What Is Chain Of Custody In Digital Forensics?

Chain Of Custody In Digital Forensics

Chain of custody in digital forensics refers to the process of tracking and documenting all handling of digital evidence from the time it is seized to the time it is presented in court. This chain must be unbroken in order for evidence to be admissible in court.

Each person who comes into contact with the evidence must carefully document when and how they received it, what they did with it, and when and to whom they transferred it. This documentation can be critical in court, as it helps to establish the authenticity and integrity of the evidence.

Without a solid chain of custody, digital evidence may be dismissed by the court, no matter how strong it may be. Therefore, a this is a crucial part of digital forensics.

What Is A Chain Of Custody?

Locked Evidence

In forensic science, the chain of custody is the chronological documentation or paper trail that records the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence.

The chain of custody form is used to maintain control of evidence from the initial contact with the crime scene through to the courtroom. The process begins with the first responder at the crime scene and ends with the evidence being presented in court.

In order for evidence to be admissible in court, it must have a complete and unbroken chain of custody.

The form should include the following information:

  • Date and time the evidence was collected
  • Name and badge number of the person who collected the evidence
  • The location where the evidence was collected
  • A description of the evidence (including any identifying information)
  • Name and badge number of the person who received the evidence
  • Date and time the evidence was received

By documenting each transfer of custody, investigators can ensure that no one mishandles or tampers with the evidence.

This is especially important in cases where DNA or fingerprints are being used as evidence, as even a small amount of contamination can invalidate results.

How It’s Used In Digital Forensics

Digital Forensics Process

In digital forensics, a chain of custody is used to track the chain of events surrounding electronic evidence presented in a device. There are three main aspects to a chain of custody: control, continuity, and documentation.


This aspect refers to maintaining physical control over the evidence presented at all times.


This refers to keeping track of who had access to the evidence and when the access was granted.


This refers to keeping detailed records of all aspects of the chain of custody.

With these three aspects, digital forensics investigators can be confident that their collected evidence will be admissible in court.

How Do I Establish A Custody Chain?

The procedures establishing the chain of custody start from an incident scene. The investigation is conducted with careful attention to detail with photographs and notes taken of each piece of evidence discovered. The notes must contain the following:

  • An investigation officer packages or seals the evidence.
  • The labeling of packages and the labels allow the user to identify them easily.
  • Once at a laboratory, the forensics expert analyzes the data and sends the results to a team of detectives investigating the matter.

The following examples of the evidence chain are needed for maintaining accurate records.

What Are The Steps In A Chain Of Custody?

Labeled Evidence

The chain of custody must be unbroken in order for the evidence to be considered reliable. The steps of this consist of four key parts: collection, preservation, transportation, and analysis.

First, the evidence must be collected by a law enforcement officer or another authorized individual. It must then be preserved in its original state, without any tampering or alteration.

The evidence must then be transported to a secure location, such as a government laboratory, for analysis. Finally, the results of the analysis must be submitted to the court.

If any link in the chain is broken, it can call into question the reliability of the evidence. As a result, it is essential to take care at each stage in order to maintain the chain of custody.

The Benefits Of Having A Chain Of Custody

There are many benefits to having a chain of custody. First, it provides a clear audit trail that can be followed in order to track the movement of evidence throughout the course of an investigation.

Second, it helps to ensure the integrity of collected evidence by preventing contamination or alteration.

Finally, having a chain of custody can be critical in making sure that collected evidence is admissible in court.

By establishing a strong chain of custody in digital forensics, the team can ensure that their gathered evidence and investigation will be reliable.

How To Maintain A Chain Of Custody

Digital Forensics Documents

In order to maintain a chain of custody, it is important to keep track of every individual who has had contact with the evidence. This includes everyone from the police officer who collected the evidence to the lab technician who analyzed it.

Each person must sign and date a logbook documenting their involvement. The chain must be unbroken in order for the evidence to be considered reliable in court.

If there is any break in the chain, it can call into question the integrity of the evidence and potentially jeopardize the entire case. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a careful and complete chain of custody at all times.

Potential Issues With Chain Of Custody

There are a number of potential issues that could arise at any point in the chain of custody. One of the issues possible is a break in the chain which can mean that the evidence has been contaminated or tampered with.

Another potential issue is that an evidence bag can be misplaced or an analyst can fail to properly document their actions.

Evidence can also be improperly collected, labeled, placed, or handled, causing detectives and prosecutors to make errors when documenting.

Tips To Keep Your Chain Of Custody In Tact

When involved in the process of a chain of custody in digital forensics, there are a few tips to follow to ensure that your chain of custody remains intact.

  1. Evidence should be collected by law enforcement officers or other trained personnel.
  2. Evidence should be logged and properly labeled.
  3. Evidence should be stored in a secure location.
  4. Evidence should be transported in a secure manner.
  5. The chain of custody should be documented from the moment the evidence is collected until it is presented in court.

By following these tips, you can help keep everything intact.

Chain of custody is an important part of the digital forensic process, ensuring that evidence is collected and handled in a way that preserves its integrity. A chain of custody is also relevant in other testing cases such as clinical testing and legal drug testing.

By understanding how a chain of custody works and what is involved in maintaining it, you can help ensure that any digital evidence gathered during an investigation will be admissible in court.