Computer Technology and Forensics
The word "forensic" originates from the Latin language. The Latin word "forensis" means "public discussion or debate." The English definition of forensics is something relating to or used in a court of law, often calling for the application of science. Someone studying or working in forensic science might focus on evidence required for a civil or criminal proceeding. Forensic science must be objective and unbiased, with the goal of discovering the truth without regard for the outcome.
Using computers to gather, analyze, and report digital evidence for a legal proceeding is the practice of computer forensics. This digital evidence could be found anywhere a computer stores data electronically, such as an internal computer hard drive, an external drive, a flash drive, a tablet, or a mobile phone. These devices may have evidence that could be used to show that someone was involved in a crime. Evidence might include a person's Internet browsing history, stored documents, photos, or emails sent or received. Investigation can find these types of evidence, and it can also show when a document appeared, when it was saved and/or printed, when the most recent edits occurred, and who performed these tasks.
Law enforcement agencies use computer forensics extensively in their crime investigations. Companies have also begun using computer forensics in a variety of situations. Companies may gather information for employment disputes, internal employee situations, and regulatory compliance issues. Computer forensics may also enable companies to resolve cases regarding forgeries, industrial espionage, intellectual property theft, and bankruptcy investigations.
How a Forensic Investigation Is Done
Investigating with computer forensics requires care to ensure that investigators follow prescribed procedures. When an investigation involves seizing a device, investigators cannot allow accidental contamination during the process of making digital copies of data. After the copying process is completed, the device must be secured in a place that will maintain it in its original condition. The investigation process will then proceed using the digital copies made of the data, not on the original sources.
To investigate, professionals will use software and techniques that examine the data. These programs will be able to search for hidden files and folders. The programs can also check for unallocated disk space, which could indicate copies of encrypted or deleted files. If evidence is discovered on the digital copies, investigators must document the evidence carefully and completely in a report. This report can then be used in a legal proceeding such as a deposition or litigation. The report can also be used during the discovery process leading up to a legal proceeding.
Careers in Computer Forensics
A computer forensics investigator might work for a law enforcement agency, but they are also employed by private companies. Within the private sector, computer forensics investigators work virtually anywhere computer systems are used, including law practices, banks, and accounting firms. Anyone interested in working in the area of computer forensics will need to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in the subject. Professionals can also work to become a GIAC-certified forensic analyst; earning this certification shows proficiency in collecting and analyzing data that originates on computer systems. This certification also demonstrates the ability to conduct formal investigations that involve data breaches, threats, and any anti-forensic techniques that criminals may use.
Forensics professionals will need to remain current with all technological advances to work successfully within the field. Investigators must also possess strong problem-solving and analytical skills, and they must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing. Anyone with a background in computer programming or who has worked with computer software or hardware may be able to transition into the field of computer forensics. Most people who are successful in the field build their qualifications with a combination of experience, education, and on-the-job skills.