Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Basics of Digital Forensics: The Primer for Getting Started in Digital Forensics

The Basics of Digital Forensics: The Primer for Getting Started in Digital Forensics

5.0 2
by John Sammons

See All Formats & Editions

The Basics of Digital Forensics provides a foundation for people new to the field of digital forensics. This book teaches you how to conduct examinations by explaining what digital forensics is, the methodologies used, key technical concepts and the tools needed to perform examinations. Details on digital forensics for computers, networks, cell phones, GPS,


The Basics of Digital Forensics provides a foundation for people new to the field of digital forensics. This book teaches you how to conduct examinations by explaining what digital forensics is, the methodologies used, key technical concepts and the tools needed to perform examinations. Details on digital forensics for computers, networks, cell phones, GPS, the cloud, and Internet are discussed. Readers will also learn how to collect evidence, document the scene, and recover deleted data. This is the only resource your students need to get a jump-start into digital forensics investigations.

This book is organized into 11 chapters. After an introduction to the basics of digital forensics, the book proceeds with a discussion of key technical concepts. Succeeding chapters cover labs and tools; collecting evidence; Windows system artifacts; anti-forensics; Internet and email; network forensics; and mobile device forensics. The book concludes by outlining challenges and concerns associated with digital forensics. PowerPoint lecture slides are also available.

This book will be a valuable resource for entry-level digital forensics professionals as well as those in complimentary fields including law enforcement, legal, and general information security.

  • Learn all about what Digital Forensics entails
  • Build a toolkit and prepare an investigative plan
  • Understand the common artifacts to look for during an exam

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"... this book is well named. It is an entry-level primer to digital forensics, and could be used as an introductory book in a beginning computer forensics course." --Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, Vol 9, No 1

Product Details

Elsevier Science
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
5 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Basics of Digital Forensics

The Primer for Getting Started in Digital Forensics

By John Sammons

Elsevier Science

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59749-662-9




Information in This Chapter:

* What Is Forensic Science?

* What Is Digital Forensics?

* Uses of Digital Forensics

* Role of the Forensic Examiner in the Judicial System

Each betrayal begins with trust." —"Farmhouse" by the band Phish


Your computer will betray you. This is a lesson that many CEO's, criminals, politicians, and ordinary citizens have learned the hard way. You are leaving a trail, albeit a digital one; it's a trail nonetheless. Like a coating of fresh snow, these 1s and 0s capture our "footprints" as we go about our daily life.

Cell phone records, ATM transactions, web searches, e-mails, and text messages are a few of the footprints we leave. As a society, our heavy use of technology means that we are literally drowning in electronically stored information. And the tide keeps rolling in. Don't believe me? Check out these numbers from the research company IDC:

* The digital universe (all the digital information in the world) will reach 1.2 million petabytes in 2010. That's up by 62% from 2009.

If you can't get your head around a petabyte, maybe this will help:

"One petabyte is equal to: 20 million, four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text or 13.3 years of HD-TV video."

(Mozy, 2009)

The impact of our growing digital dependence is being felt in many domains, not the least of which is the legal system. Everyday, digital evidence is finding its way into the world's courts. This is definitely not your father's litigation. Gone are the days when records were strictly paper. This new form of evidence presents some very significant challenges to our legal system. Digital evidence is considerably different from paper documents and can't be handled in the same way. Change, therefore, is inevitable. But the legal system doesn't turn on a dime. In fact, it's about as nimble as the Titanic. It's struggling now to catch-up with the blinding speed of technology.

Criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings often focus on digital evidence, which is foreign to many of the key players, including attorneys and judges. We all know folks who don't check their own e-mail or even know how to surf the Internet. Some lawyers, judges, businesspeople, and cops fit squarely into that category as well. Unfortunately for those people, this blissful ignorance is no longer an option.

Where law-abiding society goes, the bad guys will be very close behind (if not slightly ahead). They have joined us on our laptops, cell phones, iPads, and the Internet. Criminals will always follow the money and leverage any tools, including technology, that can aid in the commission of their crimes.

Although forensic science has been around for years, digital forensics is still in its infancy. It's still finding its place among the other more established forensic disciplines, such as DNA and toxicology. As a discipline, it is where DNA was many years ago. Standards and best practices are still being developed.

Digital forensics can't be done without getting under the hood and getting your hands dirty, so to speak. It all starts with the 1's and 0's. This binary language underpins not only the function of the computer but how it stores data as well. We need to understand how these 1's and 0's are converted into the text, images, and videos we routinely consume and produce on our computers.


Let's start by examining what it's not. It certainly isn't Humvees, sunglasses, and expensive suits. It isn't done without lots of paperwork, and it's never wrapped up in sixty minutes (with or without commercials). Now that we know what it isn't, let's examine what it is. Simply put, forensics is the application of science to solve a legal problem. In forensics, the law and science are forever integrated. Neither can be applied without paying homage to the other. The best scientific evidence in the world is worthless if it's inadmissible in a court of law.


