The importance of computer forensics and digital forensics has grown significantly in recent years, as the use of digital devices and technology has become more prevalent in society, and the need to investigate and prosecute digital crimes has increased.
With the increasing use of digital devices and technology, the amount of digital data generated has also increased significantly, and this data can be used as evidence in legal proceedings. Therefore, the importance of forensics lies in its ability to collect, analyze, and present digital evidence in a manner that is admissible in court.
Computer forensics and digital forensics are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two different areas of investigation. Both involve the collection, preservation, analysis, and presentation of digital evidence, but there are some important differences between the two. So without wasting any further time, let’s dive into the article.
What is Computer Forensics?
Computer forensics is one of the branches of forensics that deals with the investigation of computer systems to collect and analyze digital evidence. This evidence may be used in civil or criminal proceedings, and it may include data that is stored on a computer, data that has been transmitted over a network, or data that has been deleted or destroyed.
Computer forensics involves the use of specialized tools and techniques to recover data from computer systems, analyze it for evidence, and present it in a format that can be used in court. This may include analyzing hard drives, USB drives, and other digital storage media, as well as investigating network traffic and system logs.
What is Digital Forensics?
Digital forensics is a broader term that refers to the investigation of any digital device or system, including computer systems, mobile devices, and other digital storage media. This may include investigating data stored in the cloud, analyzing social media activity, and investigating the use of digital currencies.
It involves the collection, preservation, analysis, and presentation of digital evidence in a manner that can be used in legal proceedings.
Digital forensics may involve the use of computer forensics techniques, but it also encompasses a wider range of digital devices and technologies. There are several main categories of digital forensics, each of which focuses on a specific area of investigation.
Each category of digital forensics requires specialized tools and techniques to collect and analyze digital evidence and conduct effective investigations.
Categories of Digital Forensics
1. Computer Forensics
This category involves the investigation of data stored on computers, servers, and other digital storage media.
Example: In Andhra Pradesh, a case was reported where an individual had received obscene emails from unknown email addresses and noticed fake profiles with indecent pictures on matrimonial websites. Investigators traced the original email’s IP address, which led them to the accused’s house through the internet service provider. A search of the accused’s residence yielded a desktop computer and a hand cam, which were analyzed. The investigators discovered obscene emails and identical copies of the pictures uploaded from the hand cam on the desktop.
2. Mobile Device Forensics
This category involves the investigation of data stored on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile device forensics is used to investigate crimes such as cyberstalking, identity theft, and drug trafficking.
Example: Obscene Phone Calls – A Female complainant from Karnataka reported receiving obscene phone calls on her mobile and landline numbers and learned that a fake profile of her had been created on a website without her consent. The profile included her phone numbers and suggested that she was interested in sexual encounters. The investigating officer obtained call details and IMEI addresses of the perpetrator’s mobile numbers and sent letters to the website for more information. They found that the SIM cards used were linked to a college student who was of dubious character. The investigating team raided the student’s residence and found the obscene profile on his computer. Upon examination, the accused admitted to being guilty. It was discovered that the accused was a close family friend of the complainant who suffered from a personality disorder, secondary depression, and poor self-esteem. Mobile device forensics played a crucial role in identifying the suspect and gathering evidence for the case.
3. Network Forensics
This category involves the investigation of data transmitted over computer networks, such as the Internet. Network forensics is used to investigate crimes such as cyber espionage, data breaches, and online fraud.
Example: The Craigslist Killer– Craigslist is typically associated with online buying and selling, but over a decade ago, the website became linked to a murder case that was ultimately solved through digital forensics. In April 2009, the murder of a young woman in her hotel room shook Boston, and another woman was also assaulted and robbed at gunpoint. The two victims had advertised services on Craigslist and had arranged to meet a man named “Andy” on the night of the crime. Investigators traced the IP address and emails exchanged between the victims and “The Craigslist Killer,” which led them to a surprising suspect: 23-year-old medical student Philip Markoff. This case demonstrated the value of Network forensics and Digital Forensics in crime investigations and was a significant victory for the technology.
