IT Security

Digital Forensics and Incident Response

What are Digital Forensics and Incident Response?

Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) is a cybersecurity field that focuses on the identification, investigation, and remediation of cyberattacks. The two main components of DFIR are:

Digital Forensics. The application of science to the identification, collection, examination, and analysis of data while preserving the integrity of the information and maintaining a strict chain of custody for the data1. In this component, system data, user activity, and other pieces of digital evidence are examined to determine the nature of a cyberattack.

Incident Response. The mitigation of violations of security policies and recommended practices1. In this component, an organization follows a process to prepare for, detect, contain, and recover from a cyberattack.

The term digital forensics was first used as a synonym for computer forensics, but it has since expanded to cover the investigation of any digital devices that store data. Digital forensics may be used to support or refute a hypothesis in criminal court, civil court, or as part of investigations into data breaches, data leaks, cyberattacks, and other cyberthreats. Digital forensics may include file system forensics, memory forensics, network forensics, and log analysis. The five steps of digital forensics are2:

  1. Identification. Finding the evidence and noting where it is stored.
  2. Preservation. Isolate, secure, and preserve the data. Prevent evidence tampering.
  3. Analysis. Reconstruct fragments of data and draw conclusions, based on the evidence.
  4. Documentation. Create a record of all of the data to recreate the crime scene.
  5. Presentation. Summarize and draw conclusions.

Digital forensics and incident response are distinct components that are interdependent. A smooth DFIR process will include incident response steps that assist in the assessment and mitigation of threats. The six steps of incident response are:

  1. Preparation. Having policies in place, incident team defined, and platform software identified.
  2. Identification. IT professionals detect the incident, type of incident, and associated risks.
  3. Containment. Incident response teams work quickly to contain the threat, so it does spread further.
  4. Remediation. Formulate plans to correct the issue, informed by forensic analysis.
  5. Incident recovery. Follow established policies in order to resume regular operations. Monitoring and reporting activities are continuous and ongoing.
  6. Reporting and transparency. The incident team manager communicates with stakeholders, end users, and the public to report on the progress of the incident.

1NIST, 2022, “Digital forensics”

2 EC-Council, 2022, “Digital Forensics”