Is forensics part of cyber security?

Forensics and cybersecurity are closely related fields that often overlap in practice. While they have some distinct differences, forensics plays an important role within the broader realm of cybersecurity.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity refers to the practice of protecting computer systems, networks, programs, and data from unauthorized access or attacks. The main goals of cybersecurity are to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information systems. It involves preventing, detecting, and responding to cyber threats through various processes and technologies.

Some common cybersecurity practices include:

  • Network security – Protecting networks from intruders and cyber attacks through use of firewalls, threat detection systems, and access controls.
  • Application security – Securing software and applications from threats like malware, spyware, and viruses.
  • Information security – Safeguarding confidential data through encryption, access management, and data protection strategies.
  • Identity and access management – Managing user identities and controlling access to resources.
  • Incident response – Detecting breaches or attacks and executing organized response plans.
  • Disaster recovery/business continuity – Implementing plans to enable continuation of IT operations and minimize disruption in the event of a security failure or disaster.

The field of cybersecurity has grown rapidly in recent years in response to increasing cybercrime and cyber attacks. IT security teams in organizations now employ various tools and processes to monitor networks, prevent unauthorized access, and detect potential threats and anomalies.

What is digital forensics?

Digital forensics, sometimes known as computer forensics, refers to the collection, preservation, analysis, and presentation of digital evidence found in digital devices. It involves applying investigative techniques to recover data from systems and devices like computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. The goal is to identify, collect, and analyze digital evidence to present it in a court of law or to aid cyber attack investigations.

Some key steps in digital forensics include:

  • Identifying sources of potential digital evidence like computers, phones, network logs, CCTV footage, etc.
  • Preserving the integrity of digital evidence through bitstream copying, imaging, etc. to prevent tampering or alteration.
  • Recovering and analyzing data including deleted or encrypted files to extract relevant evidence.
  • Documenting the investigative process thoroughly using notes, photographs, sketches, etc.
  • Presenting findings through detailed reports and presentations.

Digital forensics requires specialized tools and skills. Forensic investigators use software programs and hardware devices to access, recover, and evaluate digital data from various systems and formats. They follow strict evidence handling procedures.

Connections between cybersecurity and forensics

While cybersecurity and digital forensics have some differences, they also have important overlapping areas and complementary functions. Some key connections between cybersecurity and forensics include:

  • Incident response – When a cyber attack or breach occurs, forensic investigators are called in to capture volatile data, identify indicators of compromise, preserve evidence, and recover deleted or encrypted data to find out how the attack happened.
  • Threat detection – Forensic tools and techniques help extract artifacts, patterns, and anomalies that reveal cyber threats like malware, unauthorized access, or policy violations.
  • Proactive security – Forensic principles guide development of secure systems and dashboards for continuous monitoring. Forensic readiness enables rapid investigation capabilities.
  • Litigation support – Digital evidence recovered through forensics can provide legal support to prosecute cyber criminals or settle civil cases related to security incidents.
  • Compliance – Forensics help demonstrate due diligence and aid in meeting compliance obligations related to data protection, privacy, or industry-specific regulations.

Forensic investigators often work closely with IT security teams in organizations. When incidents occur, security professionals rely on digital forensic experts to gather evidence to determine what went wrong and prevent future attacks. Forensic reports also validate whether security controls are working as intended.

Forensic capabilities needed for cybersecurity

Certain forensic skills are extremely valuable from a cybersecurity perspective. Some capabilities that bridge the two domains include:

  • Threat hunting – Proactively searching through networks and endpoints to identify evidence of compromise, suspicious behaviors, or attacker activity.
  • Live forensics – Analyzing active systems and volatile memory to capture running processes, network connections, open files, etc. to find real-time indicators of compromise.
  • Log/event analysis – Reviewing audit logs, security logs, and system event logs to reconstruct timelines, detect anomalies, or identify attack footprints.
  • Network forensics – Inspecting network traffic using sniffers and other tools to extract artifacts useful for detecting intrusions, malware, or policy violations.
  • Cloud forensics – Investigating infrastructure, platform, and software as a service (SaaS) environments involving remote acquisition and analysis of cloud-based evidence.
  • Mobile forensics – Recovering and parsing through data from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to find clues relevant to the incident.
  • Reverse engineering – Disassembling malware samples, analyzing code, and understanding attacker tools and tactics.
  • E-discovery – Identifying and collecting electronically stored information to support litigation requirements related to cyber incidents.

