For everything from minor network infractions to devastating cyberattacks and data privacy troubles, digital forensics software can help clean up the mess and get to the root of what happened.
Since the inception of data forensics almost forty years ago, methods for investigating security events have given way to a market of vendors and tools offering digital forensics software (DFS).
While several open-source tools exist for disk and data capture, network analysis, and specific device forensics, a growing number of vendors are building off what’s publicly available. As cybercrime flourishes and evolves, organizations need a fleet of tools to defend and investigate incidents.
This article looks at the top digital forensic software tools of 2021 and what customers should consider when buying or acquiring a DSF tool.
Best Digital Forensics Software Tools of 2021
The Sleuth Kit and Autopsy
Starting with the most popular open-source digital investigation tools, The Sleuth Kit (TSK) and Autopsy have long been reliable solutions for volume system forensic analysis. The Sleuth Kit enables administrators to analyze file system data via a library of command-line tools for investing disk images. Autopsy is its GUI and a digital forensics platform used widely in public and private computer system investigations to boost TSK’s abilities.
Analysts consider The Sleuth Kit and Autopsy to be one of the best available solutions for disk and data capture tools. For an open-source product, this combination is user-friendly and extensible for an array of users and devices. Critical capabilities include timeline analysis, hash filtering, file and folder flagging, and multimedia extraction.
Founded in 1991 in Waterloo, Ontario, OpenText offers enterprise content management, networking, automation, discovery, security, and analytics services. Under their Security Suite products, OpenText provides industry-renowned EnCase. EnCase solutions include Endpoint Security (EDR), Endpoint Investigator (DFIR), Forensic, Mobile Investigator, and Advanced Detection.
Together, EnCase’s capabilities include recovering evidence from multiple device types and hard drives, automating the preparation of evidence, deep and triage analysis, and in-depth evidence collection and preservation. Like TSK and Autopsy, OpenText specializes in disk and data capture tools.
The Computer-Aided Investigative Environment (CAINE) is an open-source Ubuntu- and Linux-based distribution created by Italian developers for digital forensic purposes. CAINE offers interoperable software that integrates with existing security tools to provide a user-friendly GUI. As it’s open-source, organizations can redistribute and modify their needs for Windows, Linux, and Unix systems.
Some of the critical features CAINE provides are automatic extraction of timelines from RAM, configurable features and tools, and a handful of other tools that make our list for top DSF solutions. These tools include TSK and Autopsy, Wireshark, and PhotoRec, making CAINE a comprehensive pick for Linux distros specializing in digital forensic investigations.
Another top Linux distro for digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) is the Ubuntu-based SIFT Workstation. Offering an array of free and open-source DFIR solutions, the SIFT Workstation provides three options for deployment: Download virtual machine, Native installation on Ubuntu system, or Installation on Windows via Linux subsystem.
Developed by the SANS Institute in 2007, SIFT works on 64-bit OS, automatically updates the software with the latest forensic tools and techniques, and is a memory optimizer. Customers cite its efficacy given its open availability for organizations and the ability to create snapshots and avoid cross-contamination utilizing the VM appliance.
The first version of Volatility was launched at Black Hat and DefCon in 2007 and based its services around academic research into advanced memory analysis and forensics. Today the nonprofit Volatility Foundation is a top digital forensics vendor because of its innovative memory forensics technology. Investigators know Volatility for its tools that analyze runtime states using RAM data.
Compatible with Windows, Linux, and macOS, Volatility uses in-depth research into OS internals, malicious code, and anomalies to enhance its tools. Features that Volatility offers include an embedded API for lookups of PTE flags, support for Kernel Address Space Layout Randomization (KASLR), and automated execution of Failure command after multiple failed starts.
X-Ways Forensics is based on the WinHex hex and disk editor and offers three additional tools to provide advanced disk and data capture software. Investigators can use WinHex or X-Ways’ Forensics, Investigator, and Imager for disk cloning and imaging with an integrated computer forensic environment.
A few of the noteworthy features X-Ways offers include automatic detection of lost or deleted partitions, read partitioning for file system structures inside .dd image files, and analysis of remote computers. X-Ways tools can access disks and RAID configurations and easily detect NTFS and ADS. With templates to view and edit binary data, administrators can also provide write protection for preserving data integrity.
Started in 1999 in Israel, Cellebrite is a digital intelligence company that specializes in mobile device forensics. Alongside the boom of mobile devices, Cellebrite has become a leading provider for law enforcement and enterprises that need to collect, review, analyze, or manage device data. With their Digital Intelligence Investigative Platform, Cellebrite boasts services that unify the investigative lifecycle and preserve digital evidence.