4. Cloud Forensics
This category involves the investigation of data stored in cloud-based services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. Cloud forensics is used to investigate crimes such as data theft, cyber espionage, and insider threats.
Example: Dropbox case– In 2014, it was discovered that hundreds of Dropbox account credentials were leaked online. A forensic investigation revealed that a hacker gained access to the accounts using a third-party application that had access to the Dropbox API. The investigation also revealed that the attacker had used a cloud-based virtual machine to perform the attack, making it difficult to trace the source of the attack. This case highlights the importance of cloud forensics in investigating cyberattacks that utilize cloud-based services.
5. Multimedia Forensics
This category involves the investigation of multimedia data, such as images and videos. Multimedia forensics is used to investigate crimes such as child pornography, copyright infringement, and digital manipulation.
Example: Patidar Reservation Agitation– The case involved allegations of violence and rioting during a mass rally held by the Patidar community in Gujarat, India, in August 2015. The protesters were seeking recognition of their community as OBC. The police used multimedia forensics to analyze thousands of photos and videos captured during the rally to identify the perpetrators of violence and to build a case against them. The perpetrator who instigated the protest was detected by examining an audio excerpt. The difficulty was to scrutinize an audio sample containing just three words spoken by the suspect. The analysis carried out by Multimedia Forensics experts helped to identify the individuals involved in the violence, and the evidence was used to prosecute them in court.
Demonstration rally at Ahmedabad on 25 August 2015
6. Cyber Forensics
This category involves the investigation of cybercrimes, such as hacking, cyberstalking, and online fraud. It involves the collection and analysis of digital evidence, such as network traffic logs, system logs, and metadata, to identify the source of the attack and gather evidence for use in legal proceedings.
Example: Russian annexation of Crimea in February 2014– The annexation of Crimea in February 2014 led to allegations of Russian troops operating in other parts of Ukraine, which were repeatedly denied by Russian officials. In June of that year, a Russian Army sergeant named Alexander Sotkin posted selfies to his public Instagram account, which included geotag metadata that showed him moving from a military base in Russia into eastern Ukraine and back. This case demonstrated the value of geotags as a form of locational metadata and how they can be used in investigations. Locational data can also be embedded in other types of files, such as video files and SMS text messages, and can provide crucial details in an investigation.
Key Differences Between Computer & Digital Forensics
1. Scope of Investigation
The key difference between computer forensics and digital forensics is the scope of the investigation. Computer forensics is focused on the investigation of data that is stored on a computer or other digital storage media, while digital forensics encompasses a wider range of digital devices and technologies.
2. Types of Digital Evidence
Computer forensics is primarily concerned with the investigation of data that is stored on a computer or other digital storage media, while digital forensics may include the investigation of data stored in the cloud, social media activity, and the use of digital currencies.
3. Tools and Techniques
Computer forensics tools are generally focused on the analysis of data stored on a computer or other digital storage media. These tools may include software programs that can recover deleted files, examine internet browsing history, or analyze email messages. Computer forensics tools may also include hardware devices such as write blockers, which prevent data from being modified or overwritten during the investigation.
Digital forensics tools may include specialized software programs for analyzing mobile devices, network traffic, or cloud-based data storage. In addition, digital forensics tools may require specialized hardware, such as adapters for connecting to different types of devices or specialized imaging tools for creating forensic copies of data.
4. Legal Proceedings
Both computer forensics and digital forensics may be used in legal proceedings, but the types of legal proceedings may differ. Computer forensics may be used in criminal or civil cases where digital evidence is involved, while digital forensics may be used in a wider range of legal proceedings, including cases involving intellectual property, data breaches, and cyber security incidents.
Computer forensics and digital forensics are crucial tools for law enforcement, legal professionals, and organizations in today’s digital age. They provide a means to investigate crimes and gather evidence in an increasingly digital world and help to ensure that justice is served and that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.