How Convenience and Risk Bring Software Developers and Computer Forensics Together

In the fast-paced, tech-powered world in which we live today, no other profession impacts our daily lives like that of a software developer. Every piece of technology we use and enjoy bears some footprint of a software developer’s work. From mobile phones to pacemakers and car electronics, there’s a piece of code somewhere that powers our day to day life.

You can order anything at the tap of a button. You can chat away in real time with friends and family miles away. You can even bank and make other big transactions from your bed.

It is convenient. We like it. And we’ve made instant millionaires of the people who build that technology. The software developer.

But somewhere within this bubble lies a danger. There is always going to be someone waiting to take advantage. He lurks stealthily and patiently in the giant web of wires and gadgets. The Internet.

A man rubbing his head in pain with logos of Internet sites floating around him.

He lays traps – phishing, malware – and waits patiently for you to slip up. And when you do, you lose part of your identity.

Enter: Computer Forensics

So with a lot of convenience comes risk. Millions of people worldwide have been victims of cyber fraud, especially falling to identity thieves. Many are tech savvy but fraudsters get smarter every day.

Typically when you’re a victim of identity theft, you may lose critical personal info including credit card data, social security information, contact details, and sometimes IDs and travel documents. Yet somehow, you cannot do without the technology that exposes you to this kind of risk.

If any of this info is used in a crime, only computer forensics may help salvage the situation. In fact, chances are by the time forensics are done, your stolen data is already used, and you’ve probably lost money.

Computer forensics entails examining and investigating digital data. It is a fairly new field and a science of its own. Computer forensics experts are charged with investigating, uncovering, and then reporting on the data contained on, or the state of existence of a digital device. One typically hires a computer forensics specialist through a licensed private investigator.

In case your stolen info was used in a serious crime – such as buying illegal weapons – computer forensics can absolve you.

Key Concepts Of Forensics Investigation

In a typical forensics investigation, a forensics expert collects data from a digital device or system – such as a computer hard disk or network. The collected data is preserved in the state it was in on the system. This aspect of data preservation is a critical element of computer forensics work. Many tools used in this work come with specific functionality to uphold this element.

An investigator examines a computer motherboard.

In practice, though, collecting and preserving data in the original state it was in is a lot more complex. For instance, the simple act of shutting down a computer system may cause some changes to the data on the system. Forensics experts usually have a go around for this issue – making an exact replica of the data on a second storage device, normally called an image.

Investigators then carry out the rest of their work using the image while keeping the original intact.

Another key element of computer forensics is that erased data should be recoverable. A great deal of forensics work entails recovering lost or deleted data and then examining it.

In fact, deleted data is not usually completely wiped out from the system. A normal delete command simply removes the reference to the data’s location on the hard-drive. Thus, the data will still be present except that the operating system will not have ‘knowledge’ about it.

Imaging tools can capture all parts of a system including those that the operating system no longer has access to. These concepts help forensics investigators unearth a whole load of clues in case data was purposefully or accidentally erased.

Another key aspect of computer forensics work is establishing or confirming identity. The only way to link a suspected computer criminal to a crime is by establishing his identity and then linking it to the data collected from the device that is subjected to investigation.

In cases where a single device is known to have been used by a single individual and was not connected to the Internet, establishing identity is straightforward. However, if, for instance, a computer was attacked by hackers over the Internet, establishing identity of the suspect becomes a lot harder. In this case, investigators use highly advanced tools and track down the attacker.

Computer Forensics Tools

In many cases, forensics investigators work with software developers to develop specialized tools for gathering and examining data, including that which was erased or encrypted.

A screenshot from a computer software program called Autopsy.

There is a variety of generic, multipurpose, off-the-shelf software tools for more generalized forensic work but some scenarios require more specialized and advanced tools. Every investigation is unique in nature and that is what determines the type of tool to use.

Computer forensics tools not only vary in functionality, purpose, and complexity but also in cost. Some tools are free while others cost thousands of dollars.

Should A Forensics Expert Be A Software Developer?
Some software developers cross over to computer forensics depending on their career goals. While it helps to have a firm background in software, it is not a requirement for computer forensics work.

There is formal training that specifically caters to computer forensics. Also, with considerable experience in the law enforcement, you can cross over and specialize in computer forensics.The key quality is the ability to learn and use the various tools and technologies used in forensics work.

Social qualities are also important. Certain personality traits are highly desirable for computer forensics experts. A curious nature, good observation skills, and the ability to think outside the box are desirable skills for a forensics expert. Ability to observe and interprete patterns is crucial too. You should be objective and be able to draw objective conclusions.

Computer forensics is a relatively new but utterly important field that helps unveil the truth. The field heavily relies on the work of software developers for building specialized tools used in collecting and examining data.

Forensics investigators now have a wide selection of tools to choose from. As technology becomes more sophisticated so does cyber crime, hence the need for even more sophisticated forensics practices. The role of a software developer in all this remains critical and central.