While Cellebrite offers a range of DFIR tools, the Cellebrite UFED is known as one of the best commercial tools for digital device forensics. Be it advanced locks, encryption barriers, or deleted and unknown content, the UFED (Universal Forensic Extraction Device) can extract physical and logical data. UFED’s recovery methods include exclusive bootloaders, automatic EDL capability, and smart ADB.
ProDiscover launched in 2001 to help public and private organizations solve digital crimes. In 2021, the India-based provider works in over 70 countries with more than 400 clients, including the NIST, NASA, and Wells Fargo. ProDicover offers three products that prioritize computer forensics, incident response, electronic discovery, and corporate policy compliance investigations: Forensics, Incident Response (IR), and ProDiscover Pro.
From locating data on a computer disk to protecting evidence and creating reports for future use, ProDiscover’s solutions offer a range of features that optimize the digital forensic investigation lifecycle. These features include extracting EXIF data from JPEG files, creating copies of suspicious disks, and support for VMware to run captured images. ProDiscover products support Windows, Mac, and Linux file systems.
First developed in 1998, Wireshark gained popularity in the decade after and today as one of the world’s most popular network protocol analyzers. Specializing in the forensic investigation of entire networks, Wireshark analyzes network packets and conducts testing and troubleshooting. This includes deep inspection of hundreds of protocols in a standard three-pane packet browser that encapsulates data structures. Wireshark is multi-platform compatible running on Windows, Linus, macOS, Solaris, FreeBSD, and NetBSD.
Almost a decade ago, instances of superuser privileges on Wireshark posed severe threats to users analyzing raw network traffic. That said, Wireshark remains one of the most popular open-source tools available, with a substantive list of features. Take on network analysis with VoIP analysis, capture files compressed with gzip, and export outputs to XML, CSV, or plain text.
Read more about Wireshark in our review of Wireshark Pen Testing.
Born in 2007, Xplico is a top network forensics analysis tool (NFAT) and restructures data via a packet sniffer. Unlike Wireshark and other network protocol analyzers, Xplico specializes in Port Independent Protocol Identification (PIPI) to reconstruct application data to identify its protocols. Available as a free and open-source tool, Xplico’s primary objective is to extract application data from an internet traffic capture.
Xplico’s supported protocols include HTTP, IMAP, POP, SMTP, IPv6, and more. When in use, Xplico creates XML files that uniquely identify the flows and pcap contained in each data structure reassembled. Other significant Xplico features include multithreading, SQLite or MySQL integration, no data entry limits, and can execute reserve DNS lookup from DNS pack.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Exterro launched in 2004 and specialized in workflow-driven software and governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) solutions. While all of our picks inherently support organizations’ need to maintain compliance, Exterro is especially valuable to assist in-house legal teams, streamline compliance processes, and control risks. Exterro’s operations are SOC 2 Type 2 certified and FedRAMP Authorized. What thrust Exterro deeper into the DFIR space was its acquisition of industry-known AccessData in December 2020.
For solutions, Exterro offers products across e-discovery, privacy, risk management, and digital forensics. Known for its forensics-focused products dubbed FTK, these products split into Lab, Imager, Enterprise, and API-specific solutions. Together FTK’s capabilities include a wizard-driven approach to detection, charts crafted to visualize data, password recovery for up to 100 apps, and support for pre-and post-refinement.
Noticing that digital forensic tools used by law enforcement were insufficient, Canadian police officer Jad Saliba founded Magnet Forensics in 2011. The company now has 4,000 customers in more than 90 countries, offering digital forensic investigative tools to public and private organizations. Magnet Forensics’ products include Magnet AXIOM for DFIR, Magnet Automate, Atlas, Review for digital evidence collaboration and management, Magnet Ignite, and Outrider for triage solutions. Magnet supports Linux and Windows OS.
For enterprises that need DFIR capabilities, Magnet AXIOM Cyber is worth the consideration. Magnet’s enterprise solution comes with incident response, root cause analysis, investigative capabilities for insider threats and HR, and e-discovery collection, review, and analysis. Other crucial features include hosting AXIOM Cyber in Azure or AWS, off-network remote collection, and case intelligence tools. The Magnet RAM capture feature provides for recording the memory of target devices for future investigations.
