forensic Edition, Wireshark, Paraben, Forensic ToolKit, and Linux DD to zero in on very specific types of data. They also know the limits of these technologies. For example, they understand that while it might be technically possible to access cloud data, it may not be feasible to do so without violating the privacy rights of other cloud users. Every top-notch cybersecurity team wants a forensic investigator on its staff. While not every organization can afford one, they are certainly available on a consulting basis—and they’ll prove to be worth every penny. Forensic investigators are so valuable because they’re trained in rapidly identifying and extracting key evidence, they are experts at recovering lost or stolen data, they are trained to think in a criminal mindset, they know how to preserve and secure evidence for legal cases, and they are trained in a suite of powerful, specialized forensic tools.
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