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Corporate Digital Forensics and Incident Response Is Maturing Quickly

January 10, 2024

Digital forensics has long since moved from law enforcement labs into corporate environments. Organizations of all sizes—from boutique consultancies to multinational enterprises—have digital forensics and incident response (DFIR) teams charged with investigating human resource complaints, assessing policy violations, uncovering insider threats, and responding to cybersecurity risks.

Given the sensitive nature of the work, it can be difficult for DFIR teams and their leaders to benchmark their maturity, responsibilities, and capabilities against their peers. This survey report addresses that gap. Exterro, in partnership with Security Magazine, polled over 100 corporate DFIR professionals on topics relevant to their day-to-day work. We have analyzed their responses, interpreted the data, and distilled the information. And one of the biggest trends we saw was that compared to the results of our 2022 survey, corporate DFIR is rapidly maturing as a discipline.

Why DFIR Maturity Matters

Treating digital forensics and incident response workflows as a business process—documenting SOPs, allocating resources, defining metrics, and measuring results—leads to increased efficiency and improved outcomes. Mature organizations, who have defined workflows, dedicated resources, structured reporting, and technology solutions, achieve efficiencies that the less mature cannot.

To measure maturity, we asked the 100+ respondents to evaluate their department on the following five-point scale ranging from ad hoc (least mature) to optimized (most mature).

  • Ad Hoc: Procedures or processes are generally informal, incomplete, and inconsistently applied.
  • Repeatable: Procedures or processes exist; however, they are not fully documented and do not cover all relevant aspects.
  • Defined: Procedures and processes are fully documented and implemented, and cover all relevant aspects.
  • Managed: Reviews are conducted to assess the effectiveness of the controls in place.
  • Optimized: Regular review and feedback are used to ensure continuous improvement towards optimization of the given process.

Corporate DFIR Maturity in 2024

In the two years since our last corporate DFIR survey, organizations have taken significant strides forward in terms of maturity. In 2022, over half (55%) of respondents rated their maturity level as “ad hoc” or “repeatable,” the lowest two ranking on our five-point scale. In 2024, that number fell to 33%. On the other hand, this year over one-third of respondents rated their processes “mature” or “optimized,” the two highest rankings; in 2022, that number was only 21%.

DFIR Maturity Correlates with Number of Investigations

While the average number of devices investigated per month is 177, that number is skewed by a handful of respondents investigating over 1000 devices per month. The median number of items investigated, 10, is a far more revealing indicator of maturity. Forty-five percent of organizations conducting 10 or more investigations per year consider themselves mature (i.e., either “managed” or “optimized” processes), while only 24% of organizations conducting fewer than 10 investigations per year do so.

Organizations with mature DFIR processes are more likely to be advanced on other sorts of cybersecurity and information infrastructure initiatives, such as deploying Zero Trust Architecture (40% complete or almost complete compared to 25%) and leveraging cloud-based DFIR solutions (82% vs. 68%). This translates strongly into a posture where organizations are more resilient and less likely to be caught unawares by significant fallout from a major cybersecurity incident.

To learn more about the benefits of corporate DFIR maturity, download the report today.

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