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Placing the Suspect Behind the Camera

*Hint: If the topic of this post is of value to you, there is a special gift at the end of this post that may interest you.

Let’s say you have a digital photo that is evidence in your case, perhaps critical to the case.  The questions: Who took the photo?  How can you prove it?   How can you tie the photo with a camera to the suspect? 

In the context of this blog, a “photo” means an electronic file (image or picture).  But some of what I am talking about can apply to a physical photo that may be pertinent to your case.  This post mainly focuses on child exploitation investigations, but the methods apply to any case where digital photos are evidence in the case (civil, criminal, or an internal corporate matter).  Whether it is a violent crime or stolen Intellectual Property, a picture can be worth a thousand words (or a conviction).  As for the forensic 'how to', I am only writing on the 'what to do'.  Most likely, you already know how to pull EXIF data from a digital photo, from within a forensic image of a hard drive or smartphone.  If you do this job, you probably got that part mastered.  For the part you don't have mastered (analysis and investigation!), this post is to shore that up.

 

Proving who took a photo is no different than proving who was behind a keyboard at a specific point in time.  It takes a critical eye, an analytical mind, and an inquisitive attitude.  Regardless if the camera was a typical digital camera or a smart phone, there are many aspects of looking at the digital photo to place the suspect behind the lens.   Some or all of the following may or may not be available, but if you don’t look, you will not find.

 

 

Proving it

Without direct evidence, it’s all circumstantial.  But with enough circumstantial evidence, it’s enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific person committed a specific crime.  Without getting into “what is evidence”, let’s talk about the things you can find out about a photo that can constitute evidence.

First, the easy stuff, like metadata (Exchangable image file format, aka EXIF data). EXIF data is simply information about the photo (digital image) that is embedded in the photo.  EXIF data is easy to pull out and see using forensic software, free software, and even through Windows Explorer.  The type and amount of EXIF data depends on the settings and capabilities of the camera.  For example, one camera may have GPS off by default while another camera has GPS on by default.  Also, a user can turn off GPS from being embedded into photos by choosing the setting to turn it off.  Some cameras may include a serial number or unique ID of the camera as metadata, while other cameras will not.

So, depending on the camera and the user selected settings, you may or may not some or all EXIF data to exam.   Best case scenario, you get it all, or just enough to make your case.  EXIF data is also the second thing to exam with a digital exam as content of the photo is usually most important.  I’ll get into content as well as the EXIF data.

Each item below is relevant to an investigation as a source of evidence, corroboration of evidence, or leads to other evidence.  The more you focus in looking at photos in this manner, you faster you become proficient in finding clues.

Device Used (EXIF data)

Make, Model, Type, Serial Number, Unique ID

If this data exists AND you have the camera, you are way ahead of the game because you have the camera used to take the evidence photo (unless it can be proven otherwise)

Geolocation (EXIF data)

Location of the photo

Having the GPS coordinates allows you to (1) find the location of the crime and (2) corroborate the GPS coordinates by visually inspecting the location to match the photo.   As an example, GPS coordinates pointing to a specific location (such as a house), can be visited and confirmed by matching the photo to the location.

Date/Time Group-DTG (EXIF data)

Date and time of the photo

Important because if you can place the suspect at the location (see geolocation above) at the date and time noted in the EXIF data, you are getting close to tying the camera to the suspect.

Content of the Photo

The content can be (1) a photo of the crime, (2) a crime in and of itself, (3) corroborating evidence, or (4) any or all of these.

Examining the content can corroborate or disprove EXIF data.  For example, if the DTG states December 15, 2016 at 2pm, and the GPS states Alaska, but the content shows a moonlit Hawaii beach, then something is wrong with the EXIF data.  Conversely, if the content matches, such as a bright sunny day with a snow-covered tree in Alaska, then EXIF data is corroborated.

Of course, persons in the photo can be important. Victims, witnesses, and your suspect might be identifiable by visual inspection or facial recognition.

Items in the photo can be important clues.  Electronic devices in a photo of a crime scene that have not been seized might be able to be identified.  Violent crime scenes may show blood spatter that may have been cleaned, or perhaps a rug in the photo is no longer at the scene.  New paint on walls can give some implication that damage (bullet holes?) may have been repaired and repainted over.  Anything that is different from the scene as it sits as you see it compared to a photo taken at the time of a crime is suspicious.

Items that similar to other photos in other cases may be important as well.  Using a tool such as Google’s Bedspread Detector can find items of similarity across other cases.  Perhaps there is a child’s toy that is consistently seen in different photos, which could be an item used by the suspect in a child exploitation case.

Look at every item in a photo for clues.  The content is just as important as the metadata.

Photos recovered from devices or media

Other devices that can be tied to the photo, such as computers, laptops, tablets, etc..

Same photo (by hash) or similar photo by content

Compare photos from recovered devices by hash, EXIF data, and content.   The more devices you can identify, the more chance you have at tying the suspect to one or more of the devices.

Photos recovered from websites

From any website or social media site.

Although the EXIF data of photos is usually removed when uploaded to most social media websites, you still may have some EXIF data on other websites.  Finding an evidence photo on the blog controlled by your suspect is a lead to tying it to your suspect.

Photos downloaded from the Internet

From any website or peer-to-peer connection

If a photo has been downloaded from the Internet, it may be tied to a camera, but, it might not be the camera of your suspect.   However, a photo can be taken with a camera/smartphone with Internet access, in which the photo is uploaded to the cloud, and subsequently downloaded.  An example would be a smartphone photo automatically uploading to a Dropbox account and the subsequently downloaded to the suspect’s Dropbox folder on his/her computer. 

Another example of a download that can be tied to the suspect’s camera is where a WiFi digital camera is synched to a smartphone.  Photos taken with the digital camera are automatically copied to the smartphone, which can then be sent to the cloud to sync with local storage on a computer.  The smartphone and computer will show a “downloaded” photo, but the EXIF data will point to the camera used by the suspect.

The suspect

Location corroborated by additional geolocation intelligence (place the suspect at the scene)

DTG corroborated by additional intelligence (suspected placed at the scene at a specific DTG)

Device corroborated by ownership/possession/control of photo device (who owns the camera)

Fingerprints on devices (in cases where photos are critical, it is critical to fingerprint the cameras)

Statements made by witnesses and the suspect (Claims ownership of the camera, but not the photo as an example)

Other photos taken by the suspect and uploaded (http://www.cameratrace.com/learn-more

Your photos

The photos taken of the crime scene matched against the photos you find

If you have a photo taken by the suspect of the crime scene, take your own photo to replicate the evidence photo at the same DTG.  Place side-by-side to compare.  What is missing?  What is different? What is there now that wasn’t there before. 

Don’t give up and don’t take shortcuts

Child exploitation cases generally have more than one photo and sometimes upwards of tens of thousands of photos (or hundreds of thousands!).  Reviewing every photo is obviously labor intensive, but as one who has identified additional victims, found more evidence by looking, and closed more cases than not, I can say that it pays to look at the content and the EXIF data to the extent possible.

When software tools make it easier to do, use them to the extent they can do the work of many eyes to at least give you a dataset to find more clues and evidence.  It is easy to find evidence when evidence is plentiful, but be sure to corroborate what you find.  If you have GPS data, verify it.  Does the GPS data and photo content match with the physical location? Check Google Maps to confirm, or better yet, visit the location if the photo content is important to the case.

**Update 8/13/2017**

Thanks to Phill Moore for suggesting this great tool for photo forensics

Brett’s Tip

Find one thing in this post to help make a case.  Find closure for victims.  Convict suspects.  Prevent children from becoming victimized.  All you need is one good clue, one good idea, one good lead, one drop of inspiration.  I hope I gave one of these to you, or at a minimum, gave you something to think about that will be helpful in your cases.

Side note

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with perhaps the world’s greatest forensic company working in the field developing tools to do what this post describes.  I also wanted to give a little bit of inspiration to push you into working harder, digging deeper, and thinking cleverly in your cases.  I know you do a great job already, but if you are like me, you want to do better and learn more.

I created an entire online course in this area of investigations in addition to writing two books about it.   And if you are reading this blog, I’ll give you a unique deal on the online course

Use this link to register for Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard for $95 instead of the listed price of $799. http://courses.dfironlinetraining.com/placing-the-suspect-behind-the-keyboard?pc=blognb

The books are not included, but you do get the entire 12+ hours of learning to do what can make your cases: Placing the Suspect at the Keyboard.  This discount is steep because the course content is important to the cases that mean everything.  And you are getting it because you read my blog today.  But you may want to hurry, the discount is good only for a few weeks and when the discount link stops working, the discount is over.

 

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Bitcoin Forensics

Two books in the works.