There are many ways to define digital forensics. In Forensic Magazine, Ken Zatyko defined digital forensics this way:

"The application of computer science and investigative procedures for a legal purpose involving the analysis of digital evidence after proper search authority, chain of custody, validation with mathematics, use of validated tools, repeatability, reporting, and possible expert presentation."

(Zatyko, 2007)

Digital forensics encompasses much more than just laptop and desktop computers. Mobile devices, networks, and "cloud" systems are very much within the scope of the discipline. It also includes the analysis of images, videos, and audio (in both analog and digital format). The focus of this kind of analysis is generally authenticity, comparison, and enhancement.


Digital forensics can be used in a variety of settings, including criminal investigations, civil litigation, intelligence, and administrative matters.

Criminal Investigations

When you mention digital forensics in the context of a criminal investigation, people tend to think first in terms of child pornography and identity theft. Although those investigations certainly focus on digital evidence, they are by no means the only two. In today's digital world, electronic evidence can be found in almost any criminal investigation conducted. Homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and burglary are just a few of the many examples of "analog" crimes that can leave digital evidence.

One of the major struggles in law enforcement is to change the paradigm of the police and get them to think of and seek out digital evidence. Everyday digital devices such as cell phones and gaming consoles can hold a treasure trove of evidence. Unfortunately, none of that evidence will ever see a courtroom if it's not first recognized and collected. As time moves on and our law enforcement agencies are replenished with "younger blood," this will become less and less of a problem.


The case of Dennis Rader, better known as the BTK killer, is a great example of the critical role digital forensics can play in a criminal investigation. This case had national attention and, thanks to digital forensics, was solved thirty years later. To all that knew him before his arrest, Dennis Rader was a family man, church member, and dedicated public servant. What they didn't know was that he was also an accomplished serial killer. Dennis Rader, known as Bind, Torture, Kill (BTK), murdered ten people in Kansas from 1974 to 1991. Rader managed to avoid capture for over thirty years until technology betrayed him.

After years of silence, Rader sent a letter to the Wichita Eagle newspaper declaring that he was responsible for the 1986 killing of a young mother. The letter was received by the Eagle on March 19, 2004. After conferring with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, the police decided to attempt to communicate with BTK through the media.

In January 2005, Rader left a note for police, hidden in a cereal box, in the back of a pickup truck belonging to a Home Depot employee. In the note, he said:

"Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer. Be honest. Under Miscellaneous Section, 494, (Rex, it will be OK), run it for a few days in case I'm out of town-etc. I will try a floppy for a test run some time in the near future-February or March."

The police did the only thing they could. They lied. As directed, they responded (via an ad in the Eagle) on January 28. The ad read "Rex, it will be ok, Contact me PO Box 1st four ref.numbers at 67202."

On February 16, a manila envelope arrived at KSAS, the Fox affiliate in Wichita. Inside was a purple floppy disc from BTK. The disc contained a file named "Test A.rtf." (The .rtf extension stands for "Rich Text File"). A forensic exam of the file struck gold. The file's metadata (the data about the data) gave investigators the leads they had been waiting over thirty years for. Aside from the "Date Created" (Thursday, February 10, 2005 6:05:34 PM) and the "Date Modified" (Monday, February 14, 2005 2:47:44 PM) were the "Title" (Christ Lutheran Church) and "Last Saved By:" (Dennis).

Armed with this information, investigators quickly logged on to the Christ Lutheran Church web site. There they found that Dennis Rader was the president of the church's Congregation Council. The noose was tightening, but it wasn't tight enough. Investigators turned to DNA to make the case airtight. Detectives went on to obtain a DNA sample from Rader's daughter and compared it to DNA from BTK. The results proved that BTK was her father. On February 25, three days after the DNA sample arrived at the lab, Rader was arrested, sealing the fate of BTK. He is currently serving ten consecutive life sentences (Witchita Eagle).

Civil Litigation

The use of digital forensics in civil cases is big business. In 2011, the estimated total worth of the electronic discovery market is somewhere north of $780 million (Global EDD Group). As part of a process known as Electronic Discovery (eDiscovery), digital forensics has become a major component of much high dollar litigation. eDiscovery "refers to any process in which electronic data is sought, located, secured, and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in a civil or criminal legal case" (TechTarget, 2005).

In a civil case, both parties are generally entitled to examine the evidence that will be used against them prior to trial. This legal process is known as "discovery." Previously, discovery was largely a paper-based exercise, with each party exchanging reports, letters, and memos; however, the introduction of digital forensics and eDiscovery has greatly changed this practice.