Security analysts who possess these forensic skills can hunt for attackers trying to infiltrate systems, investigate ongoing intrusions, and quickly remediate incidents. This allows better alignment between cyber defense and digital forensics.

Key differences between cybersecurity and forensics

While there are many overlapping areas, cybersecurity and forensics also have distinct focuses in some regards:

Cybersecurity Digital Forensics
Future focused – Concentrates on preventing future attacks Past focused – Involves investigating previous incidents
Proactive monitoring and protection Reactive incident response
Real-time analysis and alerting In-depth post-mortem analysis
Ongoing activity Temporary, case-driven investigations
Broad defensive strategies for entire organizations Targeted evidence gathering for specific cases
Streamlined, automated tools and techniques Meticulous recovery and documentation

These differences come down to cybersecurity focusing on defensive protection of entire systems while forensics deals with focused investigative analysis after incidents. But cybersecurity programs benefit immensely from integrating forensic capabilities to enable rapid response.

How are cybersecurity and forensics converging?

The line between cybersecurity and forensics is getting blurred as cyber defenses become more proactive and forensic techniques get adopted earlier in response processes. Some key trends include:

  • Shift left – Forensics is shifting left in the incident response process, with investigative capabilities like data collection and analysis happening earlier to enable faster response.
  • Threat hunting – Proactive threat hunting is gaining adoption which relies heavily on forensic techniques to look for footprints of adversaries in networks and endpoints.
  • Integration and automation – Cybersecurity tools are leveraging forensic technology like file carving, data recovery, and behavioral analytics to automatically collect evidence and speed up incident response.
  • Unification – Organizations are establishing unified security and forensics teams instead of siloed units to seamlessly integrate forensic capabilities into core cyber defenses.
  • Mainstreaming of forensics – Availability of streamlined forensic tools is enabling democratization of forensic techniques allowing more IT staff to leverage these capabilities.

As cyberattacks become sophisticated, defenders need to be able to quickly trace attacker activity to respond swiftly. This requires embedding forensic practices into core security operations for rapid identification, containment, and recovery from incidents.

Should you pursue a career in cybersecurity or forensics?

With the increasing integration between the two fields, pursuing a career in either cybersecurity or digital forensics can offer overlapping skillsets. Some factors to consider are:

  • Those interested in proactive strategic planning, risk management, and prevention of cyber attacks may be better suited for cybersecurity roles.
  • Those who enjoy piecing together evidence, solving mysteries, and detailed technical analysis may be better fit for a forensics career.
  • Developing expertise in only one area early in your career can help you establish proficiency in that domain.
  • Cross-training across cybersecurity and forensics allows you to take on more versatile hybrid roles later.
  • Getting experience in different subdomains like network forensics, malware analysis, threat intelligence, vulnerability assessment, etc. broadens your skillset.
  • Understanding the integration between cyber defense and forensics will make you a valuable asset regardless of your primary job function.

Overall, looser boundaries between the two fields allow movement across different roles. Keep an open mind, build diverse skills, and identify how you can add value at the intersection of cybersecurity and forensics.


Forensics and cybersecurity are closely aligned disciplines that share tools, techniques, and overall goals. Forensics provides crucial investigative capabilities that enable stronger cyber defenses and rapid incident response. As cyber threats get more sophisticated, tight integration of forensic practices into security operations will become imperative. Organizations should leverage forensics as a force multiplier for cybersecurity programs, while cyber professionals should gain forensics skills to become well-rounded defenders.