In between the adventures in life and work, I have been busy with writing.  One, a fiction book, is expected to be in print next year (all on the publisher's schedule).  It’s an exciting book and sure to grab your attention. More on that sometime later.  The second book is another nonfiction forensics book, Bitcoin Forensics 😊.

There were a few topics I wanted to write about for my next forensic book; however, considering the recent cases involving cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Forensics is at the top of the list.  A couple of points on the book before you make an assumption about what the book is or is not:

1. The book is not anti-cryptocurrency.  In fact, this book is pro-cryptocurrency not only as use as a currency, but as an investigative target for investigators when following the money.

2.The book will not be about only Bitcoin.  The book will cover cryptocurrency in totality of all-the-coins, to include the major coins (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc…) and the Altcoins.

 

Like my other books, it will be written for the practitioner, the investigator, and the court officer with duties of trying cases involving cryptocurrency.  Our goal is to write a book that you can read and put to use on day-one.  Oh yeah, did I say “our”?  I sure did.  Tim Carver is my co-author.   If you know of Professor Carver, then you know that you will be learning all you need with the investigative aspects of cryptocurrency in your cases.  Additionally, we have a few contributors (and on the lookout for more!) that have either conducted extensive research or have conducted successfully cases with cryptocurrency as a money laundering aspect of their cases.

I have one confession to make.   Some time ago (a few years?), Tim asked for my opinion on cryptocurrency and money laundering with criminals.  At the time, I said that I believe it may be years before the common criminal uses cryptocurrency for money laundering simply because of the technology.  “Blockchain technology” is not something that everyday meth dealers may be knowledgeable about.  The other obstacle I thought was that converting physical cash into digital cash is not that easy.  On the other end of the criminal spectrum is the DTO (drug trafficking organization). The amount of physical cash generated alone is enough to prohibit converting into digital cash.  I just didn't see cryptocurrency being a major criminal investigative aspect.

But here comes 2017...  I’ve seen more than a few cases in the news of BILLIONS of dollars being laundered. On top of that, after doing research on cryptocurrency for over a year (talking to Tim generated an interest to test theories in cryptocurrency) and coincidentally getting a case with cryptocurrency being a central target in the case….I think I was mistaken.  Cryptocurrency has come and will eventually be part of every criminal investigation that has any financial aspect.

So, there you have it.  The inspiration of the book came from Tim Carver calling me to ask my opinion, a year of research afterward, a cryptocurrency case to figure out, and finally me asking Tim to co-author a book on it.

If you have conducted a cryptocurrency case or done research into cryptocurrency, and you want to be in the book as a contributor (named or unnamed), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. right away.   If you want to be a bigger part of the book, that is a possibility as well.  Email me and let’s talk.

Until then, expect the book to be in print (or on your mobile device) in 2018.  Cool book topic, and probably one of the most relevant subjects for the years ahead in forensic investigations, both in the criminal case world and private sector engagements.  Don't believe?  No worries.  You will soon enough, just like I did.

 

 

 

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Anonymity: Criminals are only as good as their last mistake

I’m big on privacy, even though I know that practically, the only information that is private today is that which (1) only you know and (2) does not exist anywhere outside your head.  Everything else can be had one way or another, by hook or crook.  Most personal information we willingly give away, such as our date of birth when signing up for “free” online services.  Other personal information we are required to give in order to abide by laws, such as applying for a driver’s license.                         


I’m also big on de-anonymizing criminals.   Supporting privacy efforts while at the same supporting de-anonymization efforts is contradictory, but realty. If you have ever been a victim of a crime where the criminal got away with it, you probably feel the same.  Both aspects contradict each other, where I want to have individual privacy but at the same time, I want to be able to de-anonymize someone who is committing crimes facilitated with technology.  What a dilemma...

I tend to focus on de-anonymization of criminals more since we are on a never-ending trend of breaches, hacks, and theft of personal information, let alone crimes against persons using technology. Two of my books were solely focused on the topic.  During presentations on the subject, I have regularly been questioned on “How do I…” in this case or that case from investigators* looking for the magic bullet.  Given just a 15 second brief of an investigation that has been ongoing for months, my typical answer is – the answer is there, you just have to find it. 

Secret Tip: there is no magic bullet until there is one.

The magic bullet in almost every case is a mistake made by the suspect.  An oversight.  An error.  A bad decision.  Or just plain ignorance.  All on the part of the suspect.  But a mistake by itself is not enough to crack a case.  You, the investigator or the analyst, need to catch that mistake.  You have to look for it constantly.  You have to expect to find where the suspect made the error because if you don’t have the intention to find the criminal’s mistakes, you will not find them.  That is when you find the magic bullet to solve your case, by looking for it and not hoping it drops in your lap.

When you do find the break in an analysis or investigation, everything becomes clear and appears to be such an easy thing that you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.  The fact is, finding the errors is not always simple or easy.  The little mistakes are usually hidden in tons of data and easily overlooked.  Sometimes the answer is plain view and no one sees it. Even when you find the suspect’s mistake, if you do not recognize it for what it is, you will quickly pass it and keep looking without realizing you could have solved your case a few minutes prior.

The steps in finding these mistakes made suspects are:

If you don’t have #1 above, then #2 and #3 won’t matter since you won’t be able to identify the evidence or clues you need.  The first things I do in any case is determine the goal or goals. Sometimes the goal is either dictated by someone else or it is obvious.  If the goal is not dictated or obvious, you have to identify the goal or again, step #1 is useless which renders #2 and #3 just as useless.

When you work with these 3 steps, the 6-Ws naturally come up in the case (the 6-Ws: who, what, when, where, how, why).  You need the above 3 steps as your foundation to actually work a case in order to get to the 6 Ws.  Focus on the 3 and the world is yours.  A tip: not everyone does this.  Many many examiners/investigators/analysts simply collect data without reason other than to collect data with the hope the case solves itself.  Don't be that person.

When I was a new investigator, it seemed that every case I received was like Groundhog Day.  No case was like the last, no evidence was consistent among the cases, and the goals were sporadic (other than “find the bad guy”).  Basically, every day I was starting over as new in each assigned case. In time, I learned a few things from experienced investigators, other things I learned the hard way.   In more than one case, I would be given a hint or a tip that would put me on a path to close a case.  A question as simple as, “Did you try this?” or “Did you look here?” was all I needed to plow ahead.  Sometimes, i would figure out an easy way or more effective means of gathering information and intelligence.  Many training courses focus on the technical means, but not the thinking part.  It's nice to know how to recover deleted event logs, but why? If you don't know why you should do it, you won't get anything out of it because you won't see the clues.

In cases with electronic media, the process is the same as in any investigation you have, whether it is a criminal or civil case (or even an internal corporate matter).  Define the goal so you know what to look for, know where to look, and figure out how to look for it.  Apply this to every case and incident you have and your case closure rates will be much better with less work.

For example, a case involving an unidentified cyber-criminal who is ‘hiding behind the keyboard’ clearly means that the what is anything that ties directly to the criminal.  The specifics of the what is important. The where depends on what you have to work with.  Perhaps you have an email, or network traffic, or maybe even physical media.  Somewhere in that data is the where and you need to know in what part of that data you should be looking.  The how is maybe the easiest part.  Maybe you need to look at metadata, or reverse engineer a file, or simply recover a deleted file.  That’s the manual labor part.  You need to work the brain part first, otherwise the labor will be for nothing.  

Recent cases in the news have shown that this method of investigation works on the most difficult of cases.  I must stress that when you see that a major case was solved by the simple piece of evidence of identifying an email address, that this is not so simple.  Every case has at least one error that was made by the suspect, and to discount looking for that mistake is a mistake on your part.

Any case where the article states that, “Oh, the case was easily solved because the suspect forget his email was in the code” seriously discounts the effort of the investigator who took the time to know what to look for, where to look for it, and how to look for it.  Cold cases are solved the very same way.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.

This is what I have been teaching for almost 20 years now.  I believe that anyone from any place in any job with any education level can be a superb investigator.   I have met young investigators from small towns who can run circles around someone with 10 times their experience and education in the largest agencies because they apply the foundation principles of what it takes to solve a case.  Once they learn the how of digital forensics, they are just as effective in the digital world as if they were working a street corner robbery.  It’s not a diploma, or a certificate, or a coin in your pocket that makes you good.  You make yourself good.  If you happen to collect some tokens along the way, add them to a shadow box, but bragging about having certs has no weight if you can't work a case.

Another benefit of getting the investigative skills down is that you can apply it to other areas and other types of cases.  If you have the desire and can finesse the skill, you can run with the big dogs in working any type of case.  I truly mean that in every sense.  My first investigator duties, after being a patrol officer, was a narcotics detective.  I used the skills learned in narcs to solve murders, uncover and disrupt organized crime groups, identify terrorists, and work all types of crimes involving technology.   

