What is Cloud Forensics.

March 25, 2024

The continuing migration of consumer and corporate data to the cloud is driven by many factors including technological advancements and evolving business needs. On the surface, our demand for more cloud data storage might appear to be fueled by our seemingly ubiquitous use of smart phones and other mobile devices, but enterprises are also leveraging the cloud for technological advancements and business innovation. And there’s no end in sight for cloud data storage.

As cloud adoption continues to grow, the importance of cloud forensics in legal and incident response investigations will only increase. As a result, law enforcement and enterprise investigators are relying on cloud forensics and data extraction tools to identify and preserve digital evidence stored in cloud environments.

“With the amount of data increasing, not just on cloud servers but in the storage on mobile devices, computer artifacts, even IoT devices, the valuable information available to investigations is also increasing exponentially,” said Lee Reiber, CEO of Oxygen Forensics. “So is the need for better cloud extraction capabilities.”

View all of Lee’s prediction for 2024 →

As law enforcement and enterprise investigators are forced to sift through a seemingly endless amount of cloud data, their cloud forensics capabilities can be streamlined using targeted cloud data extractions.

Table of Contents

What is cloud forensics?

Cloud forensics, a type of digital forensics, is the application of forensic investigation techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret digital evidence stored in cloud environments. As more organizations transition their data storage and computing resources to cloud-based platforms, there’s a growing need for forensic methodologies tailored to these environments.

Read: What is digital forensics? →

Here’s an overview of cloud forensics:

Digital evidence in the cloud – Cloud environments encompass various services and resources provided by third-party providers accessible over the internet. These services include Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Digital evidence in cloud environments may include user data, communication (Voice/Text,), files, system logs, network traffic, configuration settings, and metadata.

Investigative process – The investigative process in cloud forensics typically involves several stages, including evidence identification, acquisition, preservation, analysis, and reporting. Investigators use specialized tools and techniques to collect and analyze digital evidence from cloud-based storage, applications, and infrastructure.

Challenges in cloud forensics – Cloud forensics presents unique challenges compared to traditional digital forensics conducted on physical devices. These challenges include jurisdictional issues, data privacy concerns, multi-tenancy, dynamic resource allocation, data encryption, and lack of direct physical access to hardware.

Legal and regulatory considerations – Cloud forensics must adhere to legal and regulatory requirements governing the collection, handling, and admissibility of electronic evidence. Investigators must consider issues such as data ownership, privacy laws, chain of custody, and the authentication of digital evidence to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Types of cloud forensics – Cloud forensics can be categorized into three main types based on the location of the investigation:

  • Remote forensics – Involves conducting forensic analysis without physical access to the cloud infrastructure. Investigators rely on remote access tools and techniques to collect and analyze digital evidence from cloud environments.
  • In-cloud forensics – Involves conducting forensic analysis within the cloud environment itself. Investigators utilize native cloud forensics tools provided by cloud service providers (CSPs) to collect and analyze digital evidence without transferring data to external locations.
  • Hybrid forensics – Combines elements of remote and in-cloud forensics. Investigators may collect some evidence remotely and perform analysis within the cloud environment for efficiency or compliance reasons.

Tools and techniques – Various tools are available for conducting cloud forensics, including cloud-capable forensic suites, network analysis tools, log analysis tools, memory forensics tools, and data visualization software. These tools help investigators extract, correlate, and analyze digital evidence from cloud environments efficiently.

History of cloud forensics

Cloud forensics history began with the evolvement as a branch of digital forensics as enterprises, organizations, and consumers migrated more data to cloud computing environments. New forensic strategies, processes and tools were required to specifically investigate and analyze digital evidence stored in cloud computing environments. Here’s a brief history:

Early 2000s – The concept of cloud computing started to emerge with the advent of services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Salesforce. Initially, these services were primarily used for storage and application hosting.

In October 2014, Oxygen Forensics by bringing the first cloud extraction tool to the forensic industry — Cloud Extractor.

This innovative and built-in tool was available within the powerful Oxygen Forensic® Detective software and allowed the acquisition of data from Google, iCloud, and Microsoft cloud services, as well as Box, Dropbox, and Bitcasa.

Read: 10 Facts about Cloud Extractor

Since then, cloud services have evolved:

Mid to Late 2000s – Cloud computing gained momentum as more businesses began adopting it for various purposes such as data storage, software as a service (SaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). As the use of cloud services increased, so did the need for forensic investigation capabilities within these environments.

Late 2000s to Early 2010s – Researchers and practitioners started recognizing the unique challenges posed by conducting digital investigations in cloud environments. Traditional forensic techniques, which were designed for standalone systems, were inadequate for dealing with distributed and dynamic cloud infrastructures.

2011 – The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a seminal document titled “Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing.” This publication highlighted the importance of forensic readiness and recommended guidelines for conducting forensic investigations in cloud environments.

2012 – The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) released the “Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing,” which included a section on cloud forensics. This marked a significant milestone in the recognition of cloud forensics as a distinct discipline within the broader field of cybersecurity.

