Brett's Blog

Just some ramblings.

FREEZE! Busted by the Fridge. The ways that tech influences writing fiction, making movies, and busting criminals.

One interesting investigation I had was that of a murder-for-hire in one city that the suspect used a Google search to find the victim’s home address in another city.  Simple enough crime to plan.  Google the name, find the address, do the hit.  Except in this particular case, although the suspect Googled the correct name, there were two people with the same name in the same city and he picked the wrong one.  I called this case my “Sarah Connor” case.

Fortunately, we intercepted the hit before it happened and prevented a random murder on the wrong person (as well as preventing the murder of the ‘right’ person).  In a basic sense, the suspect used the technology of one of the most advanced computer systems in the world (Google….) to attempt a murder only to choose the wrong name in a Google search hit.  This type of criminal incompetence and carelessness is commonplace.  It is also the way that most get caught. 

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Hollywood’s version of high tech crime fighting.  Minority Report with Tom Cruise showed us that not only can crimes be solved with technology, but that crimes can also be prevented with technology.  As for the technology used in the movie, it could have only been more accurate had a predictive analysis computer system been used in place of the fortune-telling humans (“Precogs”) in a big bathtub.

In a turn-key surveillance system, no person is anonymous.  Whether it is a private business or government agency, no one is immune from potentially being watched, tracked, or reported.  Private businesses use facial recognition for both improving customer service by detecting your mood through facial expressions as well as preventing crime.

“…faces of individuals caught on camera are converted into a biometric template and cross-referenced with a database for a possible match with past shoplifters or known criminals.” https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/mar/03/revealed-facial-recognition-software-infiltrating-cities-saks-toronto  

Criminals who try to avoid using technology are severely limited on the type of crimes they can commit.  That’s a good thing.  A drug dealer without a cell phone is like a taxi cab driver without a taxi.  It is part of the business and can be tracked, traced, monitored, intercepted, and forensically examined.  Technology is a natural and required part of any criminal’s operations.  Criminals not using technology are ineffective as criminals, for the most part.

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Want to know how to break into DF/IR?

I see the digital forensics training market reaching a saturation point in some aspects.  Most, if not all, forensic software companies provide training, govt agencies provide internal training, individuals provide training, every college looking for a new revenue stream is adding forensic programs for training, and a new forensics book comes out every few weeks or so.  Add that to those who can teach themselves and you have DF/IR training market that is fat.  By the way, if you can teach yourself forensics by gobbling up every crumb you can find, you will have a long career in this field. 

There have been a lot of blog posts, articles, forums, and opinions posted online about how to break into the field of DF/IR.  Here are a few decent links, and of course, a Google search will find dozens more. You will see by the dates that it has been years of the same question being asked...

https://digital-forensics.sans.org/blog/2010/08/20/getting-started-digital-forensics-what-takes/ 
http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-security/breaking-into-the-digital-forensics-field-melia-kelleys-path/
https://www.reddit.com/r/computerforensics/comments/1o2s5x/looking_to_get_into_computer_forensics/
http://www.techexams.net/forums/jobs-degrees/99839-looking-enter-into-digital-forensics-field-need-advice.html
http://smarterforensics.com/2016/08/so-you-want-to-break-into-the-field-of-digital-forensics/
https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-become-a-digital-forensic-examiner-974633
https://articles.forensicfocus.com/2011/10/07/advice-for-digital-forensics-job-seekers/

The common theme is asking, "How do I get into digital forensics?" when the better questions to ask are, "Which college program will work best for me?", "Which discplines in DF/IR should I focus on?", "Which programming languages are relevant?", "Which software should I learn?", "What are hiring managers looking for?".  

You won’t usually find this topic constantly being brought up in other career fields. For example, if someone wants to become a doctor, there isn’t much to the answer other than, “go to a medical school.”  If someone wants to become a lawyer, the answer is typically, “to go a law school.”

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Reminder for the last discount for the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide Online and On demand course.

If you were thinking of doing it, this is the best time since the $599 online course will only be at a discount of 60% for less than two weeks (until Dec 31, 2016) for only $235.  PLUS, registering before December 31, 2016 gets you a print copy of the book, the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide shipped to you. Unfortunately, the book is only included for US/Canada registrants since shipping a book outside the USA or Canada costs more than the book.  Shipping to some countries costs more than the entire X-Ways online course costs.  I’m happy to ship a copy, but the shipping fees must be added.  Best bet is to order a book online that delivers locally without extreme duty fees.

Register with the 60% discount using this URL: 

Just a few notes on the online XWF course based on emails I have received:

Time limit:  You have a year to view the course as often as you want.

Software: Not included.  You don’t need it for the course, but I think you’ll want to have a license.  If you want to know how XWF compares to other tools, you can get 12 hours of instruction showing how it works and much of what it can do.  Once you start using XWF, you’ll begin to see that it can do a lot more than what the manual or any course can teach. 