Be prepared that when you start solving cases by finding the “easy” things, that those around you will call you names, like lucky or you only solved the case because of a suspect's mistake. Just smile and carry on.  After enough cases, you won’t be called lucky anymore; you will be called good and that is the goal: be good at what you do. 

 

* I use the term “investigator” to apply to anyone who has the job to find information, curate into intelligence, on which assumptions, conclusions, and judgments can be made.  That means a police detective, federal agent, incident responder, or forensic examiner.

 

 

 

 

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Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard online course

My newest course is out and it is the best course you will find on the topic.  More than 12 hours of investigative methods and effective techniques to build a case against criminals who use technology to commit crimes.  

  • Learn the methods to track criminals online and in the real world
  • Learn the tricks of the trade (tradecraft) of covert communications and breaking those communications
  • Learn how to build a case that would not have been closed without this course
  • Learn the one thingI that will give you the tools to become not only a great forensicator, but someone that can place a suspect behind the keyboard

Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard was the first digital forensics book focusing on building a good case on criminals who use technology to commit crimes. This also the first course teaching that specific topic.  My intention with this online course is to put you into the mindset of someone working toward identifying the suspect, gathering evidence on the suspect, and proving allegations against your suspect; in effect, placing the suspect behind the keyboard.


If your career has been like mine, most cases are fairly straightforward. Perhaps a suspect was already identified and most of the evidence already seized.  In many cases, whether it is a criminal arrest or being hired as a private consultant, generally, you start with all you need to begin examining the media.  But if your career is like mine, there have been a few cases where that is simply not the case.  This course is not only for the easy cases, but especially for the tough ones.Holistically, this course covers everything you need, whether working in the private or public sector.  Investigative techniques are discussed for both sectors as many methods can be used in both case types.  A few sections are LE-only simply because citizens cannot wiretap other citizens (as an example), however, you can see the differences between a method used by law enforcement and the private sector.  Practically speaking however, the actual methods are the same.  A forensic analysis of a flash drive in a criminal case is not different than in a civil case, nor are the methods to tie a person to a device different.

This course is not just for the average case, but developed especially to address the difficult cases.

Cases where the suspect has not been identified.  Cases where the electronic evidence has not been seized.  Cases where there are many suspects.  Cases where the evidence linking the suspect to the device or crime is weak at best.  For those cases, you need to take extra measures, think out of the box, and use everything at your disposal.  You have to work at putting the suspect behind the keyboard, because if you don’t, it won’t happen. 

Don’t let your case go to the cold-case files.  Solve it!  This course shows you how to do it.  The books detail even more on how to put cases together, especially the really difficult cases where you have little to go.  As for incident response cases (breaches), this is not a course on mitigating a breach, or tracking hackers in cyberspace.  Although, many of the methods will work for just that.   Incident Response can benefit greatly for the sake of sometimes the suspect in a breach must be caught for a variety of reasons.  This course and books brings it to you.

The Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard online course uses the same material as the 2-day workshop with the biggest difference being not working actual cases in class.  As a side note, in a previous class, a suicide case was reopened as a potential homicide case based on course methods in the class!  The methods are proven to work.

FAQ:

Is there a discount for a bulk order?

With 50%, two free books, and free access to the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide course, there are no bulk discounts.

My agency/company will take a week or two to get approval to pay.  Can the discount be extended?

Send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let me know.  I can extend to get approval, but not for too long.

Will there be another promotion after this one?

Most probably, but it won't be (1) 50% off, and (2) may not include the two books, and (3) most likely won't include access to the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide course.  This is the best time to get both courses and both books at this price.

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The 2 Worst Games to Play in #infosec

The “Hot Potato” Game

The goal of the Hot Potato Game is to simply pass off responsibility to the next person as soon as you can before something bad happens.  When the responsibility lands in your lap again, you pass it to someone else as soon as you can.  Eventually, someone gets caught holding the hot potato and they lose (and you win!!).  A similar version of this game is “Musical Chairs” game or “Kicking the Can Down the Road” game.  By the way, it sucks to lose this game.

I have seen this game played in both the government and the private sector.  Any long-time government employee can point to dozens of managers who are experts at this game.   I believe there are so many experts because it is rare for a government employee to actually suffer when losing this game, which only encourages more people to play and gain experience in tossing the hot potato to the next guy at the table.

In the private sector, losing this game is an entirely different matter, especially when PII or PHI has been stolen.  When that happens, fingers get pointed awfully quick and the government comes in with a hammer to smash as many thumbs as they can find.  Did I mention that losing this game sucks?

  1. The “Are We There Yet” Game

The "Are We There Yet" game is another popular game played in both the public and private sector.  This particular game is also known as “We’ll Cross that Bridge When We Come to It” game.   In this game, you know bad things are coming one day, and you accept that being worry-free today is worth the stress of dealing with an incident tomorrow, because we all know that tomorrow never comes.

I have actually seen budgets with anticipated expenses planned for incidents that could be avoided with preparation and less money.  I guess some organizations believe that if they don’t spend money now on preparation (defense), they may not need it for remediation after a breach, so it may make a better business decision.  This game is also known as “Craps”.

When I consult for corporations and government entities, I always advise to not play these games (in a professional manner rather than saying 'don't play these games').  Fortunately, I find that many organizations are spending money now to prepare rather than hope for the best.  The organizations that want to prepare are doing really good, taking advice, and in some cases, going beyond what is required.  In technical terms, I call this a great job.

I have gotten to the point that when I hear a client choose to play either of these games, I don’t laugh out loud anymore, especially when I hear verbatim, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”.   When I hear that, I usually leave a half dozen business cards…

Hopefully you aren’t forced to play in these games and that when you say that you need money and time to prepare for unexpected breaches, you get it.  This same thing applies to internal employee matters too.  Any organization that haphazardly gives out electronic devices without any controls to employees….is an organization playing the hot potato game.  I tend to believe that with so many attacks, so many breaches, and so many organizations frozen with Ransonware, organizations start to take notice.  It's kind of like everyone in your neighborhood getting burglarized.  You can choose to either hope your house is not burglarized or you can install an alarm, lock your doors and windows, and prepare just in case.

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Forensic 4:cast awards.... VOTE FOR MY BOOK!! (pretty please)

Forensic 4:cast awards.... VOTE FOR MY BOOK!! (pretty please)

I am humbled again as my book,.Hiding Behind the Keyboard, has been nominated for the Forensic 4:cast Digital Forensic Book of the Year.  It would be my honor if you would vote for the book. 

The two competing books are also great books, but this one is mine ?

I wrote this book primarily as a follow up to my first book, Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, by adding more topics and material.  John Bair of Tacoma Police Department, helped immensely with the mobile forensic material for which he is an amazing expert.

For both Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard, the intention is to put the reader into the mindset of a detective in order to close a case.  “Closing a case” means to thoroughly

  • investigate (both in the physical world and the digital world)
  • find and evaluate evidence
  • put together inferences
  • draw reasonable suspicions and conclusions
  • eliminate potential suspects
  • identify the real criminals, and
  • build such a great case that the defense chokes on the evidence

In short, the books are intended to show how an investigator can make a case and close it.  In both books, I have practically littered the pages with tips and tricks of the trade gained from personal experience and the experiences of the fantastic investigators I have been paired up with, from small state task forces to many federal task forces. Most of what I learned, I learned the hard way, fought through it, and kept improving on each investigation.  These books give the good stuff up front, the time saving tips spread throughout, and no nonsense in how to physically do the job.  If you work cases, I wrote the book for you.

If you investigate crimes (including civil matters, like corporate issues), you will find more than enough nuggets of gold to make your cases easier and more solid.  That was the intent of what I wrote, for you to close cases and put the criminal behind bars.

By the way, if you don't do real investigations, but write about them in fiction work...you'll find some pretty neat information on the way cyber (forensic) investigations work on the street.

Be sure to vote before May 31, 2017.  I would be grateful for your time to cast your vote and again, humbled even at the nominiation.  Note...you don't have to have bought the book to vote for it.   If you agree with the purpose of the book, your vote is most welcome.  You even can leave the entire voting selections empty except for the one best book category and just vote for my book. That would make me happy :) 

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The 2 Fastest and Least Expensive Ways to Learn X-Ways Forensics

***4/18/2017***

***UPDATE ON THE PROMO***

This is all you need to know: The X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide online course is still available at only $119 instead of the regular tuition of $599 until April 19.

If you missed the promo for 80% with a FREE copy of the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide book, you still have time to get 80% off the online course without a free copy of the book.  This is still a great deal off the 12-hour, $599 course at only $119.  There will never be a discount this steep again for this course, so get it while you can, because the time to register is running out.

