Challenges in Digital Forensics

We are living in the age of the digital revolution. Throughout history, shifts in technological capabilities have shaped human society and continued to propel it forwards. The use of water and steam power to mechanize production was the first revolution, the invention of the steam engine is seen as synonymous with this revolution.

Digital Forensics

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Mass production defined the second revolution, with new industries like steel, oil, and electricity revolutionizing industry in the late 1800s. The third revolution began around the 1960s and is marked by the invention of the personal computer. Known as the digital revolution, the third revolution is rapidly leading to the fourth which is being characterized by the integration of digital technology into every corner of our lives.

The combination of artificial intelligence (AI), alongside robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing, and other digital advances are facilitating the incorporation of digital technology into all industries.

Forensic science is one area that has begun to rapidly adopt newly emerging digital techniques to enhance the quality and accuracy of data collected and analyzed for criminal investigations. The number of criminal investigations that require digital forensic methods has rapidly increased, causing a huge backlog for law enforcement agencies globally. This increase in demand for digital forensics will continue to rise, and experts predict that the analyses required will be increasingly complex, with multiple digital devices needed such as computers, cloud-connected devices, smartphones, tablets, wearables, and other devices connected to the Internet of Things.

This growing digital ecosystem will enhance the capabilities of digital forensics but it will also generate new challenges. Here, we discuss current challenges facing the field of digital forensics, issues such as data complexity, diversity, consistency, and volume, as well as highlighting potential future challenges to the industry.

The complexity challenge

Advances in digital technology have allowed for increasingly large data sets to be acquired and analyzed. Now, the lowest format (binary) of data is being collected in large volumes, heterogeneously.

Such vast datasets require sophisticated tools for data reduction to prepare data for analysis. This poses digital forensics with the complexity challenge, where advances in data reduction techniques must keep up with the increasing volume and diversity of data being acquired.

The diversity challenge

The diversity challenge goes hand-in-hand with the complexity challenge. As advances in technology allow for increasing volumes of data to be collected occurs faster than the development of data reduction tools to optimize and simplify analyzes, a lack of standardization of digital evidence storage and formatting is emerging.

As a result, law enforcement agencies across the globe are storing and formatting evidence differently, making the sharing of digital evidence between national and international agencies difficult. Standardization would facilitate efficient data sharing, which is vital to the outcomes of criminal investigations.

The consistency and correlation challenge

Existing digital analysis tools are often used in isolation. Evidence is gathered from distinct sources and there is a need to correlate this data for both temporal and logical consistency. This often requires many hours of manual work from trained investigators which can drain an investigation’s resources.

The volume challenge

As the number of devices and volume of data grows, the field of digital forensics becomes faced with the volume problem. Now, more than ever, investigators can accumulate unprecedented volumes of data. However, automation tools to store and analyze such data are lagging.

The unified time-lining challenge

The fifth and final major challenge currently facing the field of digital forensics is the unified time-lining challenge. This emerges when multiple sources present conflicting timestamp interpretations, time zone references, and clock skew/drifts. Sophisticated analytical tools are required to unify timelines across data sources.

Emerging challenges

Potentially the biggest threat to plan for in the future of digital forensics is potential security breaches. As more data is stored in cloud-based services, there is an increasing threat of security breaches and cyber-attacks. Each IoT device presents an opportunity for cybercrime. A recent report found that even the average household faces an average of 104 cyber security threats each month.

Another potential looming threat to digital forensics is the growing knowledge gap. Forensic science has evolved rapidly in a short space of time. Therefore, there is an urgent need to up-skill those currently working in the field to ensure that workers have the knowledge and expertise to effectively execute forensic analyses with the latest, cutting-edge digital tools. Without a focus on training, the knowledge gap will act as a significant limiting factor to the potential of the newly emerging digital tools.

Digital forensics must be adaptive and flexible to overcome the present challenges and mitigate potential future challenges. If successful, the capabilities of digital forensics will continue to grow, and criminal investigations will greatly benefit as a result.

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Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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