Cloud Topics

Cloud Forensics and the Digital Crime Scene

By Nicole Lim / May 28, 2020

Cloud Forensics and the Digital Crime Scene

Cloud-based services have changed the way many companies do business. By embracing cloud migration, businesses can host their software and applications on inexpensive servers, saving them time, money, and the expense and hassle of managing dedicated hardware.

These services also allow businesses and individuals to store extensive data securely. Cloud-based technologies are convenient and inexpensive but cloud forensics is an issue every business owner should review before implementing these strategies into everyday processes.

What Is Cloud Forensics and How Is It Used?

Cloud forensics refers to investigations that are focused on crimes that occur primarily involving the cloud. This could include data breaches or identity thefts. With cloud forensics implemented, the owner has protection and can better preserve evidence. Without a cloud forensics strategy, the owner may not have rights to all the data or evidence on the cloud, especially if it’s hosted offsite or by a third party.

While cloud services are the standard, cloud forensics is an important issue to address when adopting them for your business. Unlike traditional digital forensics, cloud forensics can be a bit more complicated, since data may be hosted outside of local jurisdictions.

Cloud vs. Digital Forensics

Traditional digital forensics is used to solve cybercrimes. Digital forensics consultants gather evidence from software, data, and other resources to track down hackers or investigate an event.

With digital forensics, any evidence that’s found is admissible in a court of law within the jurisdiction. Most of the time, the evidence found belongs to the owner of the technology, making it easy to gain permission to use this evidence in the case.

Cloud forensics makes this hunt for evidence a little more complex. While the investigator follows the same methods in cloud forensics as they would in traditional digital forensics, the lines may blur on who owns the evidence and where it’s admissible in court.

With cloud-based services, data may be stored off-site in several locations, or on a server owned by a third party. The rules are determined by the types of services involved.

Types of Cloud Services

The types of services a business or individual chooses to implement will ultimately depend on their goals and needs. They could choose between SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS cloud services.


When you implement software from a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, the software and all its related data remain on the cloud. You can access this software from anywhere with an internet connection, such as a laptop or tablet.

The company selling on the SaaS marketplace allows the application to be hosted on the cloud. Therefore, the provider is responsible for managing the software content and data.


If you’re an app or software developer, you may use a PaaS (Platform as a Service) infrastructure to design products that you’ll eventually sell on a cloud marketplace. You aren’t required to invest in hardware or hosting to design and implement your software, making PaaS infrastructure a more affordable option for app development. As the owner of the PaaS platform, you’re responsible for the data and applications within it but not the storage, network, servers, or operating system.


With an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) platform, your computer infrastructure is hosted by a third-party cloud provider. The provider owns your network and storage but you’re still partially responsible for the integrity of the data, middleware, applications, and operating system used within the IaaS.

Types of Clouds

In addition to the types of services offered, there are also different types of clouds that can muddy the waters for cloud forensics. Users can choose between private and public clouds, a community cloud, or a hybrid.

Public Cloud

Businesses that use the public cloud for their applications hire a cloud service provider to store their data off-site. They can access software, networks, and servers at any time from any device.

The company shares this cloud with other businesses that are all storing data and applications.

While sharing the same computer infrastructure with other businesses can be cost-effective, the company has little control over data security. A public cloud is not advised for companies that store sensitive data or need to adhere to certain data handling regulations.

Private Cloud

With a private cloud, a business implements its own cloud-based services and storage, generally on the premises. The company is responsible for developing its own applications and infrastructure and for managing its own data and security.

This is generally a more expensive cloud-based storage option and is best for businesses that need to comply with certain data storage regulations. Cloud forensics investigators have access to all data and the entire infrastructure, which can be helpful if an issue arises.

Community Cloud

A community cloud meshes together principles from both the public and private cloud. A cloud service provider offers the business an established infrastructure, including applications and software, that it shares with other businesses.

However, the company’s data storage is private. This type of cloud is best for companies that don’t want to invest time in developing their own infrastructure but that are equally concerned with data privacy and ownership of data.

Hybrid Cloud

With a hybrid cloud, the data a company stores on the cloud is split between both public and private storage. The business can store its sensitive data on its own private cloud but allow the rest of the infrastructure to be stored on the public cloud.

The hybrid cloud allows companies to save money on their cloud-based services while still protecting private data. However, the cloud service provider still owns the data stored on the public cloud, which can make it hard for cloud forensics investigators to do their job after a data breach.

How Cloud Forensics Impacts User Security, Privacy

Although cloud computing is known as a safe and secure way to store data, issues can still arise. If there’s a data breach or another type of digital crime, cloud forensics investigators need access to all evidence to help solve the crime. This evidence also needs to be admissible in court to charge criminals.

Cloud infrastructures could make these investigations harder because victims may not own all the data or evidence. If it’s hosted in a different jurisdiction, it may not be admissible. Users also may not have control over whether third parties tamper with their data since they’re not the sole owners of that data on a public cloud.

While cloud-based technology is convenient, inexpensive, and useful, it’s important to understand how cloud forensics are affected when you use these services. Take advantage of this technology but ensure you’re choosing the right type of services to protect your business, data, and customers.