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Brett's opinion on writing a DFIR book

Brett's opinion on writing a DFIR book

Let me disclaim a bit.  I don’t know everything about writing or publishing.  All I know is what I have done.  With that, I have been asked about writing books (computer/digital forensics topics) over the past few years.  Let me give my experience to anyone considering writing a forensic book.

To start, I have written three books so far, meaning that I am writing more.  Two of the three published books have had co-authors.

I’ll go through some of the questions I have been asked already.  First off, I have been flattered and humbled each time someone asks for my opinion on writing books, and each time I have answered questions about the process, I have realized that I could have done things differently or better.  Not everyone asked the exact same questions, but they are very similar.

What made you decide to publish a book?

I considered any person who wrote a book to be an ultimate expert in their field and did not feel I was at any level of credibility to write.  But, I asked someone I respected in the field who had written several books already and he said, “DO IT!”.    I’ll leave out the name of who convinced me to go for it, but suffice to say that I took his advice seriously. 

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The most important tool in DFIR that you must have...

One of the workstations I have ranks up there in the clouds insofar as hardware.  You name it, this machine has it.  Lots of it.  Crammed into a huge case with lots of lights and liquid cooling hosing.  I call it the “Monster”.  No matter what I throw at it, it chews it up, spits it out, and smiles asking for more.  Seriously.  It’s a dream machine of a forensic workstation.

One thing about it however is that no matter how fast it is, or how cool it looks, it doesn’t really do forensics.  You see, I have this other little computer (laptop).  It’s really really small and light.  No CD/DVD drive, one USB port, and stuffed with high-speed hardware, but not that you can stuff that much in such a small laptop.  I call this one my “Little Baby”.

When I go somewhere, I take my Little Baby.  It does everything I need for the most part.  I would not want to try to index a terabyte or more to index, or try to do any serious processing with it.   However, this Little Baby does forensics work.  I've done forensic work in the offices of lawyers, in front of judges, and in court.  Each time using my Little Baby (I have a few, but they are all my Little Babies).  

I mean this in the manner that it’s not the machine (such as my Monster or Little Baby), but the examiner, that does the forensic work.  If you forego “processing” and “indexing”, the forensic machine comparisons in speed become irrelevant and everything comes down to the examiner.  I mean everything.  The best examiner can use X-Ways or Encase or FTK or any open source forensic tool on practically ANY computer when it comes down to deep-diving into electronic evidence.  The machine allows the examiner to use a software to access the media.  That’s it.  A million gigs of RAM won’t let you examine the registry any faster than 4GB will.  Your eyes and the stuff between your ears will get the job done.

When I teach forensics, one of the things I try to get across is that it is the person that gets the job done.  Flashing lights are cool on a computer, but if the examiner doesn’t know how (or where) to find evidence on a hard drive, then the flashing lights are not going to help.  If the examiner does not have critical thinking skills to investigate (or now commonly being described as "hunting") threats or evidence, then the tools are useless.

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Learn by drawing out the experiences of others

I have taught digital forensics at the University of Washington (on and off) for the better part of a decade.  I have also been a guest speaker at several universities for longer than that.  One thing that I learned from the continuing education courses is that most of the students are already working adults with many already working in the IT industry, and I take advantage of their experience by incorporating it into the classroom.

For example, I have had attorneys (prosecutors, public defenders, and civil attorneys), police officers, federal agents, software developers (some were founding members of commonly used software), and a few ‘white hat’ hackers in my courses.  Students who did not fit in any of those categories sat right next to them.
 

Can you imagine what you can learn being a student sitting next to the developer of a major Microsoft program for 10 weeks? Or next to a federal agent who was involved in well-known national security investigations?  Or a homicide detective of a large police department?

That was the benefit to the students: being able to absorb information from fellow students with years, if not decades, of experience.  On the first day of every course, I stress this to the students.  Take advantage of the 10-minute breaks, not by checking your email, but by talking.  Those 10-minutes breaks produce more relevant information than can be gained from a Google search, because you can talk to the people who have done it, do it every day, and want to share.  Rather than 'read' about a case, speak directly with someone who does those cases.

As for me, you better believe I took advantage of the students with experience, all for the betterment of the courses and myself.  In my prior law enforcement career as a city cop, I was a detective that worked undercover and was assigned to state, local, and federal task forces as well as investigated cyber-related crimes that spanned the planet.  I also investigated multi-national organized crime groups (drug trafficking organizations, gun trafficking, outlaw motocycle gangs, street gangs, human trafficking, counterfeit goods, etc…), terrorist cells in the United States, along with a few other crimes that took me across several states.

I give my brief background not to brag, but to show that even with my experience, I gained something from every class from nearly every person and I asked for it directly.  When I found that I had a software developer from a major software company in class, who worked on a program that I use daily…I used him for discussions in class on incorporating that program into forensic analysis reporting and visualization.  Every student in the course may not have recognized the value of speaking with someone instrumental in that one program, but we all learned new ways to use something in forensics that we would not have learned otherwise.  