Making our top products list for SIEM, threat intelligence, and UEBA this year, LogRhythm is a cybersecurity intelligence company with a range of solutions for organizations. Started in 2003 out of Boulder, Colorado, LogRhythm’s first focus and flagship product was their SIEM software. As the years rolled on network forensics joined the line of solutions and is now a feature known as NetMon in their newly rebranded MistNet Network Detection and Response (NDR).
According to LogRhythm, their network forensics solutions NetMon can also be purchased as a standalone solution. Highlighting the importance of a DFIR strategy, LogRhythm’s solution aggregates packet capture and the derived metadata, preserves the log data, and uses network forensic sensors to fill in the gaps. To test if your forensic data is improving incident response, NetMon also facilitates measuring mean time to respond (MTTR).
The Paraben Corporation entered the cybersecurity marketplace in 1999, focused on digital forensics, risk assessment, and security solutions. Today, in a world with billions of devices, Paraben covers forensic investigations involving email, computers, smartphones, and IoT devices. For forensic investigators, the Parabeb E3 platform is regarded across the industry for its ability to streamline data from multiple sources.
For solutions, Paraben offers E3:Universal covering all devices, E3:DS for mobile forensics, E3:P2C for computer forensics, and E3:EMX for email. A few noteworthy features offered by Paraben include hash databases for filtering, viewers for files, hex, text, RTF, and emails, and automated embedded data detection (OLE). Paraben solutions also offer IoT support for brands like Xbox and Amazon Echo, and cloud support for Google, Dropbox, and Slack.
Global Digital Forensic
Founded in 1992, Global Digital Forensic (GDF) got its start in cybersecurity before zeroing in on the criminal forensics of the digital space. Thirty years later and GDF is a multinational vendor serving hundreds of law firms and attorneys providing investigative resources and expert witnesses. Solutions offerings from GDF include computer forensics and security, e-discovery services, penetration testing, and breach response.
Covering the list of device forensics, GDF provides investigative tools for computers, email, mobile devices, social networks, and disk drives. When disaster hits, the firm offers data retrieval and recovery services, and for ensuring your organization is prepared for disaster, GDF has its forensic readiness assessments. Added features include GPS and smartphone tracking, internet history analysis, image recovery and authentication, and chip-off analysis.
Considerations for Digital Forensics Software (DFS) Solutions
Now that you know the top digital forensics vendor, here’s what’s most important in evaluating DFS solutions.
- How will the solution improve your digital forensics capabilities?
- What types of devices and file formats does the product support?
- Does the software come with a user-friendly interface or training for staff?
- What integrations and plugins are compatible or can be configured for use?
- What advanced analytic features make the solution stand out?
The following sections touch on the importance of DFS capabilities and trends in the DFS market.
Why Do You Need Digital Forensic Software?
You need digital forensics software (DFS) because it plays a crucial role in a comprehensive cybersecurity infrastructure. Vulnerabilities are an inherent part of digital systems, and there’s no shortage of security incidents.
While a security information and event manager (SIEM) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) can offer real-time logging, alert, and defensive capabilities, DFS specializes in investigating IT systems in the context of security events. Digital forensics is often lumped together with incident response efforts – as the combined solution is known as digital forensics and incident response (DFIR).
DFS Product Capabilities
Some key features of digital forensics tools include:
- Advanced data and metadata searches and filtering
- Automatic report generation
- Bit-by-bit copies and disk cloning
- Bookmarking of files and sectors
- Evidence preservation using hashes
- File recovery for hidden and deleted data
- Forensically sound evidence acquisition
- Hash and password cracking
- Image creation and mounting for supporting various formats
- Live and remote acquisition of evidence
- RAM and paging file analysis
- Registry analysis tools
- Write blocking
The Market for Digital Forensics Software
DFS Market Trends
Like other cybersecurity solutions, the demand for tools that aid in combating potential intrusion or adapting to an evolving threat landscape is growing. As IoT devices multiply rapidly, blockchain technology gains more use, and enterprise organizations get hit with increasing cyberattacks, DFS vendors see opportunities where their products can shine.
Digital technologies across product segments and services are reaching a tipping point in regard to their regulation status. Add to this the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) and the result is a future where the integrity of digital systems is imperative. Public authorities are already ramping up initiatives to discuss and explore standards for a secure and productive digital future.
With insights from Mordor Intelligence, Insight Partners, and Markets and Markets, the digital forensics industry was valued at roughly $4-$4.5 billion in 2020. With a CAGR of up to 11%, the market is expected to grow to almost $8 billion by 2026.
For the time being, increasing regulation and scrutiny of sensitive data make banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) the fastest-growing segment of the DFS market.