 

   

XWF Practitioner's Guide Promo Countdown! Wednesday, April 19, 2017 11:59 PM 427 Days XWF Practitioner's Guide Promo Countdown!

 

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My advice to X-Ways Forensics users is to stop thinking you can figure it out by yourself, even if you have been using X-Ways Forensics for any length of time.  There are simply far too many nuances and hidden features that you are missing every time you try to figure it out or use on cases.  If you really want to get down and dirty to learn X-Ways Forensics fast and cheap, here is the ONLY way to do it.

  1. Buy the book (list price is $59.95)
  2. Take the online class (regular price is $599.00)

But, wouldn't you rather want to learn how to use X-Ways Forensics saving even more money?  If so, you want to sign up right now because right now is the biggest discount for the course while getting the most swag! Get up to 80% off the price PLUS a FREE copy of the book and if you act fast enough, be invited to even more FREE trainingFree book offer has expired.

If you register within the next 7 days (April 19), you can get the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide online course at 50% off for only $299.  80% off for only $119.

**UPDATE  4/16/2017**

The promo is almost over for the free book...  

 

If you do not receive your 80% promo link via Twitter DM, email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll email it to you.

How about even more!  The first 20 registrations will be invited to a live, 2-hr online X-Ways Forensics course with me to demonstrate using X-Ways Forensics as a triage tool and for electronic discovery (this includes using the latest build of the Windows Forensic Environment – WinFE).  These first 25 registations still receive over 12 hours of the online X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's course and a FREE COPY of the book!   The first 20 just filled up the live course, but the promo for up to 80% plus a FREE book is still good.

The course has never been discounted this deep, so this is the best time to take advantage of learning to how you can exploit X-Ways Forensics to its fullest potential, learning from your computer, on your own time, at the lowest price.  

Since 2014, more than 2,000 students have registered and taken my online courses with 24/7 access.  

“It has helped shed lights on things I have missed in the past.”  -student

“I got to say I’m enjoying the videos.” – student

Don't miss the boat!  80% off 12 hours of X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide training plus a FREE COPY of the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide.  ONLY $119 for the regular $599 tuition with a free copy of the book!

http://bit.ly/xwfpromo80 expired

 

*For outside the USA, only a Kindle version is available as part of this promotion.  Registrations within the USA can choose between print or Kindle.

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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.

Criminals who try to avoid surveillance technology in public, such as license plate readers and facial recognition are also extremely limited in the crimes they can commit since they would have to remain in their homes to commit crimes outside of public surveillance methods.  Even then, committing a crime in a home is not without the risk of being monitored, either by a government agency, a private corporation, or an electronic device plugged into an outlet.  If you own a Vizio television, consider yourself tracked, hacked, and sold to the highest bidder. http://www.theverge.com/2017/2/7/14527360/vizio-smart-tv-tracking-settlement-disable-settings

From Amazon’s Echo to an Internet-connected fridge, data is collected as it happens, and stored either locally on the device or on a remote server (or both).  Depending on how ‘smart’ a home is, every drop of water usage can be tracked, every door opening logged, and every person entering and leaving the home gets recorded.  This does not even include cell phone use that is tracked within the home by providers.  And the computer use!  The things we do on the computer leave traces not only on the hard drive, but also on the servers we touch with every www typed.  Criminals in their home are no more protected from being discovered than on the street.  This is a good thing.

As to the significance of some of these high tech smart home devices, consider that water usage can give inferences as to what was done in a home, such as cleaning up a crime scene…

 

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/12/police-ask-alexa-did-you-witness-a-murder/ 

During all the years of being a detective, I did trash runs.  Lots and lots of trash runs.  I hated the trash runs until I found good evidence.  Garbage smells really bad, especially during the summer.  Digging through garbage bags in a dumpster in the middle of a hot day can make the toughest person gag or puke.  But you can get some really good information on the criminals you seek. Did I mention it can smell really bad?

That is one of the reasons I really enjoyed moving into digital forensics.  Digging through the garbage of data on a hard drive is a lot easier on the nose than digging through a dumpster.  Plus, the information you get is sometimes a lot better than what you can find in a garbage can.  There are exceptions…you won’t find the murder weapon in a folder on the C:/ drive of a hard drive unless the murder weapon was a computer program. 

You would think that with the amount of technology available and already in place that police would be able to uncover more crimes, find more criminals, and be more effective.  When a smart home can email the home owner a photo of someone ringing the doorbell, newer cars come with pre-installed GPS tracking systems, and a fridge can record a live stream of residents in the kitchen, the ease of finding evidence should be easier…right?

Not quite.

That brings us to the biggest hurdle to crime fighting: incompetency and laziness.  Government agencies are not immune to the same human fallacies found elsewhere. There are hard workers in government just as there are hard workers in the private sector.  Same holds true for laziness and incompetence, which criminals take advantage.

In any case where electronic devices are not being seized for examination, evidence is intentionally being left behind.  I am not referring to the electronic devices that are difficult to find, like a camouflaged USB device hidden within a teddy bear. I’m talking about the cell phone sitting on the car seat of the suspect arrested for burglary.  Yes. I’ve seen it happen.  Part of the reason is that unless lead is flying, most criminal cases and dispatched calls are boring to the responding officer.  As an example, with a residential burglary, the suspect is usually gone and the victim is lucky if the officer even tries to recover prints from the scene.  Stolen car?  Oh well. Fill out the report and call your insurance company.

I have been out of police work for about 10 years and I had hoped this lack of urgency in police work has changed.  But apparently not.  I recently helped someone with their stolen purse from a gym.  I got the call first instead of 911, but that’s another story.  Anyway, I showed up to give some guidance and eventually the district officers arrived.  Even after being told that video cameras faced the parking lot, and that the suspect/s went inside another victim’s car, the officers said, “The cameras probably didn’t get it”. The manager of the gym even offered up the video and said the cameras face the victim’s car... but the officers they left without even asking to see the video.  After telling the officers that the suspect/s just used the stolen credit cards in a store less than 5 miles away and that the store surely must have cameras, one of the officers said, “We can’t get much from a store’s security cameras.  You just need to call your bank to cancel your cards.” End result: File a report.  Call the banks. Get a replacement driver’s license.  Yes.  This still happens.  And criminals thrive on it.

The irony with a lack of seizing electronic evidence is that for most of the forensic examiners in law enforcement, they love to dig and dig and dig and dig through data to find the smoking gun.  It is the lifeblood of what they do.  If only the devices were seized and given to them.  Case in point:  I was called to exam a laptop of a missing teenager, six months after she was reported missing.   The detective simply did not put any reliance on a laptop, in which the teenager was religiously using for social media, as a source of important evidence.  The teen’s body was later found buried less than 5 miles from the police department where this detective drank coffee at his desk, with the laptop sitting downstairs in evidence for months.  I would have loved to examine that laptop ON THE SAME DAY the teen was reported missing.  It was virtually useless by the time I got it.

Seeing that tech should make it easier for police work, it should make it easier for writers of fiction.  It doesn’t.  I read (and write) a lot.  Technology can ruin good fiction.  No longer can a fictional criminal live his or her life under the radar.   Even the good guys can’t avoid ‘the radar’.   The Jack Reacher series should have been set in the 80s, because there is no way that Jack Reacher can roam the country without ever ringing some bells in surveillance tracking technology and live only with the technology of a single ATM card.  I was lucky that my undercover work was before the Internet really took off.  Backstopping an ID today requires way more than it did when I was undercover.

Writing fiction set in today requires knowing technology, because any scene that should have technology but doesn’t simply makes that scene unbelievable.  Same with Hollywood. Seriously.  It gets harder and harder to watch a movie that intends to be realistic without realistically using technology.   Show me a movie where no one is texting anywhere in a scene and I’ll show you a movie where technology is selectively ignored for the sake of simplicity at the cost of plausibility.

I can hear it now.  Police work is hard.  It’s not easy to get search warrants.  Not every department has a forensic unit.  We are too busy to solve crimes.  We are short-staffed. We don’t get enough training.  Blah blah blah.  I’ve heard it before and proved it can be done time and time again.  I have always believed that 10% of law enforcement do 90% of the work while 90% of law enforcement try to pawn off the remaining 10% of the work (while fighting over taking credit for it).  If just another 10% of law enforcement suddenly got a sense of urgency to require high tech investigations be a part of every crime scene, we’d reduce crime stats in half and solve twice as many crimes.

Now if only I can find a book or movie that doesn’t pretend technology doesn’t exist..

 

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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.”

