The cost of digital forensic tools can vary greatly depending on the features, capabilities, and licensing structure. Forensic software is available in a wide range of prices to fit the budgetary needs of individuals, small businesses, law enforcement, corporations, and government agencies. Here we will take a closer look at the factors that influence cost and provide price ranges for common categories of digital forensic tools.
What Influences the Cost of Digital Forensic Tools?
Several key factors impact the cost of digital forensic tools:
- Features and capabilities – More advanced tools with more extensive features usually cost more.
- Target user base – Tools designed for enterprise, government, and law enforcement use tend to cost more than tools for individuals or small businesses.
- Licensing model – Perpetual licenses, subscriptions, and per-use licenses have different cost structures.
- Brand and reputation – Established providers of forensic software can command higher prices.
- Support and maintenance – Ongoing support and updates add to long-term costs.
- Customization – Custom or proprietary forensic solutions have higher costs.
Generally speaking, prices rise according to the sophistication of capabilities, level of certification and validation, and breadth of features offered. Let’s take a closer look at the typical price ranges for common categories of digital forensic tools.
Individual & Small Business Tools
On the lower end of the cost spectrum, we find tools targeted at individual users and very small businesses who need to conduct simple forensic examinations on single devices. This category includes free and open source tools along with commercial tools costing less than $500.
Free and Open Source Tools
There are many free and open source digital forensics tools that individuals and small businesses can utilize. While their capabilities are more limited than full commercial suites, free tools allow users to perform basic functions like viewing disk partitions, recovering deleted files, extracting metadata, and analyzing browser histories without any software licensing costs.
Examples of free digital forensics tools include:
- Sleuth Kit
- FTK Imager
- Mandiant Redline
The main advantage of free tools is zero cost. The drawbacks are reduced feature sets, limited support, and lack of a validated development process in some cases. But they can meet the basic needs of individuals and very small businesses on a budget.
Entry-level Commercial Tools
There are a number of commercial digital forensics tools available for less than $500 that provide capabilities beyond free/open source options. Many are targeted at consultants, computer technicians, small investigations firms, and tiny law enforcement agencies. These inexpensive commercial tools allow for disk imaging, file recovery, registry examination, password cracking, and mobile device analysis.
Examples of entry-level commercial forensic tools that cost less than $500 include:
- Nuix Workstation (free viewer up to 50 MB)
- Oxygen Forensic Detective
- Cellebrite UFED Standard ($200-500 for 1-year license)
- Magnet AXIOM Cyber ($349 – $399 for 1-year license)
- AccessData FTK Imager (free – $495 for toolkit)
- X-Ways Forensics ($199 – $395 perpetual license)
The low cost of entry-level tools enables individual users to pay out of their own pocket. The tradeoff is having features and capabilities that meet only basic forensic needs. But commercial tools in this price range provide an affordable starting point for individuals or very small organizations to gain access to validated digital forensics software.
Law Enforcement Tools
A step up from basic individual use tools, law enforcement tools provide advanced capabilities needed to conduct criminal investigations and prosecute computer crimes. These tools comply with legal standards for handling evidence and chain of custody requirements. Prices start around $1,000 or more for a single license.
General Forensic Tools for Law Enforcement
All-in-one forensic investigation suites designed for law enforcement provide extensive capabilities for evidence recovery, analysis, and reporting. Prices start around $1,000 to $3,000.
- Cellebrite UFED Ultimate ($3,500 to $7,500 for starter package)
- Oxygen Forensics Detective (pricing starts around $1,000 per user)
- Magnet AXIOM Cyber (pricing starts around $2,000 per user)
- MSAB XRY Complete (around $2,590 for starter package)
- Grayshift GrayKey (around $15,000 – $30,000+ for mobile device unlocking device)
This class of tools equips forensic investigators with broad capabilities to acquire digital evidence from many sources, reconstruct timelines, recover deleted data, decrypt files, and analyze everything from hard drives to smartphones. The higher costs provide extensive features required for criminal investigations.
Specialized Forensic Tools
In addition to all-in-one suites, law enforcement often uses specialized forensic tools for specific devices, data types, and situations. These tools carry similarly high price tags in the $1,000 to $5,000 range.
Examples of specialized law enforcement forensic tools include:
- Micro Systemation XRY – $1,600 to $2,200 for mobile forensic tools
- Berla iVe Media Exploitation System – $3,000+ for audio/video evidence analysis
- Vound Software OSForensics – $1,395 to $4,995 for forensic acquisition tools
- Restore Files by PassMark – $1,095 for deleted file recovery
- Gecko Forensics Galileo – $3,000+ for drone forensics
Advanced investigation capabilities for mobile devices, multimedia files, drone data, and other specific evidence types justify the higher costs for law enforcement agencies.
Enterprise & Government Tools
At the top of the price scale we find enterprise-grade and government digital forensic tools. These include high-end suites used by corporations, federal agencies, cybercrime units, and computer forensics labs. Advanced features, customization, professional services, and extensive support capabilities drive costs upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 or more per license or implementation.