2013 – Various academic and industry conferences started featuring sessions and workshops dedicated to cloud forensics, reflecting the growing interest and awareness in the field.

2014 – The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released ISO/IEC 27037:2012, which provides guidelines for identifying, collecting, and preserving digital evidence in a manner consistent with legal requirements. While not specific to cloud environments, these guidelines laid the groundwork for adapting forensic procedures to cloud computing.

2015-Present – Cloud forensics continued to evolve in parallel with advancements in cloud technologies. Researchers and practitioners have focused on developing specialized tools, techniques, and methodologies tailored to the unique challenges of investigating incidents in cloud environments.

2020s – With the proliferation of cloud-native services, such as server-less computing and containerization, along with multi-factor security new challenges have emerged for cloud forensics practitioners. Efforts are ongoing to address these challenges and develop best practices for conducting investigations in modern cloud architectures.

Overall, the history of cloud forensics reflects the rapid evolution of cloud computing and the continuous efforts of the digital investigation community to adapt forensic techniques to this dynamic and complex computing paradigm.

Benefits of cloud forensics

Legal and enterprise investigations can leverage the benefits of cloud forensics to better identify, gather, and analyze data from cloud environment while also improving accessibility and efficiency.  Often data on a cloud service differs from the data stored on a mobile device or personal computer.  Also, if a device is inaccessible for various reasons (destroyed, locked, unsupported) the data stored on the cloud service is accessible.

Benefits of cloud forensics include:

Efficient investigation – Cloud forensics enables investigators to efficiently gather evidence from various cloud service providers (CSPs) without physically accessing the hardware or infrastructure. This can speed up investigations and reduce downtime associated with traditional forensic methods.

Global accessibility – Cloud forensics allows investigators to access data stored in the cloud from anywhere with an internet connection. This global accessibility facilitates collaboration among forensic teams located in different geographical locations, improving the efficiency of investigations.

Scalability – Cloud environments offer scalability, allowing forensic investigators to handle large volumes of data efficiently. As cloud services can dynamically allocate resources based on demand, investigators can scale their forensic tools and processes to handle increasing data volumes without significant upfront investment.

Preservation of evidence – Cloud forensics ensures the preservation of digital evidence in a forensically sound manner. By following established protocols and procedures, investigators can maintain the integrity and admissibility of evidence, which is crucial for legal proceedings.

Data recovery and reconstruction – Cloud forensics techniques enable investigators to recover and reconstruct digital artifacts even if they have been deleted or modified. This includes recovering deleted files, accessing historical data, and reconstructing user activities to piece together the sequence of events leading to an incident.

Comprehensive analysis – Cloud forensics allows investigators to analyze various types of digital evidence, including user logs, network traffic, application data, and metadata. By correlating different sources of evidence, investigators can gain a comprehensive understanding of the incident and identify the root cause of security breaches or cybercrimes along with both civil and criminal offenses.

Regulatory compliance – Many organizations are required to comply with industry regulations and standards governing data security and privacy. Cloud forensics helps organizations demonstrate compliance by providing evidence of security incidents, data breaches, and the measures taken to mitigate risks.

Cloud forensic tools

Tools and capabilities required for optimum cloud forensics include:

Cloud access — Gaining access to popular cloud services such as WhatsApp, Telegram, iCloud, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Mobile — Extract data from tens of thousand devices including Apple iOS and Android devices.

Learn more about Mobile Forensics →

IoT Devices — Extract and analyze data from popular IoT devices including Amazon, Alexa, and Google Home.

Computers — Extract and analyze data from Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Passwords — Find passwords and token of web browsers and desktop apps.

Drones — Extract and analyze drone data from physical dumps, drone logs, and mobile applications.

Wearables — Extract from popular health apps including Apple Health, Samsung Health, Huawei Health, Fitbit, and more.

View more cloud forensic tools →

Cloud forensics is beneficial to investigations

As the amount of data in the cloud increases, so does the need to gather evidence using cloud forensics. Enterprises, law enforcement, and government agencies seeking to gather the evidence their investigations require must be equipped and trained to gather and analyze evidence in the cloud.

Cloud forensic tools

Cloud forensic tools are specialized software and platforms used to investigate and analyze digital evidence in cloud environments. These tools help forensic investigators collect, preserve, analyze, and report on data from cloud-based systems, ensuring that the evidence is maintained in a manner that is defensible and compliant with legal standards. They address unique challenges posed by cloud computing, such as the distributed nature of data, multi-tenancy, and virtualized environments.

Oxygen Forensic® Detective

Oxygen Forensics’ flagship solution, Oxygen Forensic® Detective, was built to support investigators throughout the entire investigative process. It can extract data quickly and completely from the full digital landscape and facilitate deep analysis and flexible reporting in a single platform. It extracts data and artifacts from various sources with capabilities for mobile, cloud, and computer forensic investigations.

Learn more →

Oxygen Remote Explorer

Oxygen Remote Explorer, built for corporate investigations, helps find critical digital evidence quickly and completely, using targeted, remote, and onsite data collection, task scheduling for automatic collection, and powerful search and analytic tools.

Learn more →

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