Understanding digital forensics

Published on: 7 Jan 2021

Digital forensics is one of the most popular job roles available for cyber security professionals. These positions offer an exciting career for anybody with an interest in technology and those with a curious, investigative mind.

Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, suggest demand for digital forensics roles is set to increase by almost a third (32 per cent) between 2018 and 2028, and the situation will be similar in the UK. Therefore, there's never been a better time to start a career in this discipline.


What are digital forensics roles?


Digital forensics - which is sometimes referred to as computer forensics - involves the investigation of cyber crime incidents. 

Where other cyber security specialisms will focus on protecting IT systems from attack, the role of the digital forensics professional is to step in afterwards and figure out what happened, who was responsible, how data or applications can be recovered, and how to prevent breaches happening again.

It's especially crucial for law enforcement professionals, as it helps gather evidence to identify and prosecute cyber criminals. However, there is also huge demand for these personnel in the private sector, to help companies recover from attacks and bolster their defences.


What does digital forensics involve?


Digital forensics professionals use specialised tools to secure systems that have been breached, collect evidence of how intrusions happened, determine where they came from, and analyse data for future use. You may find yourself working alongside police or other law enforcement agencies and could be asked to investigate a wide range of criminal activity.

Among the main types of incident you can be called on to investigate are:

  • Intellectual property theft
  • Industrial espionage
  • Employment disputes
  • Fraud investigations
  • Inappropriate use of IT resources

Generally, the day-to-day role of a digital forensics specialist will fall into a few distinct phases once a breach is detected. These include:

  • Identification - This includes collecting evidence, such as physical hard drives, to gather details of what has occurred during a cyber attack and determine the scope of the investigation.
  • Preservation - Ensuring that any evidence has a clear chain of custody, is isolated and preserved for use in future proceedings.
  • Analysis - Conducting an in-depth examination of the data to reconstruct a breach and create a full timeline of the incident, answering questions such as who was involved, what happened and how it occurred. 
  • Documentation and presentation - Creating a full summary of the incident, which will be essential both in any criminal prosecution and for future systems development.

Within this, you may also be required to conduct interviews with involved parties, assist in the recovery of damaged files and give evidence in court cases.


What skills are needed to work in digital forensics?


In order to be successful as a digital forensics specialist, you'll need a wide range of skills. These include a thorough understanding of the latest cyber attack techniques, a deep knowledge of various technologies such as operating systems, computer programming and digital storage, and softer skills to help explain your work to non-specialist audiences.

Among the main skills recruiters will be looking for in digital forensics roles are:

  • Technical aptitude
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Awareness of legal and ethical issues regarding data
  • Desire to learn

Because you may be dealing with highly sensitive materials, individuals who can demonstrate they have security clearances may be particularly sought after.


What sort of companies are looking for digital forensics specialists?


Digital forensics specialists will find their skills are in demand from a wide range of employers. While law enforcement organisations - including the police and security services - are amongst the more obvious options for individuals with these skills, there are many opportunities in the private sector as well.

There is particularly strong demand among large organisations operating in highly-regulated sectors, as well as those with large amounts of valuable data such as intellectual property to protect

According to LinkedIn, some of the key industries looking to hire people with these skills are:

  • Information technology and services
  • Defence
  • Aerospace
  • Financial services
  • Government
  • Software development

If you're looking to start or advance a career in this area, take a look at the digital forensics jobs we have available and find your next position today.