Computer forensics is a field of study concerned with the digital extraction and analysis of latent information. While a relatively new science, computer forensics has gained a reputation for being able to uncover evidence that would not have been recoverable otherwise, such as emails, text messages and document access. Although many people do not realize it, their computers are recording every keystroke, file access, website, email or password. While this does present a threat from "hackers," it is this latent information that is being used in an increasing number of ways.
Computer forensics is popularly used in criminal cases. Computer forensics analysis may provide evidence that a crime has been committed, whether that crime involved computers directly or not. Evidence may be in the form of a document, an email, an instant message, a chat room or a photograph. This is seen frequently in narcotics cases, stalking, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, extortion, kidnapping and even murder cases.
Computer forensics also frequently plays a role in domestic cases and is generally centered on proof of infidelity. Examples include recovered emails, chat room transcripts, instant messaging and photographs.
The Center for Computer Forensics reports that 92 percent of all business documents and records are stored digitally and that although hackers are commonly seen as a threat to security, in reality greater risks are found within a company. Examples include theft of intellectual property (such as customer lists, new designs, company financials or trade secrets) and embezzlement. The fact is that if a person is alone with a computer for less than five minutes, it is enough time to copy a hard drive on a removable storage device.
There are many uses of computer forensics that exist within companies to monitor computer usage. While what is being monitored may not be illegal itself, it is tracked because doing so is "illegal" within the confines of the company. For example, many companies have "acceptable use policies," meaning policies prohibiting personal use of the computers. Common examples of acceptable use violations include online shopping, Internet surfing, online gambling, personal emails and instant messaging or chats.
Computer forensics is also used in marketing. Examples of this can be seen on Amazon.com when recommendations are provided, or "Just for you" from the iTunes Store. When a person visits a website, a memory of that website is placed in the computer's memory. Each site has different meta-tags embedded in it; meta-tags are one or two word descriptions of the site content. The advertisements that person experiences are tailored to the meta-tags of the sites visited, similar to a target demographic.