Digital Forensics and the case for change

Posted February 24th, 2009 by

A couple of weeks ago I posted a whitepaper, “The History of Digital Forensics”. I am just delighted that Rybolov gave me the opportunity. I am also delighted with all of the comments and question that have come in, in response to the posting of the whitepaper. I want to thank each and every one of you who responded. One of the most common comments or themes is that while I did a fine job of outlining the History of Digital Forensics, many security and forensics professionals find themselves in an organization that has only the most rudimentary forensics policies, procedures or even capabilities. For those of you who offered such comments, you have my complete sympathy.

However, I should also point out that many of the organizations that have well planned and supported digital forensics programs are only in that condition because they have learned of their security and forensics needs the hard way. I think many IT security professionals can relate to my comment when I write that, no one appreciates the need for better security and procedures more than the members of a team that have just completed an incident response without the benefit of sufficient planning and support. Many of us have been there either as a member of an internal as hoc incident response team or as part of a team of outside consultants called in to assist. Incident response is difficult and filled with tension. It is even more tension filled when you are part of a team that is having to invent procedures with each step you make and also defend them in real-time, often with many successive levels of management. The last several incident response engagements I have led, I had no opportunity do any technical work at all. My entire time was spent trying to hammer out processes and procedures and generally educate the management and explain the process for them. Since incident response usually cuts across every part and work-unit in an organization, each with its own way of looking at things, and with its own interest and concerns, the process also involved a lot of repetition, sensitivity and frankly hand-holding. I have never had a technical member of the team say they envied me in that role.

However, in each case, an important part of my mission was also to document the policies, procedures, and ‘lessons-learned’ and act as an advocate to incorporate this body of knowledge into standard operating procedures. In some cases I was successful; in others I think the organization was so traumatized by the incident itself that they were burnt-out and incapable of taking the next step at that time. Fortunately, many of the later contacted me later and we had some wonderful meetings in a pretty relaxed and yet focused atmosphere.

I guess, in part what I’m trying to make two points here, first is that even in the thick of it, you should always take a mental step or two back and take in the bigger picture. The second point is that when you are acting as an advocate trying to advance the progress of a security or digital forensics program, always put a solution in from of your management, never a problem. And to make it easier for your manager to pick up the ball and support your idea at the next level, make sure that you make a business case for plan, not a technical case.

In the post-incident world, the window of opportunity for change is small. Senior managers and business leaders must get on with their day-to-day business responsibilities. Dwelling on a security incident is counter-productive for them. However, their receptiveness to change in the form of well reasoned and prudent measures that are integrated into the business process is great. Making the case for security is perhaps the most important part of our job. We must always make the case when the opportunity for change presents itself.

US Cryptologic Museum Pueblo Incident photo by austinmills.  More information about the Pueblo Incident is here.

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Posted in The Guerilla CISO | 1 Comment »

It’s a Blogiversary

Posted February 23rd, 2009 by

While I’ve been busy running all over the US and Canada, I missed a quasi-momentus date: the second anniversary of the Guerilla-CISO.  You can read the “Hello World” post if you want to see why this blog was started.

Blah Blah blah much has happened since then.  I swapped out blog platforms early on.  I started playing the didgeridoo.  I went on a zombie stint for 9 months.  I switched employers.  I added FISMA lolcats (IKANHAZFIZMA).  I started getting the one-liners out on twitter.  Most momentous is that I’ve picked up other authors.

  • Ian Charters (ian99), an international man of mystery, is a retired govie with a background in attacking stuff and doing forensics.
  • Joe Faraone (Vlad the Impaler), besides being a spitting imitation of George Lucas, is the guy who did one of the earliest certification and accreditations and informally laid down some of the concepts that became doctrine.
  • Dan Philpott (danphilpott), Government 2.0 security pundit extraordinaire, is the genius behind and one of the sharpest guys I know.
  • Mini-Me, he’s short, he’s bald, and he guest-blogs from time to time about needing a hairdryer.

So in a way, I’ve become “the pusher”–the guy who harrasses the other authors until they write something just to quiet me up for a couple of weeks.

