Post-Incident Forensics: A Guide to Piecing Together the Puzzle After a Cyberattack

Every business faces obstacles on its path to success. But for numerous companies, weathering a cyberattack is notably one of the most challenging.

No matter its magnitude, a security breach of any size can sap considerable resources and time as an organization tries to resume its normal operations.

A key strategy for organizations to improve security resilience is to conduct post-incident forensic analysis. Equipped with the right tools and techniques, businesses can successfully unravel the sequences of an attack and develop strategies to prevent them from reoccurring.

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What is Post-Incident Forensics?

Most cybersecurity measures are put in place to prevent digital threats to systems and networks. However, post-incident forensics focuses on what to do once an attack has already occurred.

Much like how crime scene experts comb through a crime scene for evidence, digital forensic specialists have a similar job to carry out. Because of today’s complex business frameworks, there are often several potential system or network vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit. Post-incident forensics helps uncover these potential gaps and offers a comprehensive breakdown of the intrusion.

While forensic analysis may not mitigate the immediate impact of a breach, it’s invaluable in pinpointing the origin of the attack and identifying the methods used to infiltrate a vulnerable system.

The Steps of Post-Incident Forensics

Conducting a post-incident forensic investigation isn’t something that’s quick. The process has multiple phases, and the duration can change significantly based on the nature and scale of an attack.

Here are the primary steps involved in post-incident forensic analysis:

Identification and Containment

The first step that begins a post-incident forensics investigation is the identification of an attack. In the event that an attack is currently in progress, this stage is also important to quickly contain an active threat by isolating the affected systems or networks.

Data Collection

To get a clear picture of how a breach occurred, it’s essential to gather information from the impacted systems. This step can be quite lengthy depending on the size of the organization.

But just like every clue counts in a traditional crime scene, the same applies to digital investigations. It’s important for analysts to meticulously sift through the data collected to uncover all possible leads to an attack source.


Once all the digital evidence is collected after a security incident takes place, now is when forensics analysts will carefully study it to look for hidden clues or patterns. This stage can be an exhausting exercise which is why several advanced tools are required to assist in the process.

The primary goal here is to identify every step that was taken to perpetrate the attack and to determine any major gaps in the organization’s security that inadvertently allowed it to happen.


An important element of a post-incident forensics investigation is detailed reporting. Reporting isn’t just necessary to show organizations how an attack happened, though.

In many industries, there are regulatory compliance standards in place that legally require companies to report security incidents to authorities and any affected parties. These reports need to be thorough, accurate and easy to interpret by non-technical audiences.

Cybersecurity Practices that Aid in Post-Incident Forensics

Although many post-incident forensic investigations have a similar structure, organizations have multiple strategies at their disposal to use.

Here are some common cybersecurity practices used:

SOC Audits

Knowing how well your operational controls are performing is an important factor to examine after an incident has occurred. A SOC audit helps to highlight specific vulnerabilities that are present in your organization or helps to validate the effectiveness of its security.

By ensuring that your organization employs the right staff, processes, and technology at all times, a SOC audit can be an important way to benchmark current and future security efforts.

Penetration Testing Services

Trying to replicate an attack using only internal resources or software doesn’t always paint the full picture of a system or network that was compromised. This is why working with a team of external penetration testers (or “ethical hackers”) can provide valuable insights you won’t necessarily be able to find yourself.

Penetration testing services are able to simulate real-world scenarios in a controlled environment with trained experts who can then show you first-hand what tactics, techniques and procedures attackers may have used.

User Behavior Analytics (UBA)

With the rise of AI technology and its ability to collect and analyze huge amounts of information fast and efficiently, user behavior analytics (UBA) is quickly becoming a popular choice for post-incident forensic investigations. Unlike human forensics teams who are limited by their own analytical skills and abilities,

UBA can quickly identify patterns of user behavior that are out of the ordinary. Since the majority of cyber attacks will be driven by specific user behavior, UBA can actually be helpful for recreating how an attacker may have infiltrated a system, as well as accurately predicting where a future attack might come from.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)

With so many organizations expanding their infrastructure into the cloud and adopting modern work-from-home policies, company networks are no longer limited to a fixed perimeter. This makes it significantly more challenging for security teams to harden defenses and keep track of potential security threats.

To help with this problem, endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions expand the reach of traditional security tools to cover each and every endpoint that’s connected to a company’s network.

Whether it’s a server, a local network, or a device accessing the network remotely, EDR solutions use advanced behavioral analysis to monitor and protect each endpoint in real time.

Challenges Faced in Post-Incident Forensics

There is no denying that post-incident forensics can be an important element in developing a strong, reliable security structure. However, the effectiveness and accuracy of these investigations are always challenged by how quickly technology is changing.

The modern threat landscape isn’t static. There are many changing variables associated with how quickly organizations scale their IT infrastructure and adapt to new developments in their industry. While this scale and adaptation is necessary, it also makes traditional post-incident forensics increasingly challenging to carry out.

Attribution is also a significant challenge in post-incident forensic analyses. While security teams often have ample data to diagnose attacks, tracing every origin of an assault can be a monumental task. This is why it’s so important for organizations to have a holistic cybersecurity strategy.

Another challenge is the sheer volume of data to sift through during a post-incident forensics investigation. Unearthing every aspect of a cyberattack can take a considerable time when working with limited staffing resources.

This is why working with external cybersecurity experts can be extremely beneficial. These professionals have teams of experts and advanced technology at their disposal to help expedite the investigations.

Keep Your Organization Safer With Post-Incident Forensics

Considering the frequency of cyberattacks these days, it’s imperative for businesses to understand the significance of post-incident forensics. A meticulous investigation procedure not only helps in thoroughly understanding cyber incidents as they unfold but also highlights ways businesses can protect themselves in the future.

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