To become a digital forensics analyst, there isn’t an answer like “go to a digital forensics school” because there are more than a few ways to get into the field depending upon your individual and unique situation.  On top of that, simply getting a degree in digital forensics doesn’t automatically make you qualified.  Many forensic analysts fell into the job while working another job, like a police detective suddenly having to do computer-related crime cases, takes lots of training, and works major cases.  The rest have to fight to get into the job or to at least get through the door.

My brief opinion on getting into the field is that a new person needs one or more (sometimes all) of these:

  • Certs and/or degrees
    • Helps check the boxes on the job application
    • Shows that you sat in a chair and passed tests
    • Shows that you paid lots of money (or may have lots of student loans)
    • Shows that you can complete a system of training/learning
    • Implies you should know what the paper says you should know
  • Experience in a close-enough-related-job
    • Shows that you have been doing the job, or close-enough-related-job
    • Implies that you have competence, since you were being paid
  • Competence
    • Hardest way to get in without something else (experience and/or education)
    • Difficult to get past the application if blindly applying to jobs if you can’t check the required boxes
    • Have to prove yourself beforehand (write a software program, discover something useful for the field, etc...)
    • Nothing is implied, because you need proof of competence.

Each of these require time.  If you want to get into a good digital forensics job within a year, and the only thing you have ever done is read a blog about forensics, then consider that it might not happen as quick as you would like.  If you don’t want to spend any money (on tuition, tools, books, training courses), then you must be able to learn open source forensics…and teach yourself.  Lastly, you need capability.  Not everyone can or wants to spend the time and money to become competent.  You have to put in your dues to get the potential rewards.  If you don't work on being able to do the job, simply wanting to do it is not going to be enough.  A lot of people want to be a cyber hero, but not a lot of people want sacrifice for what it takes to get there.

A brief note about the exceptions and exceptional people: I have met some exceptions to the rules of getting through the DF/IR door. I am referring to those who are mostly self-taught and have no education to speak of (insofar as a technical education).  If you are one of those, then you go through the back door.  You just need to find someone to show you where the back door is.  If you are an exception, that means that you can be given a desk and computer and from Day – One, you can do magic.  If you are not an exception, you will be knocking on the front door.

So, to be able to at least submit an application, get qualified enough to check the boxes.  One of the things I have never understood is that some (many?) jobs require a bachelor’s degree in virtually anything in order to apply for a job that clearly does not require a college education.  If that is the kind of job you want, which is a considerable amount of federal jobs, get the degree or you will not even be able to check the one box that is required to apply, no matter your experience (for exceptions, refer to the previous note). 

On picking a training path, be choosy because it’s not only money you are spending. It is also your time.  I started a college program once, only to quit because I could have taught it since the ‘professor’ never ever never even imaged a hard drive, nor did a forensic exam ever.  It was clearly a new revenue stream for the college.  I’ve taken a few private courses that had the effect of me trying to forget what I learned because so much of it was incorrect or out-of-date.  I’ve been "taught" how to testify in court by someone who never testified in court…or tried a case…or ever practiced law.  Conversely, I have taken some outstanding training, college courses, and attended superb conferences that made all the difference in the world.  The trick is sorting through which is which.  Those are the questions to ask.

Disclaimer: I am but a lowly forensic guy, not the end-all-be-all or know-it-all (I learn something every day).  These are just my opinions.  I have hired and fired employees, passed and failed students, taught and been taught forensics.  But like everyone, experiences, perceptions, education, and opinions vary.

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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. 

About forensics: The online course doesn’t teach forensics, except to demonstrate features of XWF.  Don't expect to learn 'what is the registry' in this course.  It's all about X-Ways Forensics, to get you up and running right away.

Competence: If you go through this course (and you have a foundation of digital forensics knowledge), you’ll have enough knowledge to use XWF on a real case.

Students: If your school uses XWF, you’ll be much better off learning XWF online away from class to get the full benefit of using XWF.   School programs can only teach so much with software in courses where they must teach everything.

The book:  Through Dec 31, 2016 the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide book (print copy) is included with your tuition (USA/Canada shipping only).   There is no other book on X-Ways Forensics available.  The next edition may not be for another year or two.  Get your copy as part of the course.  The cost savings of a book + 12 hours of X-Ways Forensics training at $235 is the best deal you can find anywhere.

Course updates: The course may be updated throughout the year when XWF has enough smaller updates to add up to a new course or updated lessons.  You get that as part of your registration.  Revisit the course throughout the year, anytime you want, from anywhere online.

XWF as a primary or other forensic tool:  If you currently use or plan to use XWF in your work, get some training.  Either this course or a course from X-Ways AG, or somewhere.  XWF is not a tool for self-learning when you need it for casework tomorrow.  Especially for a primary tool, get some training.  This course gives you the information to use it either as your primary tool or secondary tool.

If you have any questions, hit me up J

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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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. 

Unfortunately, all I asked was, “Should I write a book?” and didn’t ask anything about the process.  That was Mistake #1.

How did you come up with a topic to write about?

This was easy.  I thought of a book topic that I wanted to read about; a book that I would buy right then if it were on Amazon.  Of course, if the topic was already written and in print, I would not have written a book on the same thing as I just would have bought it. 

I thought about the topic of my first book (Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard) when I was a narcotics detective, years before I got into digital forensics.  The reason came about due to drug cases where I had a ton of cases where providing drug possession was difficult due to each incident (multiple persons in a car and a bag of cocaine under one seat, third party owner of a car, etc…).  Getting into forensics later in my police career, I came across the same issues in proving who was behind the keyboard in child exploitation cases and so forth.  So, that topic was in the making for about a decade.

My second book (X-Ways Forensics Practitioner's Guide) was written out of personal necessity. I wanted a book on how to use the forensic tool I use everyday.  I have never appreciated the X-Ways Forensics manual.  I find it hard to read, difficult to find the information I need, and would prefer something tell me exactly how to use X-Ways Forensics.  I had written a few things about X-Ways and posted online but figured a book on X-Ways Forensics would be best.  The manual does what it is intended to do: give information 'about' X-Ways Forensics, but not tell 'how' to use X-Ways Forensics.

My latest book, Hiding Behind the Keyboard, was written mainly as a follow up to my first book in order to add some updated information including some related mobile forensics information.  Both Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard complement each other and I wrote both to be long lasting with concepts that can be used with evolving technology.

Which publisher should I go with?

For me, I choose Syngress.  I have a lot of Syngress books and always check for latest releases from Syngress. There are a few other publishers that print digital forensics topics, but I just like the Syngress titles and formats.  I did not consider other publishers but should have (Mistake #2) as it makes better sense to know what other publishers offer instead of just one.

I suggest go with whichever publisher publishes books that you like and would like to write in the same manner.  What I mean by this is, some publishers have strict guidelines on how you write and what your write.  If you go with a publisher that wants your book to be a college textbook, be prepared to forego a lot of your creativity.  You may have to write at a 10th grade reading level, segregate the book into sections that can fit into a college course year or semester, plus other requirements that will make your book into a textbook.

For me, Syngress is different.  I have found that the author has so much leeway in writing that the book can be written to fit practitioners’ needs.  I enjoy forensic books that get right to the point with the author giving ‘war stories’ of how the techniques worked in real life.  I also like that Syngress books seem to speak directly to you, examiner to examiner, and not as if you are a student following a syllabus.

So, the answer is go with what fits you, and if they won’t take you, go with someone else.

Did you think about self-publishing?

I get this one a lot.  I did think about it and still do.  In fact, I will be self-publishing a book just to see how well it works.  Since I haven’t done it yet, I can’t recommend it.  What I can say about self-publishing is that you own the work.  That is a major point.  With a publisher, you don’t own the work; the publisher owns it.  That means if you want to write a 2nd edition, you can’t unless the publisher approves it.  That might be a major issue if you are writing about your own software or something you ‘own’ or ‘discovered’ on your own.

Publishing through a reputable company gives you many benefits that can outweigh ‘owning your work’.  For example, Syngress has distribution channels set up already.  Their name is heavy.  They handle everything.  Cover design, editing, payments, sales, reprints, marketing, and author support is all covered with a publisher.  That does not mean there isn’t a cost.  The author gets a piece of the pie after everyone else is paid.  That is the price to pay and if you are working cases full time, then it most likely will be a price well paid.  If you want the least amount of hassles, find a publisher.  There are always speed bumps in a book publishing process, but when you are self-publishing, those speed bumps can turn into brick walls if you don't know what you are doing.

Should I write the book first and then find a publisher?

Oh my, don’t do that.  You can if you want.  Several people that asked me had already written most of their book or finished it.  In my opinion, I think it best to have the outline and propose the outline to a publisher.  Most publishers have a form that you can fill in the blanks and submit for a book.  If they like it, you are good to go.  If not, you can try again with a different outline to fit what they believe would be a good book.  Take a look at Syngress as an example of writing and submitting a book proposal.

