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Digital Forensics and Fraud Investigations: Techniques and Best Practices

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By Sanjay Kaushik, Managing Director, Netrika Consulting Pvt Ltd.

Digital forensics has become a crucial facet of fraud investigation in the modern-day world. Once you’ve created a digital footprint, it’s impossible to erase. In today’s tech-driven world, we live in, every single individual works on a laptop or mobile phone to make work easier and life better. But ease doesn’t come free of cost. While making our work easier and life better, we leave so many digital footprints in line.

With the proliferation of digital devices, the ever-increasing amount of data we generate and the internet, criminals have developed new ways to commit fraud. In executing the fraud, fraudsters might think they’ve deleted the files/email/photo, but that data is never gone. Only the route to reach the data changes. The intensity and sophistication of carrying out the deceit have made effective digital forensics and fraud investigation techniques more important than ever before. Digital forensics provides investigators the tools to track down and prosecute these criminals.

Techniques
The techniques used in digital forensics and fraud investigations have evolved rapidly in recent years. Below is a detailed layout of the digital forensics process.

Planning: The first and foremost step in digital forensics investigation is planning. This involves identifying the scope of the investigation, defining its objectives and setting the blueprint of a plan of action. This step involves identifying the tools and techniques required for the investigation and creating a timeline for the same. Seizing and preserving digital evidence: This stage involves identifying and collecting the digital evidence relevant to the investigation. This also involves preserving and isolating the relevant devices and storage media, creating a bit-for-bit copy of the data to prevent the original data from tampering.

Imaging: This step requires creating a forensic image of the data storage device to ensure that the evidence is preserved in its original form. A bit-by-bit copy of the original device is created, which can be analysed without altering the original data.

Processing: This stage requires the forensic analyst to sift through the data to get handy of any relevant information to be used as evidence. The data is analysed for hidden files that may not be immediately visible. It may also be processed to identify patterns or anomalies.

Analysing: At this stage, the analysts interpret the data using specialised software
or tools to identify patterns, connections, and potential leads, if any, that may help in
the investigation.

Reporting & Testifying: The last stage involves presenting the findings in a clear and concise manner. A report is created that summarises the evidence collected, the analysis conducted and the conclusions drawn. The analyst might also be required to testify in court to explain the findings to a judge or jury.

Best Practices
In today’s techno-savvy world, fraud has become a pervasive problem. And to fight this menace, efficient digital forensics is the need of the hour. Given below are some of the best practices in digital forensics and fraud investigations to ensure that the evidence collected is admissible in court and that the investigation is conducted transparently and ethically.

Plan ahead: It is always better to dwell on a well—planned approach that outlines the objectives, scope, and procedure of the investigation.

Follow the Chain of Custody (COC): For any digital forensics investigation, it is very important to maintain a chain of custody (COC). If COC is not maintained, digital evidence may not be acceptable in a court of law.

Use proper tools and techniques: One shall always use only licensed software and trained manpower, as digital evidence, is highly volatile and can be tampered with if not managed properly.

Adherence to standards: Digital forensics and fraud investigations must adhere to legal and ethical standards. The analysts must comply with local, state and federal laws and ethical standards set forth by their profession. They must also respect the privacy rights of individuals and ensure that the investigation does not violate any privacy laws and regulations.

Conclusion
Digital forensics and fraud investigations are essential components of modern business operations. As criminals continue to develop new ways to commit fraud using digital devices and the internet, digital forensics provides investigators with the tools to track down and prosecute these criminals. By following best practices, organisations can detect and prevent fraudulent activities and ensure that legal proceedings are based on accurate and reliable evidence.

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