Digital forensics and incident response are sub-disciplines of cyber security that are involved in investigating, identifying, remediating, and testifying cyber-attacks or incidents. DFIR is a combination of digital forensics and incident response which have two separate skill sets that set out to achieve a desirable outcome.
Digital forensics is an investigative branch of forensic sciences that collects and analyzes data and presents it in the form of digital evidence. It involves an understanding of what went wrong in the computer systems, networks, devices, laptops etc. These findings are then used in compliance regulations, litigations, or other related digital investigations.
Incident response, although similar to digital forensics, in collecting and analyzing digital data, it also responds to a security incident. It plays an important role in containment of the incident and recovery of the lost data.
In olden days too, the DFIR process, tools used, and methodology were all relatively similar if not same. What has changed are the goals, the advanced threats, and the technology used to address them. Earlier, the data collected was in the form of images from user’s computers, servers, log data etc. Once collected, they were then sent for analysis and further interpretation of the data using investigative tools. Computer experts then worked with the information obtained to weed out relevant and useful information.
Today too, the process is the same except for the fact that now more sophisticated tools such as EDR or XDR are in use, which allows hundreds or thousands of endpoints to rapidly access the data. This prompts immediate action from the responders as they can quickly understand what is happening, where it is happening, and what the threat actors are.
With all the advantages that a DFIR offers, it comes with its share of challenges.
Digital forensics challenges are
Incident response challenges are
A powerful DFIR service will provide total peace of mind to businesses susceptible to attacks. DFIR service providers will ensure experts on the team with the latest know-how and the right DFIR tools.
Digital forensics relies its success totally on swift and thorough response. A rapid action taken within the stipulated time can prevent damage to data to a great extent. Accurately identifying the source of the attack, its scope, and impact will ensure prompt action and discovery of vulnerabilities to prevent future attacks.
Incident response ensures timely management of incidents without allowing it to escalate further. Accurate and reliable remedial measures will go a long way in reducing reputational loss, financial implications, and business downtime considerably. An ideal IR practice includes proper planning and implementation.
Together digital forensics and incident response form a formidable tool in bolstering the network and systems security posture and provide continuous support in the future too.
The DFIR service is an amalgamation of two independent units, digital forensics and incident response, working together towards a single cause. Using threat intelligence delivered by the latest tools, techniques, and procedures by a team of experts ensures safety and security of all digital data and sensitive information.
Steps of the digital forensic process
Step 1 - Locate, and analyze all evidence of the digital media which is carried out by technical experts of the DFIR team.
Step 2 - After the data has been identified, isolate and preserve all the data till the end of the investigation. They may be required for compliance or litigation purposes.
Step 3 - Analyze and review the data to arrive at conclusions of the traces found.
Step 4 - Documentation of the reviewed data is essential for a thorough investigation and any future reference.
Step 5 - All evidence thus located, isolated, analyzed, reviewed, and preserved must be reported according to the necessary forensics protocol citing the analysis methodology and procedures.
Steps of the incident response process
Step 1 - Assess the scope of the incident, its severity and most important identify the indicators of compromise.
Step 2 - Conduct a thorough investigation using advanced systems and threat intelligence. This will help to detect threats, gather evidence, and provide in-depth information on the incident.
Step 3 - Although threats have been identified by this stage, the monitoring must continue to further alert to any security gaps or loopholes. This helps to eradicate any vulnerabilities found and address the problem areas.
Step 4 - All incidents identified must be reported individually with a plan for remedial measures.
Step 5 - Give a thorough briefing of the weak areas and the tactics and procedures to improve the security of the organization’s network and systems.
The DFIR services are provided support via digital forensic technology solutions, as listed below:
Businesses big or small benefit hugely from the DFIR services. The six steps commonly found in incident response are:
Security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) automatically identifies security incidents and responds to them. It is an extension of the DFIR role. Together they integrate with other cyber security tools such as firewalls and endpoint security to respond to complex security threats. SOAR augments and boosts the role of DFIR analysts by automating responses to incidents. It further works towards minimizing human errors in the DFIR process. SOAR uses predetermined playbooks to respond to incidents that are easily detected thereby reducing the workload of DFIR allowing them to focus on threat hunting, and other investigations that cannot be automated.
SOAR and DFIR work closely together to provide a robust security posture to an organization’s network and systems.
Evaluate and choose a DFIR service by considering the following:
Digital forensics constitutes the following:
Digital forensics and incident response are related fields and a combination of the two are used to address questions such as:
A forensic post-mortem investigation into the attack gives valuable insights into the occurrence and the remedial measures to be taken. Any criminal activity usually leaves behind some form of evidence which can then be used to understand the situation. DFIR components include examination of the forensics evidence, an in-depth investigation, detailed analysis of the security events, response to breach and its recovery, preserving evidence for future use and analysis.
Incident response experts along with forensic examiners conduct the DFIR process. They work closely with the chief information security officer (CISO), privacy and security officers, legal teams, and SOC managers and analysts, and usually work from a security operations center (SOC).
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has instituted the following steps into an IR lifecycle.
A rapid escalation in cybersecurity attacks and the shift towards using cloud combined with remote working has brought in the need for a strategy with threat hunting capabilities. DFIR fits the bill perfectly. Digital forensics and incident response work hand-in-hand in dealing with cybercrimes.
In essence, digital forensics collects and investigates data to understand what transpired during the cyber-attack. Incident response further investigates, contains and recovers from a security incident. The tools, processes and procedures used by both digital forensics and incident responses are common. Together, they form a powerful tool in combating cyber-attacks effectively leading the way to thwart any future attacks successfully.
DFIR also aids in adhering to strict compliance standards set by the regulatory bodies and is useful in any litigation issues that may arise in the future.