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Forensic analysis: What is it? How does it work?

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Cybercrimes are skyrocketing. And unfortunately, it is not always possible to stop them in time. Once they have occurred, it is better to understand the actions taken to identify the weaknesses, or even to initiate legal proceedings. This is where forensic analysis comes into play. So what is it? Why conduct such an investigation? And most importantly, how? DataScientest answers your questions.

What is a forensic analysis?

A methodical analysis of cyber events

Forensic analysis (or just forensic) is a methodical and thorough investigation of information systems after a cyber incident, such as hacking or data theft. The goal is to analyze all the data from the IS to understand what happened and deduce the appropriate countermeasures.

The objectives are twofold: to identify the vulnerabilities that allowed the attack to occur and to gather evidence prior to the commencement of legal action.

Among the evidence, forensic analysis enables the collection of: deleted files, hard drives, backups, logs and deletion attempts, visited websites, hacking tools, stolen passwords, sent messages, and so forth.

To amass all this digital evidence, the cyber expert can examine all types of computer support. The nature of the forensic analysis varies depending on the systems involved.

4 types of forensic analysis

Given the diversity of computer media, cyber analysts can undertake several types of investigations:

  • Digital forensic analysis: the most common type, involving the analysis of hard drives, storage media, servers, or file systems.
  • Network forensic analysis: this investigation zeroes in on network traffic to detect malicious or unauthorized activities.
  • Mobile forensic analysis: focuses on smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices. It’s frequently used in cases of fraud, harassment, and crimes involving mobile communications.
  • Memory forensic analysis: such as RAM and ongoing processes. It’s especially useful for analyzing real-time attacks in order to recover volatile data not stored on the hard drive.

Why conduct a forensic analysis?

Forensic analysis serves two computing purposes.

Technical forensic

It’s about identifying the reasons behind the computer intrusion. To breach the system, the hacker exploits vulnerabilities in the information system. But what are these vulnerabilities? The analyst’s job is precisely to understand these weaknesses. He will recover computer traces to track the cybercriminal’s path and thus pinpoint his entry point. He now knows the origin of the flaw. This enables him to implement corrective measures and continuously enhance the computer system’s security.

Judicial forensic

The aim is to gather evidence of the intrusion. The organization that has been victimized by a cyberattack can thus compile a case against the computer hacker. This dossier will then be presented to a lawyer or a judicial officer as part of legal proceedings.

Good to know: in this role, numerous forensic analysts work within the scientific police, specializing in solving criminal and penal cases. And to do this, they utilize data.

How does a forensic investigation proceed?

A forensic analysis is conducted in 3 main stages.

Evidence collection

To initiate a forensic investigation, it’s critical to gather all digital data relating to the attack. This might include deleted files or log files on network equipment, archives, and so on.

There are various methods for retrieving data:

  • Cold analysis or dead forensics: this entails copying all the raw data from the IS onto another medium (for instance, a USB drive or an external hard drive). This prevents any damage to the existing system.
  • Live forensics: this method is applied in the context of memory analysis. The cyber expert retrieves the data directly from the information system before installing it into a system that’s currently operational.
  • Real-time analysis: for capturing information related to network traffic.

Analysis of the evidence

Once all the evidence is collected, it’s essential to comprehend the sequence of events and compile a case. To achieve this, the cyber analyst will often set up and test scenarios based on the gathered data. Gradually, he can outline the logical progression of events, until he precisely understands how the attack unfolded.

Good to know: after this phase, there is often an intermediary remediation step in the realm of technical forensic analysis. At this juncture, the objective is to verify that all vulnerabilities have indeed been addressed.

The delivery of the report

If cyber experts undertake a forensic analysis, the findings are pertinent to a broad audience, including lawyers, judges, decision-makers of an organization, etc. However, these stakeholders are not data experts. Therefore, it’s vital to deliver a report that’s clear and concise, understandable by all.

This report will then enable decision-makers to take appropriate actions (for a technical forensic) or to assemble a legal document.

A growing need for cyber analysts

With the escalation of computer attacks, companies are now, more than ever, in need of cyber experts capable of conducting forensic analyses. These analyses not only help to bolster the computer security system by identifying vulnerabilities, but also, and more crucially, to collect evidence against cybercriminals.

If you are interested in aiding organizations in the battle against computer attacks, consider training with DataScientest.


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