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Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Explained

Digital forensics is the process of gathering digital evidence following a cyberattack.

6 minutes read

What is DFIR?

DFIR stands for Digital Forensics and Incident Response. It's a field within cybersecurity that deals with identifying, investigating, and responding to cyberattacks. It combines two key areas:

  • Digital Forensics: This involves collecting, preserving, and analyzing evidence left behind by a cyberattack. This evidence can be things like malware files, log data, or even deleted files. The goal is to reconstruct what happened during the attack and identify the culprits.

  • Incident Response: This focuses on stopping the attack as quickly as possible and minimizing the damage. This includes things like isolating infected systems, containing the spread of malware, and restoring data.

DFIR includes analyzing user behavior and system data to uncover any suspicious patterns. The main goal is to gather information about the event by examining different digital artifacts stored on various systems.

DFIR enables analysts to dive deep into the root causes of an incident, ensuring that threats are fully eradicated and that similar attacks can be prevented in the future.

A brief history of DFIR

The roots of DFIR can be found in the early years of computer forensics when the main objectives were data analysis and recovery. However, the growing complexity and frequency of cyber threats—and the need for a more proactive and comprehensive approach—led to incident response procedures being included in the digital forensics framework, giving rise to DFIR.

Digital evidence: The backbone of DFIR

Digital evidence forms the basis of DFIR procedures and investigations and can cover a vast array of artifacts, including user activity log files, network traffic, and system configurations. 

Aside from being foundational to DFIR, practitioners use digital evidence to help in the attribution and prosecution of cybercriminals. They do this by carefully analyzing digital evidence to identify hackers’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

The human element: Incident responders

In DFIR operations, people are still more important than equipment and technology. Professional incident responders can handle complicated situations with dexterity and accuracy because they bring knowledge, experience, and intuition to the table. 

As the last line of defense against cybercriminals, incident responders increase resistance to cyberattacks by working together and exchanging information.

Digital forensics

Let’s dig a little deeper to understand DFIR, namely, the four key steps involved in digital forensics:

  1. Data collection: Collecting data from a range of sources including system logs, network traffic, and storage devices

  2. Examination: Scrutinizing collected data for any anomalies or suspicious activities

  3. Analysis: Interpreting and correlating digital evidence to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to the incident

  4. Reporting: Documenting findings and presenting a comprehensive report detailing the forensic analysis conducted and conclusions drawn

Incident response

Incident response involves the methodical assessment of systems and networks to effectively respond to a security incident.

There are six steps required for a robust incident response:

  1. Preparation: Establishing incident response policies, procedures, and teams, along with conducting regular training and drills to enhance preparedness

  2. Detection and analysis: Detecting and analyzing indicators of compromise (IOCs) to pinpoint the exact nature and scope of the security incident

  3. Containment: Quarantining affected parts of the system so that other areas can continue operating

  4. Eradication: Removing the identified root cause from all affected systems

  5. Recovery: Returning the system to its pre-incident state while implementing additional security measures to prevent recurrence

  6. Post-incident review: Reviewing lessons learned to help prevent the incident from re-occurring; often includes a post-mortem report 

That last step is crucial, especially in terms of identifying areas in need of improvement and weak spots that require strengthening. 

Benefits of DFIR

Organizations can reap multiple benefits when implementing DFIR, but here are the top four:

  • Preventing issue recurrence: DFIR reduces the odds of security incidents occurring in the future by acting as an informative feedback loop. It enables you to proactively improve your security posture by identifying and remediating the root cause of an issue.

  • Evidence protection during threat resolution: DFIR guarantees digital evidence integrity and preservation, which is crucial for an investigation after the incident—and for the prosecution of cybercriminals.

  • Improved assistance during litigation: DFIR offers thorough records of security events, supporting businesses in court cases and adhering to regulations.

  • Enhanced approach to threat recovery: By reducing downtime, effective DFIR enables quick recovery from security incidents, which can reduce business impact.

Tools for DFIR

As with everything else, the tools you work with will have a significant impact on incident response. 

DFIR practitioners use a wide range of specialized technologies designed for various elements of cybersecurity, such as threat intelligence and forensic investigation. 