One thing to think about if you are planning to write first is that you might be too late.  As one example, I had considered writing about a topic, thought about it for a few weeks, put together an outline, thought about it for a few more weeks, and by the time I decided to propose the topic, I found that someone had just said they were going to write the exact same book. I took too long (Mistake #3).  I tossed my outline and learned that it is better to propose a topic as soon as you think about because if you don’t, someone else will.  If you write a book before even letting the world know about it, you risk someone else getting a contract to write the same book when they didn’t do anything other than submit a proposal.   In theory, since your book is complete, you could publish well before the other book comes out, but that is not something I would want to do.

Why did you have a co-author on some books and not another?

Well…on the first book, I had asked a few people to co-author the book with me and was turned down.  Being my first book, those rejections hit kinda hard.  I didn’t ask anyone else for fear of more rejections, so I wrote the book myself and in the end, glad that I did.  I recommend that if you are going to write several books, write at least one by yourself.  It is well worth the experience.

On the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide, I took the chance to ask someone to be a co-author because I did not feel that I could cover the software well enough.  I had been using X-Ways Forensics since its first version (over 10 years!) but still felt I may miss something.  On a whim, I asked Eric Zimmerman and he accepted to co-write the book.  Mind you, I never met Eric, and I asked him with an email that we communicating on a separate topic.  Basically, out of the blue, I asked and he accepted.  Much easier than my first book….and of anyone in forensics to help write a book on X-Ways Forensics, Eric is the man.  I lucked out on that one.  As a side note, X-Ways Forensics has gotten a LOT MORE traction as a forensic tool due to the book, which was what I wanted.  The more people that use X-Ways Forensics, the more R&D that goes into it, and the better tool I get in the end J

For the third book, when I talked about writing it, I had several people ask to be a co-author, including some of who turned me down on my first book.  But, I had my mind set on a mobile forensics expert, who happened to be local to me.  John Bair was my first pick and I had to drive down to his office and practically con/vince him to do it, for which I am grateful he accepted.  John is one of those cops who are busy because they work and barely have time for writing a book.  I sincerely appreciated him taking time to help with the book and hopefully set him on a path of writing books in the future.

So, write one by yourself and write others with a co-author.  It just depends if you have enough expertise in a topic to write an entire book yourself, or if you need help to meet deadlines. As far as how to ask someone…just ask.  Send an email.  Call.  Mail a letter. Anything.  Just ask.  Don’t be surprised at what you get when you ask.  Those who turned me down with my first book…I know them personally, some for almost 20 years, but they turned me down.  With Eric and John, I never met either but both agreed.  You just can’t tell who will say yes and who will say no.  I recommend ONLY asking someone you really want to be a co-author.  If you asked someone the B-team because you think someone the A-team will say no, you will get what you get for a co-author. I say, go straight to the A-team.  The worst that can happen is that they say no.

How long does the process take?

I gauge the time from the date of the signed contract to the date of printing.  Anything before that day doesn’t really count.  Thinking about writing and talking about it doesn’t do much until you sign your name to get it down.

Remember that I am only talking about Syngress and my experiences, but generally expect that your book won’t be on a shelf (or Amazon) for about a year.   Most likely, you will be sending in a chapter a month until done.  Then it takes a month or so to edit it (by the publisher to fix grammar and spelling), and then maybe two or three months to print it. 

If you write faster, the book gets printed faster. If you write on time, the book is going to take time to finish.  With a co-author, you can cut the time in half.  Seriously.  You can cut the time in half.  There were several times that I thought Eric Zimmerman didn’t need sleep.  Eric is a machine.  He writes at the speed of light and I think his first drafts were practically final drafts.  John was on spot too.  When you have authors like that, your book is going to be available fast/er.

But no matter what you do, when you publish through a company, there is extra time needed than if you did it yourself.  I am certain that if Eric and I self-published, the book would have hit the stores within 5 months.  If you realize that putting a PDF on the Internet does not compare to publishing a book, you will have patience for the process.

Would you do it again?

Yep.  Doing it again already.

Do you have any suggestions on getting started?

Yep.  Go to a publisher’s website, download the book proposal form, and fill it out right now.  Then share it with trusted peers to get their opinion.  Find a co-author if you need. Then submit your proposal.  Start now because I promise you, someone is thinking about that very same topic right now.

Who pays everyone?

If you self-publish, you do.  You pay everyone.  You pay the co-author, editor, cover designer, printer, etc…

If you go through a publisher, you will have no out-of-pocket expenses, other than what you spend for your book materials (may need to buy and test software, etc…).  Everything else is taken care of by the publisher.  Part of being paid a small piece of the pie is that the finances are not your responsibility. 

How much money can I expect to make?

This is a difficult question, because Harry Potter made JK Rawlings into a billionaire and there are more books that anyone can guess that didn’t make enough to buy a cup of coffee.  The answer, like anything in forensics, is that it depends.  If you write a popular book, it will sell.  For example, the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide sold out before the first printing was even started. It went into a second print before the book was even available.  It just all depends.  I will say that if you intend to retire off a digital forensics book, you better write something like “Harry Potter and the Cyber Criminal.”

To get a little closer to an answer, I would say that if you really are thinking about making money with this kind of book, you can make some.  At least enough for a nice vacation every year or maybe buy a new car with one of the checks.  

Any tips on the process?

Plenty. 

Co-authors: You can cut down the process if you have a co-author in a few ways. First off, share the writing and write at the same time.  For example, if you are due one chapter a month, rather than each co-author write their chapter every other month, both can write a chapter every month.  That will cut the process time in half.

Have your co-author review your chapter, and review your co-author’s chapter before submitting them each month. That cuts the tech editor’s time down to almost nothing.  It also cuts the final editing down as well.

Tracking changes: Use a file sharing program to keep track of the chapters.  DO NOT email drafts between authors and your publisher until they are FINAL.  When you email a draft to your co-author, and then you receive a draft from your co-author, then another, then one gets crossed in an email, you will all be confused to which draft is the current draft.  Some changes may even be missed.  Use something like SpiderOak or Dropbox.   Edit the files there so that all changes are tracked.  Which brings up tracked changed. Use MS Word and turn on tracked changes.  If you have never used tracked changes before, research it and you will see that it is the only way to go to keep track of changes. 

Timeliness: Get your chapters done early.  A month may seem like a long time, but I promise you that you will have one or more days that get too close to the deadline.  Procrastination is not an author’s friend.  If you are a procrastinator, don’t self-publish because it won’t happen.

Contributors, helpers, co-authors: There are a lot of people you can call upon to help with your book, and you need some of these regardless.  A co-author is optional, but like I mentioned, can be beneficial.  If you are thinking of a co-author, go straight to the A-team.  Don’t be shy.  Be prepared for a rejection, but such is life.

A tech-editor is a necessity in this field to make sure that what you think is correct is.  You don’t want to profess a forensic method to work when you are wrong.  Have your work peer-reviewed by a tech-editor.  The good thing is that you can usually pick your tech-editor.  As with going for the A-team with a co-author, the same theory applies to your tech editor.  Look at books you read, courses you attended, experts you see listed online, and pick who you want to review your work.  Ask and cross your fingers.  Then keep asking until someone says yes.  And if no one says yes, ask your publisher to find one, which they usually can if needed.

Contributors work the same way.  If there is just a single topic in a single chapter that you need help with and want a contributor, just find one and ask.  That’s all there is to it.  Add their name to the book as a contributor, the publisher takes care of the contract and payment. 

Errors: You will do your best to not make grammatical errors.  Your tech-editor will try to catch grammar errors (even though they focus on the accuracy of information more than grammar), your co-author will try to catch your errors, and the final editor (from the publishers, who I assume have PhDs in English…) will try to find any remaining errors.  BUT, there will still be a grammar, spelling, or sentence error of some sort that happens.  I have a book on my shelf that has the author’s name MISPELLED on the back cover.  These happen.  It is expected. Just do your best to minimize them.

Opinions: Before and during the process, ask opinions from those you respect, about what you are writing and intend to write.  If you hear a lot of, ‘that’s not something I would want to read or buy”, take it to heart.  You are writing for people to read it, otherwise, stick to a diary.   This doesn’t mean to forego your ideas and creativity, but be sure to write something that people want to learn about too.

Complimentary books: You will most likely get a set number of books from your publisher as complimentary copies to do with as you wish.   I suggest that instead of sending a book to mom, a book to your brother, and some to your friends who nothing to do with forensics, send them to someone who will write a review.  Your mom is going to love your book, but most likely, she isn’t going to understand what you wrote unless she does forensics.  Sure, keep one for your shelf, but give away the others to those who would have bought it.

