Date of Award

Spring 3-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Cyber Operations (PhDCO)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Ashley Podhradsky

Second Advisor

Omar El-Gayar

Third Advisor

Bramwell Brizendine

Fourth Advisor

Arica Kulm


Cybercrimes and digital security breaches are on the rise: savvy businesses and organizations of all sizes must ready themselves for the worst. Cloud computing has become the new normal, opening even more doors for cybercriminals to commit crimes that are not easily traceable. The fast pace of technology adoption exceeds the speed by which the cybersecurity community and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) can invent countermeasures to investigate and prosecute such criminals. While presenting defensible digital evidence in courts of law is already complex, it gets more complicated if the crime is tied to public cloud computing, where storage, network, and computing resources are shared and dispersed over multiple geographical areas. Investigating such crimes involves collecting evidence data from the public cloud that is court-sound. Digital evidence court admissibility in the U.S. is governed predominantly by the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedures. Evidence authenticity can be challenged by the Daubert test, which evaluates the forensic process that took place to generate the presented evidence.

Existing digital forensics models, methodologies, and processes have not adequately addressed crimes that take place in the public cloud. It was only in late 2020 that the Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE) published a document that shed light on best practices for collecting evidence from cloud providers. Yet SWGDE’s publication does not address the gap between the technology and the legal system when it comes to evidence admissibility. The document is high level with more focus on law enforcement processes such as issuing a subpoena and preservation orders to the cloud provider.

This research proposes IaaS Public Cloud Forensic Acquisition (IPCFA), a methodology to acquire forensic-sound evidence from public cloud IaaS deployments. IPCFA focuses on bridging the gap between the legal and technical sides of evidence authenticity to help produce admissible evidence that can withstand scrutiny in U.S. courts. Grounded in design research science (DSR), the research is rigorously evaluated using two hypothetical scenarios for crimes that take place in the public cloud. The first scenario takes place in AWS and is hypothetically walked-thru. The second scenario is a demonstration of IPCFA’s applicability and effectiveness on Azure Cloud. Both cases are evaluated using a rubric built from the federal and civil digital evidence requirements and the international best practices for iv digital evidence to show the effectiveness of IPCFA in generating cloud evidence sound enough to be considered admissible in court.