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What is Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR)?

Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) is a branch of forensic science that focuses on acquiring, analyzing and reporting on digital evidence from devices and networks, coupled with immediate action to contain and resolve cyber incidents,to ensure the integrity and security of your digital environments against evolving cyber threats. Learn more about Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR), how it works, and what to consider when evaluating a DFIR vendor.


Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Explained

Even the most sophisticated cybersecurity defenses can fail, and when they do, you want the right tools and resources to contain threats before they disrupt your business operations. In addition, you need to have detailed insights on how the data breach occurred in the first place, and structure your cybersecurity defenses around this knowledge to avoid future cyberattacks. However, it’s unrealistic for the majority of organizations to have an in-house team that specializes in investigating and responding to cybersecurity incidents. 

Digital forensics is increasingly used to support evidence handling and forensic analysis of the root cause for the security incident. Digital forensics analysis consists of examining electronically stored information to contextualize cyberattacks and gather evidence of how they took place, who is involved, and where they originated.

Incident response focuses on understanding and investigating security incidents, limiting their effects, and assisting with recovery efforts. Essentially, the goal is to ensure that your organization is better prepared for any future security incidents or cyberattacks. Incident response also extends into very specific areas, including compliance reporting, legal assistance (e.g., expert witness testimony), and incident recovery efforts. Incident Response service providers have extensive experience and hold multiple industry certifications. They are typically called in to investigate:

When are Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Used?

According to the Computer Security Incident Handling Guide by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), there is a four-phase approach that your organization can use for incident response:

Digital forensics is used in the later stages of incident response where evidence of the cyberattack is reviewed, often alongside:

How Does Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Work?

To prevent cyber threat actors from disabling your business operating systems entirely, they must be removed from your environment as soon as possible. For the DFIR process to be truly successful, the Incident Response team should work hand-in-hand with 24/7 Security Operations Center (SOC) Cyber Analysts and a global Elite Threat Hunting DFIR team. 

Once a data breach is confirmed, there are three steps that incident response providers should take to rapidly deploy DFIR services, contain the cyberattack, and ensure your organization is equipped for continuous Incident Response improvement.

DFIR Step 1: Stop that attacker (rapid deployment)

Effective Incident Response providers will perform an initial investigation to determine how to best contain and remove the cyber threat while collecting material evidence. This includes understanding the background facts of the case, determining investigative direction, gaining access to the necessary tools, staff, and in-scope systems and networks, performing the initial investigation, and collecting and preserving material evidence.

DFIR Step 2: Eradicate threat actor presence (cyberattack containment)

At this stage, incident responders initiate threat containment by quarantining affected systems or accounts and identifying the intrusion source. The sooner an Incident Response provider can achieve this, the more likely that your organization’s assets and operations can come out unscathed. This stage includes initiating threat containment activities, quarantining affected systems/accounts, performing computer forensics and network forensics crime scene reconstruction, identifying the source and intrusion vectors, recreating lateral movement pathways, and uncovering any instances of data exfiltration.

DFIR Step 3: Strengthen security and report to relevant parties (continuous improvement)

In the last stage, the goal is to strengthen the cybersecurity strategy and provide an executive report to the relevant parties. The incident responders will analyze the cyberattack and gather any additional context or data available. This stage includes building an inventory of all compromised assets across the endpoints, hard drives, file systems, etc. and listing the types of data or records exposed. 

Next, the report is presented to your organization’s executive leadership team to satisfy reporting requirements. They will also provide a list of the compromised assets and findings to pass along to law enforcement agencies. This helps prevent future cyberattacks from occurring again as defenses are catered to address the vulnerabilities that caused the cyberattack in the first place.

What is Digital Forensics and Incident Response

Why are Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Important?

According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report, over 49% of cyber incidents in 2022 resulted in confirmed data disclosure. Most of the incidents were driven by financial motives.

With cybercrime evolving this quickly, you need an incident response plan that protects your critical assets and prevents data loss. It’s also important to note that cyber insurance providers will provide favorable premiums and coverage options to organizations that take preparatory steps and implement incident response plans compared to those that don’t have any DFIR plan in place.

In the event of a cyberattack, it is important for organizations to contain cyber threats and find the root cause of how it happened and what exactly was impacted. The sooner you secure your assets and gather information from a digital forensic investigation, the more precise your cybersecurity defense plan can be to prevent future cyberattacks.

How Can Digital Forensics Be Used as a Part of Incident Response Measures?

Digital forensics plays a pivotal role as a component of your overall incident response measures. This process involves collecting, preserving, and examining digital evidence to reconstruct the sequence of events, identify the root cause, and assess the extent of the breach. By meticulously analyzing electronic devices, networks, and digital data trails, digital forensics experts can uncover critical information about the cyberattacks, data breaches, and security incidents that have impacted your organization.