Here comes the strange part about the comp books.  I’ve given all of my comp books away and politely asked for public reviews (on Amazon or their blogs).  Of the 99% I sent (I kept one of each book…), less than half wrote a review anywhere. I could have given the other half to family and friends and gotten a better response. Oh well.  Apparently, this seems to be the case across the board as I’ve asked and heard the same thing from other writers.  As a kind suggestion, if you ever get a comp copy of a book, write a review on Amazon.  It will be appreciated greatly.

One more thing on the comp copies.  After the comp copies are gone (maybe there were 10 or 20), they are gone.  The author does not have a never-ending supply of ‘free’ books.  If you get a book from an author that is not a com copy, that means the author bought it, usually at full price.  With bulk orders, there is a discount, but the discount is usually not better than what can be found on Amazon.  A friend of mine (in forensics) was over to visit one day and saw one of my books on my shelf.  I asked if he wanted to look at it and he thought I said, “do you want to have a free copy of my only copy left of the book I wrote?”.  And he took it…..so when a book cost $59.95, that is the price the author pays too….for the book that s/he wrote…therefore…reviews are a nice way to say thanks for book.

Practice first: I wrote a few PDFs that were put online.   Some call these “white papers”, but in reality, when we write these, they are essays that may or may not be peer reviewed.    However, they hold weight in (1) experience in writing that publishers will look at, (2) as in informal surveys in how readers respond to your writing and ideas, and (3) testing the waters of putting yourself out there.

The scariest thing is putting yourself out in the public eye.  Most of us in this field are hyper-paranoid of everything.  Few of us jump into the water without putting our toes in first.  Those who do are not any braver than you.  They just say to themselves, “screw it, I’m doing it”.   Our paranoia comes from the risks of being doxed online because we put our names online (take a look at Brian Kreb’s experiences and you’ll see what I mean).  Others are afraid of having their written words used against them in court on a case by an opposing expert or opposing counsel.   And some are just too shy or embarrassed.

My opinion on public exposure is that when you publish something, you are reputable.  For example, if you publish a book through a noted publisher, such as Syngress or Cengage, your book has been peer reviewed to the max.  It has been professionally published, reviewed, printed, marketed, and will be used as citations around the world. If you don’t want your words used in a students graduate thesis, or as fodder in a court case as a citation, or cited in other books, then don’t write.   But if you want your name to be in the same sentence as ‘expert’ or ‘reputable’ or ‘published’, then write.   Sign your name and jump into the water.  It will be either warm or cold, but jump in.

If you are curious if any of your past works (white papers/PDFs) online have been cited by others, check out https://scholar.google.com/.   You may find that your works are already being touted by others as cited works.

For the readers out there, this is for you.

Dude, when you review books, be kind.  If you didn’t really the book, there isn’t a need to slam the author.  Simply say that you didn’t enjoy the book because of a, b, and c.  I’ve seen reviews of some books (thankfully not my own!) that were down right cruel.  Let’s be nice people.  No one writing a digital forensics book will be retiring off that book and really took a risk of jumping into the public eye.

These are just my opinions.  I would suggest checking out some older posts from Harlan Carvey’s blog (https://windowsir.blogspot.com/2014/05/book-writing-to-self-publish-or-not.html) on publishing.  He has written some good advice on publishing, and like I mentioned, everyone is going to have different experiences.

Lastly, if you have read this entire blog post, that talks about writing a book on some topic in digital forensics, that means you have thought about doing it.   And reading this post to the end means you even have a topic or two that you believe would make a good book.  That means I am speaking directly to you at this point and suggesting that you DO IT!

 

 

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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.

Don’t get me wrong. I like fast machines.  I need fast machines for some work.  But that work isn’t typically “forensics” but rather automated processes like imaging, or indexing, or some specific processing or decryption. That type of work requires computing power to get done.  Once that part is done, it comes down to fingers, eyes, and brain to do the real work.

I’m not advocating to not have a Monster machine or two, but I am advocating to rely on your brain, not the machine to the analysis.

BUT.  There is always an exception to forensic machines.  If you choose to have a RAM-sucking, space-eating, and overly-hungry-system-resource software as your primary forensic software, you are going to need a Monster machine to run it.  And if you expect to take that resource-intensive software outside the lab for use, you’ll need a 15-pound laptop along with a small RAID box to bring along so you can use it.

Be able to do anything you need to do with anything you have at hand at anytime needed. I've been around a lot of people with a lot of excuses ("I can't do this without my particular workstation or my particular software or etc...").  The world of DFIR is similar to the military. Make do with what you got.  Excuses not accepted.

I’m sure Picasso could paint a masterpiece using peanut butter and jelly.   An effective digital forensics analyst could do worse than being able to run a forensic application on a little bitty laptop if she knows what she is doing.  The most important tool in DFIR work?  That's your brain.  Think critically.  Link inferences.  About hardware and software?  Those are just things to let your brain connect to the evidence.  

In short, become a Picasso of forensics.  

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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.  

Courses with law enforcement and attorneys as students also created a great amount of material and discussion based on how they do different aspects of the same job, in their different positions, titles, and agencies.  Hearing from a federal public defender talk about how forensics fits in with her work alongside a prosecutor talking about the same information but applied differently really gives the entire room a wide spectrum of knowledge.  Throwing in the investigator perspective rounds it all out. 

Granted, I’m only talking about continuing education programs.  I’ve taken and spoken at a few college degree programs where the students are students and not yet even in the workforce.  That type of class is an entirely different animal where the instructor had better know what she is talking about.  And yes, I’ve taken courses where a professor had never connected a write-blocker to a hard drive, ever…not in real life or in the classroom…never testified…never created a forensic image…yet teaches the students to do this by reading a book.  That is not the case with most schools, but certainly a few.  

In the course I teach at the University of Washington (I will call it “my” course…), I give students maximum hands-on, maximum time on the keyboard, maximum time working with the tools and maximum real-life information so that they are not only near-competent to competent, but marketable.  I call my course, “Brett’s Digital Forensics Bootcamp” (without the yelling). I don’t like wasting time and I want to teach a course that I wish I could have taken when first starting out.  That means getting your hands on data as much as possible.

One last point about continuing education programs (for higher education courses)

A conversation I had last week about DFIR certifications ended with me talking about continuing education and college degrees as perhaps a better route over certifications for certain people.  For anyone already in the IT field, I find that a continuing education certification from a major university to be ‘better’ than a vendor certification, or if not better, certainly worthwhile.  I say ‘better’ in the sense that most people in IT already have some certs on their resume.  They may not be digital forensics certs, but technology-related certs nonetheless.  Certs also expire, or are discontinued because a business goes out of business or decides to create a new cert.  Having a continuing education cert from the University of Name Your College doesn’t expire, has more clout (or is that now called klout?) through regional accreditation, and is most times considered graduate-level instruction. 

Another benefit of a continuing education course is that since the courses are not vendor specific, the whole gamut of tools can be explored along with the SPECIFICS OF THE JOB.  Vendor courses focus so much on the sale and function of their tool, little time is left to the other aspects of the job that are just as important, if not more important.  I’ve taken well over a dozen vendor courses and I cannot remember any of the courses teaching forensics, other than what their tool does for forensics.

Not knowing how to collect, analize, and present defensible evidence effectively makes the examiner ineffective, incompetent, and can ruin a case.  Especially when someone has not been taught "what is evidence", finding the elusive evidence is near impossible if you don't know what it is.  Even police officers must know the elements of a crime in order to know what a crime looks like.

Yes, you must know how software works, but you also must know the job.  It’s like driving.  You may know how to drive a car, but if you don’t know the rules of the road, you will end up getting ticketed or worse.

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Jimmy Weg's blog archive

Most people in the DF field know or know of Jimmy Weg.  His blog was one of the most popular in the community, 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 association (IACIS) 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.

On a side note, I have had about a dozen or so emails about WinFE telling me that;

  1. You have to use a write-blocker

  2. You can’t trust bootable media to be forensically sound

  3. No one does it this way anymore

  4. Today’s computers don’t allow booting to external media

Each time, I have said, “You’re right.  Feel free to use what you want.”  I really don’t see a need to argue with anyone set in his or her ways in the DFIR field.  My opinion is simply that if something works, use it.  If something doesn’t work, don’t use it.  This applies to WinFE, a Linux forensic boot disc, or a write blocker as much as it applies to X-Ways, EnCase, or FTK.

Seriously, if WinFE works for you in a given situation, and you have a choice, feel free to use it.  It’s been battle-proven more than enough.  Same with the Linux distros. If you like it, and it works, and it fits to your needs, why not use it.

With that, I still believe forensically sound bootable media still has its place in the forensic world.  The upcoming course will talk all about it, including building a WinFE and perhaps even putting together your own Linux distro.

