Digital Forensics: An Important Part of Incident Response

Digital Forensics analyzing a hard drive

Digital forensics finds and analyzes evidence from the scene of a crime—except, in these cases, the crime scene involves computers and technology. Digital forensics investigators determine what happened by gathering and analyzing forensic data. They typically set out to answer these three questions:

  1. How did the attacker gain access?
  2. What did the attacker do with their access?
    • Did they compromise other systems?
    • Did they access sensitive data?
    • Did they exfiltrate sensitive data outside of the network?
  3. Is the attacker still maintaining access to the network?

Digital forensics investigators hold and maintain certifications in their field to stay abreast of new forms of cyber attacks and how to combat them.

When cybercriminals steal your data, it’s important to reach out to digital forensics experts like the consultants at Snowfensive. Their specialists have the tools and experience to respond to your incident, contain the breach, and evaluate the impact on your organization.

What is Digital Forensics?

When someone breaks into a store, they leave behind a smattering of physical evidence; evidence you can see, like missing property, damaged furniture, and broken windows, as well as evidence that’s not immediately visible, like fingerprints or DNA.

Unfortunately, collecting physical evidence isn’t possible with digital crimes, but that doesn’t mean cybercriminals don’t leave clues behind. Attackers leave digital evidence in computer memory, hard drives, system and network logs, and other operating system artifacts.

Digital forensics is the process of reviewing digital evidence to determine how criminals entered a system, how long they were in that network, what data they stole, what other systems they compromised, and whether they are still operating in the network. Digital forensics requires a combination of knowledge, experience, and software. Skilled digital forensics consultants know where to look and how to use specialized software that automates and speeds up the forensic process.

As digital forensic investigators process and analyze evidence, facts begin to materialize. They pass along these facts to business owners, legal teams, and other stakeholders enabling them to respond to customer concerns, assess contractual and legal ramifications, ensure they maintain regulatory compliance requirements.

Once an investigation is complete, digital forensic investigators compile a detailed report outlining their conclusions. Business owners use this report to explain what happened to clients, shareholders, or insurance companies.

How Do cybercriminals Use Your Data?

Depending on their goals, cybercriminals typically commit the following crimes:

  • Holding your data for ransom
  • Auctioning off the data on the dark web
  • Leaking data to the public
  • Installing malware on the network
  • Deleting or modifying data or making it inaccessible
  • Stealing your customers’ identities
  • Destroying your network infrastructure

In recent years, businesses have invested in software to protect their networks. Unfortunately, hackers learn about these advancements and develop new, more complex ways to enter your system. Talking to specialists about current cybercriminal trends can help you stay ahead of the curve.

What Happens During the Investigation?

There are a number of things that take place during a digital forensic investigation or assessment.


Cybersecurity incidents are stressful, not only because they can negatively impact business operations, but also because businesses need to act fast to contain them. Of course, that doesn’t mean they should rush. The first step is to lay out a plan for success. In order to formulate this plan, investigators must talk to a company’s IT and legal teams as well as other business stakeholders. From there, investigators and stakeholders can collaborate and agree on specific goals for the investigation. These goals serve as requirements for drawing up the investigators’ plan.

Containment and Evidence Acquisition

The next step is containing the situation and acquiring evidence. This part of the process is often the most difficult, as it needs to prevent attackers from causing further damage while preserving evidence that can be used during the investigation.

During this phase, investigators gather forensic evidence, such as server and workstation memory captures, disk images, and logs from network devices such as firewalls and SIEMs. As this evidence is collected, it is uploaded to a shared drive or shipped to investigators for analysis.


Evidence is processed as soon as it’s received. For the most part, digital forensics investigators leverage specialized software tools to process evidence, but sometimes evidence must be processed manually. No matter which way investigators process the data, their aim is the same: to figure out if and when the suspicious activity occurred, with the end goal of building a timeline of events.

This timeline and any other applicable information are passed along to business stakeholders who use it in decision-making and communication to customers, employees, regulators, stakeholders, and even the public. Usually, investigators send shorter preliminary reports first, and constantly update them as new findings are uncovered.

Ultimately, the analysis phase is when investigators find out how attackers got into the network and if they’re still at work. The results of digital forensic analysis feed into the incident response process, a mechanism used by internal IT teams to further contain and safeguard new areas of the network that may have been compromised.


Once an investigation is complete, analysts produce a full report which contains an executive summary and technical results.

The executive summary is only one to two pages in length and is meant to convey the results of the investigation at a high level. Internal stakeholders, IR, and PR teams utilize the executive summary to understand the incident and issue communications as needed.

The technical results section houses the detailed results of the investigators’ analysis.

Most often, digital forensics reports are used internally. However, third parties such as insurance companies, outside government regulators, or even law enforcement may request to see them. As such, it’s important to discuss the potential audience for these reports during the planning phase.

Will Digital Forensics Prevent Future Attacks?

It’s impossible to prevent future attacks entirely, but hiring forensics consultants can diminish the effects of future incidents and reduce their likelihood overall. Consultants can explain exactly how criminals entered your system in the past and offer suggestions for plugging up any glaring gaps so that attackers can’t sneak in again. And in rare cases where an attacker’s identity is known, a full digital forensics investigation with conclusive results is paramount to a winning legal case.

Traditional digital forensics are best suited for responding to known incidents and compromises. But if you are concerned about the possibility of a current attack, another service Snowfensive provides is an Active Compromise Assessment. Active Compromise assessments use many of the same digital forensic techniques to look for signs of an active compromise you may not be aware of.

Why Hire Snowfensive?

You don’t have to wait for a security breach to reach out to Snowfensive. While we offer incident response services, building a relationship with Snowfensive early can prevent potential threats. Our solutions include:

  • Penetration Testing – We test your network to find potential vulnerabilities that would allow criminals to break into your system, install malware, and steal data. After the test, we’ll tell you what we discovered so you can strengthen your network, patch your vulnerabilities, and secure your configurations.
  • Physical Security – We assess your physical security to see how you protect your employees, hardware, and data. After the assessment, we’ll show you how to strengthen your workplace security to prevent theft and improve workplace safety.
  • Social Engineering – We review your security policies and test your employees on their knowledge of data breaches and social engineering techniques. We also host public classes at security events and can conduct private classes in your workplace.
  • Incident Response – When a criminal attacks your system, we’ll work with you to evaluate the situation, analyze the evidence, contain the breach, and recover as much data as possible. We’ll also offer remediation options to prevent future attacks and provide a detailed report outlining the entire incident for your records.

Our experts hold multiple certifications, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES), and GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA).

When you talk to Snowfensive, we’ll discuss your goals and come up with a customized plan to meet your business needs. In addition to small businesses, we work with businesses of all sizes from small companies to Fortune 500 corporations, to federal government agencies.

Contact Snowfensive Today

If you’ve had a recent incident, contact Snowfensive immediately so we can start containment and recovery. Consider talking to us about our Penetration Testing and Physical Security services to prevent incidents before they happen. To reach out, fill out the form on our website and let us know what you’re looking for.

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