A digital forensic investigation commonly consists of 3 stages: acquisition or imaging of exhibits, analysis, and reporting. Acquisition involves creating an exact sector level duplicate (or "forensic duplicate") of the media, often using a write blocking device to prevent modification of the original. Both acquired image and original media are hashed (using SHA-1 or MD5) and the values compared to verify the copy is accurate.
During the analysis phase an investigator recovers evidence material using a number of different methodologies and tools. In 2002, an article in the International Journal of Digital Evidence referred to this step as "an in-depth systematic search of evidence related to the suspected crime". In 2006, forensics researcher Brian Carrie described an "intuitive procedure" in which obvious evidence is first identified and then "exhaustive searches are conducted to start filling in the holes".
The actual process of analysis can vary between investigations, but common methodologies include conducting keyword searches across the digital media (within files as well as unallocated and slack space), recovering deleted files and extraction of registry information (for example to list user accounts, or attached USB devices).
The evidence recovered is analysed to reconstruct events or actions and to reach conclusions, work that can often be performed by less specialised staff. When an investigation is complete the data is presented, usually in the form of a written report, in lay persons' terms.
Read more about this topic: Digital Forensics
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