Through the systematic application of forensic tools and methodologies, your organization can not only remediate the immediate threat but also strengthen your cybersecurity posture to prevent future incidents. In essence, digital forensics is an indispensable investigative and preventative tool in the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, aiding in the swift and effective response to security breaches.

What are the 5 Processes of Digital Forensics?

The digital forensic process encompasses five essential stages in the pursuit of justice and cybersecurity.

5 Stages of a Digital Forensics investigation

What are the Three Cs in Digital Forensics?

In cybersecurity, achieving precision and effectiveness hinges on integrating data to produce what is known as the "Three Cs of Security" – Context, Correlation, and Causation. These three Cs empower cybersecurity experts to make informed decisions, adapt to evolving cyber threats, and fortify their security defenses in an increasingly complex digital landscape.

Context is the foundational element, providing a holistic understanding of the environment in which security events occur. It ensures that data is not viewed in isolation but in the broader context of the organization's systems and operations.

Correlation involves systematically analyzing various data points to identify patterns and relationships, helping security professionals connect the dots between seemingly unrelated events and enhancing threat detection and response capabilities.

Causation delves deeper into the root causes behind security incidents, allowing organizations to address vulnerabilities and prevent future breaches proactively.

How to Choose an Incident Response Provider

In the event your organization has been breached, you need an incident response provider with the right tools and resources to get you back on your feet, fast. To qualify potential incident response vendors, here are some questions you can ask:

  1. What tools do you use to deliver your incident response services?
    Depending on the tools that the provider uses, this can impact the extent and speed of incident response since they assist your team to detect and contain cyber threats.
    Additionally, having the right digital forensics tools to gather forensically assured data will provide necessary data and information if court action is taken or if regulators require insight on the breach.
  2. What type of post-breach support do you provide?
    Incident response does not end with remediating a cyberattack and removing threat actors from your environment. Your team will likely have to follow up with:

    • Cyber insurers
    • Regulators
    • Law enforcement agencies
    • Legal teams

    Be sure to choose a provider with demonstrated experience in assisting organizations with legal proceedings and evidence preservation.

  3. How quickly can you respond to an incident when my team hits the panic button?
    88% of cyberattackers can breach cybersecurity defenses within 12 hours, making the speed of incident response critical to protecting and restoring your critical assets. The longer it takes to contain the threat, the more time cybercriminals have to steal your data and execute a ransomware attack.
    Ensure that your incident response provider will guarantee a timeframe within which they will respond and suppress a threat. It is important to distinguish if the provider can respond remotely within hours or days before the incident response process begins. Additionally, be sure to ask what their threat suppression time is so that you can establish a service level agreement to guarantee all cyber threats are being resolved.

We have a complete guide you can download for a full list of all 10 questions to ask when you’re evaluating an Incident Response provider.

What are the Benefits of Integrated Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR)?

With the average breach costing $4.45 million in 2023, having immediate access to digital forensic techniques and incident response expertise brings rapid control and stability to your organization when a breach occurs. A sound digital forensics and incident response strategy can be the difference between a disaster and just another day at the office.

DFIR plays a significant role in an organization’s ability to proactively reduce the impact of a cyberattack. Incident Response helps organizations recover from potentially business-altering incidents and determine how prevention, policies, plans and procedures can be improved.

Digital Forensics can be essential for root cause analysis and for pursuing judicial actions.

Be Prepared to Tackle Cyber Threats with eSentire’s Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) services.

When a data breach occurs, you want us in your corner.

eSentire delivers an industry-leading 4-hour threat suppression SLA remotely by our Cyber Security Investigations (CSI) team who are armed with best-in-class tools to identify the root cause of an existing security incident and determine the extent to which data and assets were compromised. This helps ensure you can get back to normal business operations, reduce costs, and save your organization from further reputational damage. We also support you through recovery and provide assistance to satisfy your stakeholder and compliance obligations. The results of our digital forensics investigations can bear scrutiny in a court of law.

Our On-Demand 24/7 Incident Response features:

Stop attackers in their tracks with our breakthrough 4-hour remote threat suppression commitment. eSentire Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) services are available for On-Demand 24/7 Incident Response as a retainer offering, or for Emergency Incident Response support.

Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Terms

eSentire Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR)

Be ready for the worst-case scenario with the world’s fastest threat suppression. When you’ve been breached, every second counts so we provide 4-hour threat suppression, remotely, anywhere in the world with our On-Demand 24/7 Incident Response Retainer. Our DFIR services are also available as Emergency Incident Response support.