By enabling businesses to quickly and efficiently identify, look into, and address cybersecurity events, these solutions help reduce the effects of security breaches and protect digital assets.

Forensic analysis platforms 

DFIR practitioners rely on analysis to examine forensic evidence collected during investigations. These platforms facilitate the extraction, preservation, and analysis of data from various sources.

Security information and event management (SIEM) solutions

SIEM solutions play a key role in DFIR by aggregating and correlating security event data across your environment. SIEM platforms offer real-time monitoring, alerting, and analysis of security incidents, empowering organizations to swiftly respond to threats.

Cloud detection and response (CDR) tools

With the help of CDR solutions, you can identify and look into questionable activity within your cloud deployments. These technologies improve cloud-based DFIR capabilities, successfully reducing security risks.

Malware analysis tools

Malware analysis, which is a part of DFIR, helps identify an incident and contain its impact. A malware analysis tool also enables you to resolve the incident and recover from it.

The investigation process

DFIR investigators use a methodical approach that includes five crucial phases:

  1. Identification: Identify indicators of compromise (IOCs) and security anomalies that require investigation.

  2. Collection: Collect relevant digital evidence from different sources, e.g., cloud platforms, devices, etc.

  3. Analysis: Analyze and correlate the collected digital artifacts to reconstruct the event’s timeline and determine its scope and severity. This is crucial for identifying the threat actors responsible and understanding their TTPs.

  4. Remediation: Enact measures to contain, eradicate, and recover from the incident. E.g., patching vulnerabilities, restoring systems, recovering data, and implementing more robust security policies. 

  5. Post-activity documentation: Meticulously document findings, actions taken, and lessons learned from the incident. Documentation serves as a valuable resource to improve incident response procedures and strengthen your cybersecurity posture over time.

Wiz’ offerings

Wiz offers a suite of solutions tailored to address key aspects of DFIR. They are rooted in cloud security but offer specific features for any cloud environment. 

Cloud detection and response (CDR)

Wiz’s cloud detection and response (CDR) solution is specifically designed to identify, investigate, and respond to complex cloud-native threats. By leveraging both cloud events and runtime events, it offers rapid detection capabilities tailored for cloud environments. 

Key features include:

  • Critical investigation data collection: Including a full process tree and runtime execution data

  • Evidence collection and preservation: Including the ability to copy volumes to forensic accounts and download forensic packages

These capabilities are essential due to the transient nature of cloud resources, ensuring that teams can effectively identify the root cause of issues and maintain the integrity of their cloud environments.

Kubernetes security posture management (KSPM)

Wiz's KSPM solution provides comprehensive visibility into Kubernetes clusters, identifies misconfigurations and vulnerabilities, and offers remediation recommendations. Incorporating KSPM lets you proactively reduce your attack surface within your Kubernetes infrastructure. Furthermore, analyzing the attack path and understanding the blast radius can speed up remediation.

Vulnerability management

Wiz provides vulnerability management for companies to discover, prioritize, and remediate vulnerabilities across their IT environments. An effective vulnerability management process is essential for safeguarding digital assets against exploitation by threat actors.

Cloud security posture management (CSPM)

Wiz's CSPM platform offers continuous monitoring, configuration assessment, and compliance enforcement for your cloud infrastructure. Adopting CSPM allows you to proactively identify and address security gaps, minimizing the likelihood and impact of cybersecurity incidents.

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM)

Wiz offers a CIEM solution, giving you visibility into permissions across all your cloud services. It can identify excessive privileges and potential security risks, plus facilitate least privilege access policies. Having a solution with integrated CIEM capabilities can enhance your ability to detect and respond to insider threats and credential-based attacks.

Conclusion

DFIR applies to your cloud estate end to end. It takes multiple solutions, like CDR, KSPM, vulnerability management, CSPM, and CIEM, to connect all the dots that caused an incident. 

By including all these tools into a single platform, Wiz helps teams perform effective DFIR across your entire cloud estate. In the event of an incident, your organization can now maintain a strong cybersecurity posture and remain ahead of cyberattackers. This requires a proactive, deliberate effort, but if done right, you’ll be fully prepared when the inevitable attack occurs.

To improve DFIR at your organization, see Wiz in action today.

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