Current Challenges in Digital Forensics Investigations

current challenges in digital forensics investigation
Published By Anurag Sharma
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh
Published On May 27th, 2023
Reading Time 7 Minutes Reading
Category Forensics

Digital forensics has been brought first to scientifically derive and prove methods for identifying, collecting, preserving, validating, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting electronic evidence from digital sources. And, with time, cybercrimes have advanced in terms of attack patterns. So, to combat these cybercrimes, a modern-day investigation approach is required. But, the thing is there are some digital forensics investigation challenges that investigators face at the time of practical implementation. 

Let’s explore them in detail.

Different Digital Forensics Investigation Challenge Types

Mainly, the challenges in digital forensics investigation are categorized into 3 parts.

  1. Technical Challenges
  2. Legal Challenges
  3. Resource Challenges

1. Technical Challenges in Digital Forensics Investigation

We’ve seen immense growth in the field of technology. However, the usage of technology has been identified as both positive and negative. While some developers use technology to invent things to benefit mankind, cybercriminals also use technology to fulfill their own malicious intent.

The digital forensics domain has witnessed this one main problem. That is when a technology is developed to identify & investigate criminals, at the same time another technology helped criminals hide themselves.

In the technology world, digital evidence is different from physical evidence. Unlike physical evidence, electronic evidence can be easily manipulated, removed, and/or hidden without leaving any traces that might identify the culprit. 

So, we can say that anti-forensics has become the prime enemy of the digital forensics investigation process.

Here are some of the anti-forensic techniques that cybercriminals follow making the task of an investigator more challenging.

  • Encryption: Information is scrambled via encryption, which can only be read and decoded by someone who has the right decoding key. On the compromised system, encryption is utilized to conceal or render the evidence illegible. Investigators must decrypt the encrypted material in order to make it useable because attackers employ a wide variety of encryption techniques. It takes time, and occasionally, it is impossible to decrypt the encrypted data.
  • Residual Data Wiping: A few unnoticed hidden processes (such as temporary files and command histories) are running when the attacker utilizes a computer to accomplish his objective. However, a clever attacker can minimize this danger by erasing the traces left by his activity and tricking the system into functioning as if it had never been used for that purpose. 
  • Data Hiding in Storage Space: Data are concealed by attackers inside storage spaces and rendered invisible to standard system instructions and programs. It complicates and lengthens the inquiry, and occasionally data corruption also occurs. One of the most often utilized methods for concealing data in storage is the rootkit.
  • Covert Channel: Attackers can disguise data on the network and potentially get around intrusion detection systems by using covert channels in communication protocols. The header of a network protocol is typically altered to leak messages between attackers, taking advantage of the fact that only a small portion of the header is changed during transmission. Attackers make use of these covert channels to keep a covert connection going between themselves and the compromised system. It is harder to recognize.
  • Tail Obfuscation: These terms may sound technical but obscuring the attack’s source is the most widely used approach by criminals. In this case, the attacker changes the file extension and utilizes fake information to deceive the investigator. In light of this, the investigator occasionally risked missing information with forensic significance.
  • Steganography: As an extra secure form of data protection, steganography, an encryption technique, can be used in conjunction with cryptography. It’s a method for concealing any information inside of a file carrier without altering its outside appearance. Using this steganography, attackers can conceal their payloads (hidden data) inside the infected system. An investigator must locate this concealed data when looking into computer crimes in order to make it public and make it available for future use.

challenges in digital forensics investigation

Privacy is important to everyone – for business organizations as well as individuals. In many situations, the computer forensics expert may need to reveal the data or violate privacy in order to discover the truth. 

In the course of daily use, a private company or a single user may produce a lot of private information. Therefore, allowing forensic investigators to look over their data runs the danger of exposing their privacy. 

It becomes difficult when the investigator “accidentally” discovers or comes across information about the crime but is prohibited from using this information against the perpetrator owing to privacy concerns. This has an impact on the entire digital forensics investigative process and makes it more challenging.

3. Resource Challenges in Digital Forensics Investigation

The amount of data involved in a case may be large depending on the circumstances. In that situation, the investigator must review all of the data that was gathered in order to compile evidence. The probe could take longer than expected. Time constraints are yet another difficult task and pose a challenge in digital forensics investigation. 

In the case of memory forensics, since the data stored in volatile memory is transient, user activities are rewritten in the volatile memory. Therefore, only recent data saved in volatile memory can be examined by investigators. As a result, the data’s forensic usefulness for the inquiry is diminished.

When gathering information from the source, an investigator must ensure that nothing is altered or overlooked during the course of the inquiry and that the information is properly protected.

Investigative work is tough due to damaged data sources. Therefore, it is a serious problem when a researcher discovers a useful source that cannot be used.

Now, apart from the above, there are some other factors that make digital forensics investigation challenging.

Digital Forensics Investigation Challenges – Some Other Factors

Three such aspects are there that are becoming obstacles in the investigation process.

1. High Volume

Large-scale data acquisition, storage, and processing issues have been a problem for at least ten years. But, they are currently getting worse due to the accessibility and broad marketing of digital data.

For instance, in the case of live network analysis, this is especially important because the investigator might not be able to record and preserve all the essential traffic. An explosion in the amount of data that needs to be kept and processed for gathering evidence or detecting occurrences is caused by the availability of gigabit-class networks and multimedia-rich material. 

2. Case Complexity

Evidence is now dispersed throughout numerous physical or virtual places, including cloud resources, personal network-attached storage devices, and online social networks, as opposed to being contained within a single host. For this reason, it takes more knowledge, resources, and time to completely and accurately rebuild the evidence. 

To manage the complexity and find the required evidence, investigators need to automate their approach.

Additional Information: Since most cybercrimes involve emails, investigators can find email evidence by using robust software like MailXaminer. It solves the challenges in digital forensics investigation, especially in the field of email analysis to a great extent by performing different Keyword searches.

3. Development of Standards

Files continue to be the most common digital artifacts to be gathered, organized, and studied, despite technological advancements. Therefore, the research community has attempted to come to terms with common formats, schema, and ontologies. But, so far with little success.


The field of cyber forensics is broad in and of itself. The lack of availability of proper guidelines for collection acquisition and presentation of electronic evidence, use of anti-forensic techniques by criminals, use of free online tools for investigation, etc. are some common challenges in digital forensics investigation that need to be addressed. 

To deal with such issues, a specific national law should be applicable to every person who is involved in an investigation. Most importantly, when investigating sensitive data such as emails, professional software such as Email Investigation Tool must be used. Last but not least, as part of an investigation, investigating offices must exercise due diligence.


By Anurag Sharma

Tech enthusiast & cyber expert for the past 5 years. Love to solve complicated scenarios to counter cyber crimes with in-depth technical knowledge.