STEP 1: Familiarize Yourself with the Best Practices of Writing a Digital Forensic Report
Before you begin with the writing process, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most important principles to keep in mind the entire time.
These can be summarized as follows:
Don’t break the law when collecting, processing, analyzing, or handling evidence
No law enforcement officer or digital forensics investigator is above the law, so everyone’s rights need to be respected during the entirety of the investigation. The forensic report you present needs to make this clear beyond any doubt, so you should state any warrants you’ve obtained to search and confiscate a device, etc.
Only mention the information that’s relevant
Just think of it like telling a story. If it fails to captivate the reader’s attention, there is a risk the reader will put it down before getting to the end.
The purpose of a digital forensics report is to help the reader connect the dots and lead them on a journey of discovery.
Focus on concrete facts rather than your personal opinions
When trying to get someone to answer for their deeds and convict them in court, you’re going to need more than just a subjective opinion, so focus on stating concrete evidence and facts.
Remember that anyone can argue with someone’s opinion, but facts are indisputable.
Utilize any forensics notes you’ve made during the investigation itself
Did your work begin with suspicion or a clue you started investigating? This can add value and enrich the section where you talk about the stages of the investigation and how you came to your conclusions.
If a particular part of the digital forensics process was especially challenging, shed some light on why that was the case and how you managed to overcome these challenges.
Avoid using complex terms and focus on conveying the relevant information in a manner that is coherent and simple to understand
The reason being is that not everyone who will read the report has the same professional background as you.
During the investigation and legal proceedings, expect to be working with IT professionals, legal professionals, and law enforcement personnel who all need to be kept on the same page. Of course, you shouldn’t strip out all of the industry terms such as IP addresses, timestamps, hash values, and similar, all of which can be crucial pieces of evidence.
However, when mentioning these, you should include a glossary at the end where others can read up on the exact definitions of the technical terms.
Automate the process if you can
If you stick to the end, we’ll show you how.
To give you a quick spoiler: there are certain dedicated digital forensics solutions such as SalvationDATA’s Digital Forensic Lab that take out the heavy lifting of having to write a digital forensics report on your own, with a built-in chain of custody compliance, timestamps, etc.
STEP 3: Write the Digital Forensics Report
Now comes the most important step of all – actually writing the digital forensics report.
Since you’re now familiar with the best practices of how to approach the task, we can move on to the exact structural specifics of it.
Please include the name of the case, the investigator in charge, and the relevant dates.
b) Table of contents
Just like a book, your digital forensic report should list out every section and map out the corresponding page of the chapter.
If you’re using a popular text editor like Microsoft Word, this section can be auto-generated.
c) Case summary
This section should provide a general overview of the case.
Do not include too many details and try to avoid technical jargon if possible.
The summary of the evidence submitted comes first. After that, you should list one after another and include screenshots if needed, besides, make sure to provide an explanation for each.
In this section, it’s fine to list any relevant hardware specifics such as the model name, serial numbers, etc.
In essence, the objectives section should attempt to answer the question of what you’re trying to prove.
That being said, what was the objective of the investigation?
Don’t forget to include your hypothesis and any relevant search terms.
f) Steps taken during an investigation (aka. Forensic Analysis).
This section should outline the steps taken during the investigation, including the digital forensics methodology used and any interactable parts of the process.
You should also consider including additional explanations that extrapolate the process and give valuable insights into how crucial conclusions were made.
For the sake of readability and maintaining the chain of custody, you should also provide a timeline of events that specifies who handled the evidence, for how long, and for what purpose.
g) Tools used
What digital forensic tools did you rely on during the digital forensics investigation? Outline them briefly and explain what purpose each of them served, including any limitations of said tools.
Attaching screenshots of the process and describing it can help make it sound clearer and more understandable to follow even for non-industry professionals involved in the case and/or legal procedure.
h) Relevant findings
Re-iterate the most important conclusions here and don’t be afraid to go into as many details as you see fit. Anything you state here should be directly related to the main objectives of the digital forensics investigation.
This is where you explain each piece of evidence and clearly pinpoint what it proves in a way that even non-industry professionals can understand.
i) Recommended next steps
This section should be short (no longer than a paragraph).
In it, suggest what the council can do with these findings and how to go from here.
Should criminal charges be filed?
j) Appendices (optional)
Not required, but it can make or break a case sometimes.
This is where you’ll be presenting your exhibit A, exhibit B, etc. You should present them in a PDF format that can be easily opened anywhere all while retaining its intended formatting.
Make sure that any hyperlinks it contains are clickable and that they link to relevant resources.
k) Formatting (optional)
This is mainly for the sake of the document having a professional appearance.
Having each page marked with a number also makes it easy to detect if someone tried to tamper with the report by removing a page (or if one of them accidentally goes missing).
Make sure the logo of your law enforcement organization is clearly visible in the header and footer of each page, as well as the corresponding address and the person in charge.
l) Figures (optional)
Your digital forensics report will likely contain various figures scattered throughout the document.
It’s nice to have a dedicated page where all of these can be reviewed in the same place.
Make sure there is a description alongside every figure stated.
m) Glossary (optional)
At some point when writing the report, there will be no other way than to mention some technical or industry-specific terms, although the best practice is to avoid them in general or at least keep them to a minimum.
Including a glossary at the end of the document will help non-industry professionals understand the complex terms mentioned in the report.
Make sure to include only those that you actually referenced during writing.