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The links between digital forensics and the metaphorical physical bases of digital constructs



(Citation)Citation information

M. S. Olivier. “The links between digital forensics and the metaphorical physical bases of digital constructs”. In: International Association of Forensic Sciences (IAFS2020) meeting. Accepted for presentation; conference cancelled due to Covid-19. Sydney, Australia, May 2021


In the digital realm metaphors are used to comprehend and build cyberspace. From the notion of a mouse, through notions of clouds and spreadsheets, to the very notion of a computer, these notions are metaphors for entities that exist (or existed) in the real world. Initially they helped users to identify and comprehend ideas, but the metaphors also shaped the development of these digital namesakes.

However, thus far these metaphors have had very little impact on digital forensics, where the emphasis tends to be on the digital nature of evidence. This paper argues that, as one example, a digital document may have more commonalities with a physical document, than with other digital objects. A questioned digital document arguably needs at least as much expertise from the field of questioned documents as it needs from the digital forensic expert. As another example, making claims about social networks in a forensic context cannot only rely on the digital forensic expert but also requires the insights from the social sciences. With cyberspace constructed as metaphors, it is not hard to extend the list of aspects of digital forensics that, at the very least, will benefit from knowledge from the foundations of the metaphor.

The nature of collaboration, knowledge sharing or simply learning depends on the specific metaphor. In the case of questioned documents, closer collaboration between the two forensic disciplines is indicated. On the other hand, the examination of why a computing system “died” may learn from medico-legal death examinations, but collaboration on a day- to-day basis (beyond research) will not be useful. The ultimate goal of exploring the metaphoric link between the digital an physical is to leverage what is known in the physical context to increase confidence in findings of digital (or combined) examinations.

In line with the conference theme (where to from here) the paper will explore the metaphors embedded in digital forensics and highlight the possibility of, as well as explore the potential nature of collaboration between digital forensics and other forensic disciplines. The presentation identifies several instances where knowledge of the metaphorical physical basis of a digital construct may (or has to) be considered during examination of a digital construct. In each case it also explores the nature of dependence.

M. S. Olivier. “Medico-legal examinations as a paradigm for digital examinations”. In: Program and Abstracts — The Eleventh ISABS Conference on Forensic and Anthropologic Genetics and Mayo Clinic Lectures in Individualized Medicine. Ed. by D. Primorac et al. Invited paper. International Society for Applied and Biological Sciences, June 2019, p. 97

M. S. Olivier. “The Authenticity of Questioned Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)-Signed Digital Documents”. In: AAFS 72nd Annual Scientific Meeting. Accepted for presentation. Anaheim, CA, USA, Feb. 2020

(BibTeX record)BibTeX reference

author={Martin S Olivier},
title={The links between digital forensics and the metaphorical physical bases of digital constructs},
booktitle={International Association of Forensic Sciences (IAFS2020) meeting},
address={Sydney, Australia},
note={Accepted for presentation; conference cancelled due to Covid-19} )