As the Industrial Internet of Things rises to prominence and connected devices become commonplace, digital evidence has become a regular occurrence in legal proceedings following a crime. Devices store a wide range of digital evidence, including sensitive data, text messages, and social media profiles that individuals in the criminal justice field can leverage in various legal cases. In particular, the information that law enforcement discovers on these devices provides forensic insights into data breaches and cybercrime.

Establishing and upholding the integrity of the chain of custody requires stringent regulations regarding which entities have permission to access information. Thus, to ensure the evidence’s veracity, the chain of custody must be immutable. Individuals must follow each step and maintain the chain of custody to guarantee that the evidence is not tampered with or contaminated. If the chain of custody is not sealed and preserved, the evidence submitted in court may be ruled inadmissible.

Digital evidence protection requires security measures that surround the data with a barrier that prevents cybercriminals from infringing upon highly sensitive information, but all barriers have their limitations and weaknesses. Hence, it is time to implement data privacy and protection technology that enables evidence to govern itself. To learn more about the impact of emerging security technologies on the chain of custody, read on.


What Is the Chain of Custody in Digital Forensics?

The “chain of custody” is a term commonly used by individuals who work in the criminal justice field. These individuals leverage the chain of custody to demonstrate cases and prove or disprove compliance with the law. The chain of custody is also a security measure that protects the privacy of highly sensitive data and assets that belong to both individuals and organizations. 

The chain of custody is instrumental in upholding the integrity of the law and sanctity of data. It allows individuals working in criminal justice to monitor individuals who have accessed the evidence, the specific time at which the data was collected or transferred, and the reason for this transfer. As a result, it allows the courts to ensure that the evidence has not been tampered with or compromised. In the realm of digital forensics, electronic evidence may be acquired from a variety of sources, including IoT devices, video recordings, and other relevant data stored within physical media, such as hard drives or flash drives.


The Chain of Custody Process

The chain of custody for any evidence — digital or otherwise — involves a sequence of events, including possession, analysis, and disposition in a court of law. If any steps within the chain are compromised, the evidence may be rendered as inadmissible. To preserve the digital chain of custody, each step must be confirmed as correct to ensure the data’s integrity. The process typically proceeds as follows:

Data Collection

The chain of custody in a court of law begins with collecting evidence. The collection process entails identifying, labeling, and acquiring data related to each case. This may include accessing cloud-based storage, downloading files and profiles, or physically taking hard drives and devices to be examined. During the data collection process, it is critical that the evidence is clearly logged and categorized, with measures put in place to protect it in each subsequent step.


The chain of custody requires extensive documentation to outline the forensic process in the examination phase. The individuals that complete the examination must record the process to clearly identify which tasks were completed. Often, this may include ongoing screenshots taken throughout the examination. This documentation will help establish what has or has not been accessed or altered to maintain the veracity of the data when brought to trial.


The analysis stage is the direct result of the examination. During this stage, individuals use legally justifiable methods to uncover information that will address any questions that are posed in a case. Whereas the data examination tends to be a broad overview, the analysis will target for granularity and specific data that is relevant in the context of the case.


The final stage of this process is reporting. It is the stage during which individuals compile all information regarding the examination and analysis. Reporting includes a statement pertaining to the chain of custody, tools, and methodologies. This stage also requires a detailed description of the process that individuals used to analyze the data sources. Lastly, reporting entails documenting any issues or vulnerabilities identified by investigators, as well as recommendations for further inquiry.


Self-Protecting Data Is Crucial within the Chain of Custody

In the past, cybersecurity professionals intended for data protection technology to function as a perimeter around sensitive information through the implementation of an infrastructure associated with hardware or firewalls. However, as cybercriminals become more adept at compromising highly sensitive information and cyberattacks increase in breadth and sequence, it is evident that traditional means of protecting digital evidence are no longer sufficient. To uphold the integrity of evidence in a court of law, the criminal justice sector must implement technological innovations that provide self-contained protection embedded within the chain of custody. 

With Sertainty UXP technology, the judicial system can assert and mandate an advanced Standard Operating Procedure as means to handle digital evidence. Essentially, Sertainty UXP Technology will enable the preservation and tracking of evidence on an end-to-end basis.

When the court implements self-protecting data within the chain of custody, digital evidence can determine its environment whenever there is an attempt to access information. If the data detects that an entity is tampering with evidence, it will respond in the appropriate manner. The response may entail requesting access to this information, denying access to the evidence, or alerting officials that there has been an unauthorized attempt to access the data.

Furthermore, Sertainty UXP technology will confirm chain of custody and its integrity through anti-tampering technology. This innovative measure provides a record of each entity that has made an attempt to access highly sensitive evidence and its environment.


Establishing a Secure Chain of Custody with Sertainty

Valuable forensic data will be dismissed if it appears that the chain of custody is compromised in any way. As cyberattacks and data breaches increase in every sector, it is critical that legal professionals embed self-protecting data security technologies within digital forensic information.

Here at Sertainty, we understand that information is the most valuable asset of any business and the cornerstone of modern criminal investigations. That’s why we address data privacy and protection with our breakthrough UXP Technology. By partnering with Sertainty, organizations tending to criminal justice and beyond can rest assured that their security is specific, provable, and manageable by building privacy intelligence directly into their data. The Sertainty data privacy platform empowers sensitive data to defend, govern, and track itself, so privacy isn’t lost when the traditional measures of application, network, and infrastructure security, fails.

When it comes to chain of custody, data evidence must be beyond reproach. Outdated privacy measures have the potential to undermine entire investigations. Instead, the data chain of custody requires cutting-edge security standards. For evidence that’s certain, turn to Sertainty.