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Posted in The Guerilla CISO | 1 Comment »

A Perspective on the History of Digital Forensics

Posted January 27th, 2009 by

Back in 1995 the junior high school students around the world were taken in by a sensationalized and carefully marketed hoax film called Alien Autopsy. Alien Autopsy was in fact a cheap film purporting to be actual footage of an actual autopsy of the cadaver of an extraterrestrial. The film was marketed as footage shot during the famous 1947 Roswell incident.

Alien Autopsy photo by jurvetson.

Well, back in 1995 I was in a mood for a good laugh so I popped up some popcorn, chilled a six-pack of Mountain Dew and kicked up my feet for a little silly entertainment. A couple of friends came over just in time for the show. So, I popped more popcorn, chilled more drinks and we all had a great time giggling, guffawing, and generally acting like a bunch of nitwits having some good clean fun.

Then in 2005, my wife asked if I could sit down with her to watch something called Grey’s Anatomy. Thinking that I was about to relive a guilty pleasure from ten years before, I readily agreed. Let’s face it, a show called Grey’s Anatomy could only be a sequel to the 1995 Alien Autopsy.

Well, having been fooled, I shared my mistake and agony with the guys at work the next day. To say the least, they were amused at the story but entirely at my expense. Some mistakes in life should just never be mentioned again.

I hope that is not the case with today’s comments. Today, I’d like to encourage you all to down load and read my paper on the History of Digital Forensics (.pdf caveat applies). It is based on a paper I presented at NIST’s annual digital forensics conference. However, since the slides from briefings do not read well, I converted the presentation to prose. Dissect it as you think appropriate. That is to say, let me know what you think.

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Posted in NIST, Technical | 2 Comments »

Digital Forensics: Who should make the keys?

Posted October 22nd, 2008 by

Paraben is a leading vendor for digital forensics products ( However, within this huge international market, Paraben specializes in digital forensic products for mobile devices such as PDA and phones. Paraben just recently released a very nice product called the Cell Seizure Investigator (CSI) Stick (

Aside from the overly-dramatic marketing embedded in the name of the product, this seems to be another solid addition to the Paraben product line. The device is designed to make a forensically correct copy of the data on your mobile phone–including call records, address books, and text messages. The devices look basically like a USB flash memory drive with the addition of an adapter/interface unit.

The copying process is largely automatic and the CSI Stick is quite reasonably priced at $99 -199, depending on the software bundle. The market reaction to this product is also quite positive. My friends in the industry who have used the device consider it an indispensable time-saving device. I can hardly wait until I get my have on one myself. In the past when, I was tasked to recover such data it was much more time consuming and hardware intensive process.

Equally fascinating, is the release (if you can call it that) of a product with a similar form-factor from Microsoft. The product is released on a flash drive and is called COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor —  Microsoft indicates that COFEE contains 150 commands that facilitate the collection of digital evidence from computers that it is physically connected to. In addition, COFEE can decrypt passwords, and collect information on a computer’s Internet activity, as well as data stored in the computer. Microsoft has indicated that COFEE has been made available to law-enforcement agencies only. And, according to one report, law-enforcement agencies in 15 nations have been provided with the device.

My initial reaction to this news was that it was not an unexpected development and that the announcement would be greeted with inevitable jokes about the need for Microsoft to also release a companion product called DONUTS. In fact, the reaction of the technical press has been largely negative and suspicious. Most of the concerns seem to center on privacy and individual rights. However, there isn’t a single capability associated with COFEE that I have been able to confirm, that doesn’t exist in some other commercial or open-source product. I do wish that I could get my hands on a trial or lender copy of COFFEE so that I could confirm this position.

Locksmith Sign photo by Meanest Indian.

While I admit that I have always been concerned about the safeguarding individual’s civil liberties, I am largely puzzled at the negative reactions. One element of the outcry that I do understand is an emotional one and that centers on the concept that a company that is paid to protect your secrets should not also be selling the tools and techniques to compromise those secrets. On an emotional level this makes sense.

However, the real world is very different. For example, every major automobile manufacturer cooperates with locksmiths to insure that there are low-cost and non-destructive means to circumvent you car locks in the event that you lock you keys in your cars or just loose you car key outright. Without getting into the details of defeating car locks, may automobile manufactures even provide specialized equipment and technical materials directly to locksmiths to facilitate this process.

If there are concerns that Microsoft my be caught in a ethical conflict of interest, we need to look at similar conflicts in other industries, and that’s food for thought.

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