Addressing Forensic Challenges of Collecting Data in the Cloud

As cloud services such as iCloud and Google Drive become increasingly common, individuals and corporations rely less on physical devices such as computers, hard drives, and mobile phones for their data storage needs. This can increase complications for collecting data in a forensically sound way. When a discovery request is put into place, or an investigation begins, forensic examiners have to jump over additional hurdles to ensure the evidence collected from the cloud can be held up in court. Here, we explain the forensic challenges in identifying and collecting data from the cloud.

No Access to Physical Devices for Collecting Data

Because data on the cloud is located on hardware devices in various geographic locations, it can be difficult for forensic investigators to collect all impacted devices for inspection. In fact, this is only possible when the case involves a private cloud environment. When the case involves a public cloud, it may be more challenging to collect the necessary data.

Decentralized Data

The cloud infrastructure is complex since data can be created, stored, and processed across several data centers in different geographic locations. Additionally, users’ information can be found in separate layers and tiers in the cloud, adding the extra challenge of understanding data from various synchronizations from multiple computers and mobile devices.

Gathering Deleted Data

When a crime occurs, it’s not unlikely for the culprit to deliberately erase important information. In other instances, crucial data is accidentally deleted by users. Whether the data was lost through purposeful deletion or other form of digital spoliation, all hope is not lost.

Using various forensic analysis tools, investigators can recapture the media as evidence. This process is made more complex with the unpredictability and flexibility of the cloud, but it is not altogether impossible to collect the erased information.


One aspect of cloud environments that makes e-discovery difficult is multitenancy. This means many users are using the framework, creating a complex infrastructure. Investigators must show the malicious activity across the different service providers and grab the correct data where it was initially stored.

Data Volatility

Memory on a device can vanish when the power is cut off. This can make obtaining evidence difficult, and this scenario is worse when it involves virtual machines (VMs) and the cloud. Digital evidence such as network logs, registry entries, and temporary internet files will be lost if an attacker or another user turns off the VM. Snapshots of the VM instance should be captured and protected to ensure logs are available in the event of an investigation.

Collecting Forensically Sound Data

The more organizations integrate cloud infrastructures into their operations, the more challenges digital and network forensics specialists face. More accurate and faster-processing e-discovery tools are being developed to collect critical data from the cloud. Corporations can rest assured knowing that their digital forensic examiners are on top of all the latest data collection and forensic investigation developments.

If you’re seeking digital forensic assistance, including cloud or email discovery services, contact us today!



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