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Jimmy Weg's blog archive

Most people in the DF field know or know of Jimmy Weg.  His blog was/is one of the most popular in the community (http://justaskweg.com/), but like anyone, Jimmy has retired and will be retiring his blog.  

However, he has offered the blog to be used by anyone until the domain expires.  I know that one DF assocation will be archiving the blog for its members and Jimmy graciously has allowed me to archive it as well for anyone to use as reference.

Over the next weeks or so, I will be adding each of Jimmy's posts onto my blog, with Jimmy as the author.  You will be able to find all his blog posts on my blog, but under the JustAskWeg category (http://brettshavers.cc/index.php/brettsblog/categories/justaskweg).  Some of the posts are old, as in 2 years which can be old in the tech world, but the information from those posts, especially those concerning virtualization should be relevant for more years to come.  Jimmy's blog is one of those blogs that are valuable to many folks working in the DF field, and it is my pleasure to host his blog while it is still useful. Thanks to Jimmy!

About Jimmy Weg

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Ye ol’ Windows FE

Not to get into the long history of WinFE, but rather focus on the course I created about 2 years ago…it’s time for an update to the course.  There have been almost 5,000 people that signed up for the online WinFE course since 2014.  WinFE has been taught everywhere since its inception, from colleges to federal forensic courses to everything in between.  

Technology changes and with that, WinFE needs to be updated along with a second related topic to be included in the course.  In the next few weeks, I am updating the WinFE course and adding Linux distros to the mix (only the most current Linux forensic distros, not the outdated and non-maintained systems).  The new course is tentatively titled,

"Bootable Forensic Operating Systems"

or something to that affect of having both Windows and Linux forensic boot systems.

The intention of this new course is the same as the previous course: Give forensic analysts additional options in collection, preview/triage, and analysis.

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X-Ways Forensics Sucks….

…only with decryption, and even at that, it does everything else superbly.

I probably caught your attention if you are an X-Ways Forensics user.  The only thing that sucks about X-Ways Forensics is that it doesn’t do encryption.  By “doing encryption”, I mean that it doesn’t decrypt encrypted files or systems.  Besides that one aspect of forensic work, X-Ways Forensics rules.

**UPDATED X-WAYS FORENSICS PRACTITIONER’S GUIDE ONLINE COURSE**

I completely updated and extended an online course based on my book, the “X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide”.  It has taken some time to create a course that has 95% of what you need to use X-Ways Forensics without being an overly long instruction of the software.  The remaining 5% changes every week or so with new features and updates added by X-Ways.  This course covers X-Ways Forensics up to version 19, but know that X-Ways will be adding new features every week that aren’t included in this course yet.  After enough ‘little’ features and improvements have been added, more content to the course will be added as well.

Here is the gist of this post

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Virtual Machines, like anything else in technology, can be used for bad


Virtual machines have always been one of the neatest aspects in computer technology.  My first exposure to a virtual machine was in a digital forensics courses I took at FLETC and I knew that this would be the coolest thing ever.  The coolness factor of being able to run one operating system (the virtual machine or VM) inside another operating system (the host) has not grown old for me especially because of the forensic and security implications that exist more so today than that day of first exposure.

It has been 10 years since I wrote the first of two papers on virtualization and forensics.  The first, “vmware as a forensic tool” and subsequentlyVirtual Forensics: A Discussion of Virtual Machines Related to Forensic Analysis”.  Some of the information has been outdated, but most of the information and certainly the concepts are still in play today.  I recommend looking at these two papers to get started on thinking about VMs as it relates to your cases.

Skip forward some years after those first papers; I began to find VM use occur more often on forensic cases in civil litigation matters.  In the majority of the cases, the VMs I found were not used to facilitate any malicious activity, but did result in longer examination time of each hard drive with VMs.  In one case of my cases, a single hard drive contained over 50 (yes, FIFTY) virtual machines and each one VM had multiple snapshots and practically all were being used with malicious intent.  After that case, I made sure to include virtual machine investigative information in two books I wrote (Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard) to make sure investigators consider VMs as a source of evidence.

There was a time when computer users, including criminal using computers, were oblivious to the amount of evidence a forensic analysis can recover.  Those days are virtually gone since most anyone with a computer knows for the most part, that a ‘deleted’ file can be recovered.  In addition, with Hollywood producing movies and TV shows showing forensic analysis of computers, common criminal knowledge now includes knowing about electronic evidence that is created on computers and forensics recovers it.  Every push of a button, click of a mouse, and click of a link litters the system with evidence.  The litter (creation/modification/access/deletion of files) is everywhere in the system, spread out among various locations from the registry to free space to system files, and most can be attributed to a user’s activity.  Getting rid of every bit of the electronic litter is practically impossible, even as certain amounts can be wiped securely.

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