Battlefield Digital Forensics: Digital Intelligence and Evidence Collection in Special Operations

Troops in contact in the battlefield are very likely to be exposed to the enemy’s digital information. Digital media collection by Special Operation Forces (SOF) might provide the critical information needed to penetrate the enemy’s decision matrix and support legal actions against insurgents.

Following up on Dr William G Perry’s ideas for ‘Assuring Digital Intelligence Collection’, this publication presents a set of tactical techniques for SOF forensics teams to maximize the effectiveness of digital data collection while running combat-compressed operations. The latest technical research findings in terms of digital forensics techniques, anti-forensics measures and acquisition network architectures are considered.

As exploitation of digital information in the battlefield can lead to a strategic payoff, proper electronic evidence collection is one of the biggest challenges for SOF, particularly given the chaos and unpredictability in the battlefield. With the evolution of technology, SOF operators are, however, expected to perform increasingly advanced core activities on-site

This study provides guidance for prioritisation in the ray of force protection, the primary consideration for responders. Their challenge is creating rapid and automated techniques that aim to prioritise collection while establishing a chain of custody. By analysing the tactical requirement and merging it with the available technologies, the authors propose a structured approach toward digital intelligence and evidence collection, in combat compressed operations. From the constraints of combat operations in a hostile environment, different techniques might be adopted and tailored to potentially less restrictive settings ranging from foreign internal defence to counter-terrorism missions where the digital data represent a major payoff.

The project is the joint effort of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, Tallinn Technical University, “La Sapienza” University (Rome) and Military Police Centre of Excellence (Bydgoszcz).

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