Enterprise Forensic Investigation Platforms
Robust suites of forensic applications tailored to enterprise environments cost in the range of $15,000 to $25,000+ per user license.
Examples of enterprise-level investigation platforms include:
- AccessData Forensic Toolkit (FTK) – $24,950 for first year license
- Exterro Forensic Toolkit – $27,000 per concurrent license
- Guidance EnCase Forensic – $26,830 first year, then $15,092 renewal
- Blackbag Blacklight – $24,995 per user
- Magnet FORENSICS Enterprise – $12,000 to $18,000 per license
These fully-featured suites meet the demands of handling high data volumes across entire networks and cloud environments at an enterprise scale. Extensive capabilities for e-discovery, forensic analysis, and legal compliance justify the high licensing costs.
Government & High Security Tools
Federal agencies, intelligence, and military organizations employ advanced forensic tools that meet stringent security requirements and certification standards. These highly specialized government tools and services come with premium pricing in the $25,000+ range.
- Cellebrite UFED Ultimate – $40,000+ for military-grade mobile forensics
- Voom Forensics CyberCrypt – $30,000+ for detecting encrypted and hidden data
- Secure Forensics NUIX – $25,000+ for classified data discovery
- ShadowTech ShadowDiscover – $20,000+ for custom high-security forensics
Extensive capabilities for encrypted data discovery, data sanitization, aerospace and maritime investigations, and other specialized needs drive the extremely high costs of government digital forensic tools. The integrated solutions offer capabilities unmatched by commercial offerings.
Forensic Tools Price Ranges Summary
To summarize, here are typical price ranges for digital forensic tools in different categories:
|Individual & Small Business||Free – $500|
|Law Enforcement||$1,000 – $15,000+|
|Enterprise||$15,000 – $25,000+ per license|
|Government & High Security||$20,000+|
As this breakdown illustrates, costs scale significantly according to the sophistication and breadth of capabilities required by the intended user base. Individuals can access basic tools for free or at very low cost, while large enterprises pay five figures per license for complete forensic investigation platforms. Government and military organizations spend over $20,000 per implementation for specialized high-security tools.
While prices run the gamut, quality digital forensics tools are available at any budget level. Individuals and small businesses can find free or low cost options for personal use. Law enforcement agencies have access to mid-range tools meeting evidentiary standards. And large corporations and government entities can equip their forensic teams with advanced solutions tailored to their unique requirements.
Third-Party Consulting and Services
In addition to the cost of forensic software itself, many organizations bring in external consultants, experts, and service providers to conduct examinations and provide testimony. These third-party services add substantial costs for tasks like data recovery, incident response, e-discovery, expert witness services, forensic analysis and reporting, and training.
Rates for outside digital forensic consulting services often fall in the range of $200-$500 per hour depending on the nature of expertise required. Less complex tasks like cell phone data extraction can cost a few hundred dollars. At the other end of the scale, expert witness preparation and testimony can cost tens of thousands.
Some examples of forensic service costs from third-party providers:
|Cell phone data extraction||$300-$1,000+|
|Hard drive recovery||$300-$5,000+|
|Security incident response||$250-$500 per hour|
|E-Discovery processing||$100-$300 per GB|
|Expert witness fees||$10,000-$30,000+|
Bringing in outside help can significantly increase total digital forensic costs but is often a smart investment for organizations lacking specialized in-house capabilities.
Key Cost Considerations
Organizations evaluating digital forensic solutions should keep several important considerations around costs in mind:
- Prioritize capability needs – Establish must-have versus nice-to-have features and let that guide tool selection.
- Consider total cost of ownership – Account for ongoing support, maintenance, and training costs over the lifespan of tools.
- Compare license models – One-time, subscription, or per-use licenses have very different cost structures.
- Allocate training budget – Factor in costs of training staff on new tools.
- Build for scalability – Seek tools that can adapt to growth in data volumes and use cases.
- Weigh custom vs pre-built solutions – Custom tools cost more but may fill capability gaps.
- Use a mix of solutions – Blend full suites with specialized tools as needed.
Evaluating tools across these considerations will help identify options providing the optimal balance of capabilities and value. The total cost picture includes both initial software licensing and ongoing expenses for maintenance, support, and training. Building in flexibility to scale tools over time further maximizes the return on a digital forensics investment.
In the digital forensics field, there is no absolute answer to the question “how much do the tools cost?” Entry-level solutions can be free for individuals, while purpose-built government and military tools run over $20,000. Between these extremes, law enforcement agencies pay around $1,000 to $5,000 for licensed forensic suites. And enterprises spend upwards of $15,000 per user for robust, scalable solutions.
The key takeaway is that excellent digital forensic tools exist at every price point. Organizations must clearly define needs and priorities to strike the ideal balance between cost and capabilities. Building a strategy that accounts for TCO over the lifespan of tools ensures the highest return on investment in forensic solutions. With the right strategic approach, any organization can gain access to digital forensics capabilities scaled to meet their budget and requirements.