The proliferation of the computer has rendered that practice nearly extinct. Today, parties no longer talk about filing cabinets, ledgers, and memos; they talk about hard drives, spreadsheets, and file types. Some paper-based materials may come into play, but it's more the exception than the rule. Seeing the evidentiary landscape rapidly changing, the courts have begun to modify the rules of evidence. The rules of evidence, be they state or federal rules, govern how digital evidence can be admitted during civil litigation. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were changed in December 2006 to specifically address how electronically stored information is to be handled in these cases.

Digital evidence can quickly become the focal point of a case, no matter what kind of legal proceeding it's used in. The legal system and all its players are struggling to deal with this new reality.


Terrorists and foreign governments, the purview of our intelligence agencies, have also joined the digital age. Terrorists have been using information technology to communicate, recruit, and plan attacks. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our armed forces are exploiting intelligence collected from digital devices brought straight from the battlefield. This process is known as DOMEX (Document and Media Exploitation). DOMEX is paying large dividends, providing actionable intelligence to support the soldiers on the ground (U.S. Army).


It's well documented that the 9-11 hijackers sought out and received flight training in order to facilitate the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. Digital forensics played a role in the investigation of this aspect of the attack.

On August 16, 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested by INS agents in Eagan, Minnesota, for overstaying his visa. Agents also seized a laptop and floppy disk. After obtaining a search warrant, the FBI searched these two items on September 11, 2001. During the analysis, they found evidence of a Hotmail account (pilotz123@hotmail.com) used by Moussaoui. He used this account to send e-mail to the flight school as well as other aviation organizations.

For those not familiar with Hotmail accounts, it's a free e-mail service offered by Microsoft, similar to Gmail and Yahoo!. They're quite easy to get and only require basic subscriber information. This information is essentially meaningless, because none of the information is verified. During the examof Moussaoui's e-mail, agents were also able to analyze the Internet protocol connection logs. One of the IP addresses identified was assigned to "PC11" in a computer lab at the University of Oklahoma.

The investigation further showed that Moussaoui and the rest of the nineteen hijackers made extensive use of computers at a variety of Kinko's store locations in other cities. Agents arrived at the Kinko's in Eagan hoping to uncover evidence. They were disappointed to learn that this specific Kinko's makes a practice of erasing the drives on their rental computers every day. Now forty-four days after Moussaoui's visit, the agents felt the odds of recovering any evidence would be somewhere between slim and none. They didn't bother examining the Kinko's computer. The Eagan store isn't alone. Other locations make a routine practice of erasing or reimaging the rental computers as well. This is done periodically, some as soon as twenty-four hours, others as long as thirty days. The drives are erased to improve the performance and reliability of the computers as well as to protect the privacy of its customers (Lawler, 2002).

Excerpted from The Basics of Digital Forensics by John Sammons. Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elsevier Science.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Sammons is an Associate Professor and Director of the undergraduate program in Digital Forensics and Information Assurance at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. John teaches digital forensics, electronic discovery, information security and technology in the School of Forensic and Criminal Justices Sciences. He's also adjunct faculty with the Marshall University graduate forensic science program where he teaches the advanced digital forensics course. John, a former police officer, is also an Investigator with the Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and a member of the West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He is a Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the High Technology Crime Investigation Association, and Infragard.

John is the founder and President of the Appalachian Institute of Digital Evidence. AIDE is a non-profit organization that provides research and training for digital evidence professionals including attorneys, judges, law enforcement and information security practitioners in the private sector. He is the author of best-selling book, The Basics of Digital Forensics published by Syngress.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Basics of Digital Forensics: The Primer for Getting Started in Digital Forensics 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Are you a beginning digital forensics professional; as well as, a network and system administrator? If you are, then this book is for you! Author John Sammons, has done an outstanding job of writing a book that looks at what forensic science, particularly digital forensics, is and is not. Author Sammons, begins by defining digital forensics and examines how it’s being used. In addition, the author looks at binary, how data are stored, storage media and more. He then discusses the digital forensic environment and hardware and software that are used on a regular basis. The author then, covers fundamental forensically sound practices that you can use to collect the evidence and establish a chain of custody. He continues by looking at many of the common Windows artifacts and how they are created. He then discusses several techniques that are used to hide or destroy digital evidence. The author then examines the Fourth Amendment; as well as, reasonable expectations of privacy, private searches, searching with and without a warrant and the Stored Communications Act. Then, he looks at how web pages are found and sent to browsers using Uniform Resource Locators and Domain Name Servers. Next, the author shows you how networks are attacked, and what role digital forensics plays in not only the response, but how perpetrators can be traced. He continues by looking at the underlying technology powering cell phones and GPS units; as well as, the potential evidence they could contain. Finally, he discusses why the digital forensics community still has work to do, regarding how it conducts its business especially in relation to the other more traditional disciplines. This most excellent book brought out the fact that digital forensic sciences aren’t quite the fast-paced crime-solving dramas that you watch on TV. Perhaps more importantly, digital forensic sciences are in fact a scientific method of collection, investigation and analysis, that are used to solve some kind of legal problem.