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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

Register before November 8, 2016 to get both 50% off tuition and a printed copy of the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide.  Use this link for the discount: http://courses.dfironlinetraining.com/x-ways-forensics-practitioners-guide-online-and-on-demand-course?pc=blog

Personal anecdote: While sitting in BCERT at FLETC years ago, I brought my trust X-Ways Forensics v13 to class.  FLETC issued FTK and Encase as the forensic suites during this time, and also issued a license for WinHex. The Winhex instruction was probably 30 minutes long.

I had already been using X-Ways Forensics and the FLETC instructors allowed me to use my license alongside their issued tools.  With a FLETC provided image that was given to every student in the course, X-Ways data carved hundreds of pornography pictures from my image while both FTK and Encase did not.  The instructors thought I had been surfing porn in class until I carved from someone else’s image.  Encase and FTK, for some reason, did not carve up the pictures that X-Ways did.  In about 5 minutes after seeing that X-Ways carved up porn that other tools missed, every image was collected from class by the instructors….

I emailed Stefan Fleischmann of X-Ways during lunch to let him know that his X-Ways Forensics program works pretty good.

My personal experience with X-Ways Forensics started because I was a curious about a ‘new’ forensic program based off of Winhex. I only tried X-Ways Forensics because (1) it was cheaper than anything else, (2) looked kinda cool, (3) and got deep into the actual files like a hex editor.  However, I tried to figure it out and the best way to do that was to host a course.  The only reason I gave X-Ways Forensics a chance was because X-Ways agreed to give a training course in Seattle if I would arrange it, their first course ever.  After seeing how X-Ways worked in that one course, I was hooked using X-Ways Forensics as my primary forensic tool for well over a decade.

I have met many examiners who have tried to use X-Ways Forensics and have nearly always gone back to their other tools, like Encase or FTK.  Mostly, I see this to be because of fear of change and lack of information to use X-Ways Forensics.  There were no books about X-Ways Forensics.  The manual was (is) clearly lacking in giving instruction in using X-Ways, the courses were (are) expensive and not typically where you’d like them to be.  Compared to Encase, as one example, books on using Encase have been around for some time, Encase has been taught in government forensic courses for well over a decade, and courses have been planted everywhere around the world for so long that it seems strange to not have a course local to you every year or so.  Plus, the other tools throw parties, like huge beer fests poolside in Vegas or somewhere neat.  X-Ways? No parties.  No beer fests.  It’s all down and dirty with hex, which is just the way I like it.

The manner in which this online course works is similar to the book that Eric Zimmerman and I wrote on X-Ways Forensics.  We wrote, and titled, the book for practitioners.  The manual is not for practitioners.  Do not start reading the manual hoping to find the ‘how to use X-Ways’.  Do read the X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide to find out.  Unfortunately, books and manuals simply do not fill the remaining gap of instruction and demonstration.  Short videos on Youtube won’t do it either.  You need a course to learn what you need to learn as fast as you can learn it in order for you to be able to use it right away.

If you cannot attend the official X-Ways Forensics course due to time/money, or maybe you want a refresher to the course you took five years ago, or maybe you are in a forensic course in college that uses X-Ways, this online course is the least expensive you can find (the only one currently in the world) that fills that need.

I can promise that after you complete the course, you will have a different perspective of X-Ways.  You most likely will use X-Ways Forensics as a secondary or validation tool.  Many of you will move completely over to X-Ways Forensics and turn your other tools into secondary tools.  Some of you will turn your entire lab into an X-Ways Forensics lab that uses the “other tools” as validation.

One thing the online course does not do is teach forensics.  You might learn a little something since the course uses publicly available forensic images and gives suggestions on workflows (based on case types, such as picture intensive or user document intensive cases), but don’t expect this course to teach everything about forensics.  For that, you need to take a digital forensics course to show what a “lnk” file is, or how to examine the registry.  The X-Ways Forensics Practitioner’s Guide course teaches you how to plug the X-Ways Forensics dongle into your machine and push all the buttons you need to push to get what you are looking for.  That’s more than half the battle for any forensic software: what button do I push to get forensic artifact “x”, “y” and “z”?

Watch the introductory video (free) to get a handle on why you should take this course.  Whether you have been using X-Ways Forensics for more than a day, new to X-Ways Forensics, or thinking about trying it out, this course is the fastest, least expensive, and easiest method to learn. Bar none.

 

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Brett Shavers
Sorry, but the promo expired.
Saturday, 02 September 2017 16:04
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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.

However, with a VM, all of that electronic litter, aka evidence, is kept within one file that stores the virtual machine.  The user need only wipe that one file to destroy all the electronic litter and evidence that was created during the malicious activity.   The only evidence able to be found will be on the host, and usually that will just show a VM had been started.  The malicious activity/user activity…gone.    Going a step further, a VM booted to a Linux bootable OS (even to an .iso file), will have no evidence saved in the VM to begin with.

I am not discounting other important evidence, such as network logs, captured traffic, or the evidence that can be recovered on the host machine.  That is all good evidence too, but when the actual user activity is contained in a single file that can be wiped securely, digital forensics gets harder if not downright impossible.

A recent article I read on malicious use of VMs goes one-step further.  In the article (https://www.secureworks.com/blog/virtual-machines-used-to-hide-activity), an attempt to remotely start a VM inside a compromised system failed only because the compromised system was also a VM.  Considering that scenario, a hacker starting a VM on a compromised machine can effectively hide nearly all activity within that VM by subsequently wiping it after the hacker is finished.  Incident response just got harder.

Not only are virtual machines used to facilitate criminal activity, but can also be used as a tool to compromise systems.  One creative example of malicious VM use can be read here: https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2016/08/18/compromising-linux-virtual-machines/  where virtual machines in the cloud can be used to attack another virtual machine if hosted on the same server.  Now that is clever.

Virtual machines are here to stay for all the good uses they provide, which also means they are here for all the bad uses too.  In the world of cyber-cop vs cyber-criminal, every day is another day where each side tries to out-MacGyver the other side with something new, unique, and sometimes pretty cool.

 

 

 

 

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The Value of a Good Book in the Forensics World of Things

My personal library of digital forensics books has grown from two books to two shelves of books.  All nonfiction.  All technical.  All specific to specific sub-topics in digital forensics.  My fiction bookshelf is full too, but my nonfiction bookshelf is most important since I have dog-eared and marked up each one as references.

I have bought and read so many digital forensics books that when I see a good forensic book on Amazon, I have to double-check my collection to make sure I don’t order the same book twice.  I’ve even published three digital forensics books and they also sit on my shelf because I even refer back to them as needed…and I wrote them!

When I first started in digital forensics, it was called “computer forensics”.  This was in the days of yanking out the plug from the back of the machine, seizing every mouse and keyboard, and imaging every piece of media for full exams that took weeks for each one. Training was hard to come by unless you could afford to travel for weeks on end across country. 

Luckily, I was lucky. My employer (a police department) sent me everywhere.  West coast, east coast, and the mid west.  I had in my collection about three forensics books because there weren’t any others I could find.  These few books were so generic that as a reference in doing the actual job, they were mostly books giving a 10-mile high overview of what to do.

My very first forensic case was a child pornography and child rape case that involved “one” computer in a single-family residence.  I was told it was “one” computer, but when the search warrant was served, I found a home network consisting of a server with 25 computers connected to it…plus more than 50 hard drives laying around EVERYWHERE in the house and probably no less than 500 CDs.  Wires were everywhere, tacked to the ceiling, in the attic, and under the carpet.  Some computers were running, others off.  The case detective simply said, “Get to work.”  And I had three books as a reference and training to rely on.  I was also the only forensics examiner in the department…that was a long day and the three books were of no help.

After surviving that case, I have seen more books on sub-topics of sub-topics in the field of forensics get published month-after-month.   With each book, I keep saying, “I sure wish I had this book a few years ago.”  Three of the books I wrote were books that I was waiting for someone to write, but got impatient and did it myself (with help from two other co-authors).  The books published today in the field of digital forensic and incident response are simply invaluable.  Anyone starting out today in the field has a wealth of information to draw upon, which is a good thing.

On top of the nonfiction books I have already published (including ghost writing book projects), I have a few fiction books wrapped up and ready to go.  Soon….hopefully soon…they will be published and put on my fiction bookshelf, and when they do, it will be something I’ll be talking quite a bit about.  The value of a good fiction book is just as important as the nonfiction.  Fiction may not be able to help you with your job like a good nonfiction book can, but it certainly can give you some good reading with a good story.

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Mini-WinFE and XWF

Due to a dozen tragedies, a half dozen fires popping up, and twice as many projects due at the same time, I’ve been way late in updating an X-Ways Forensics course along with updating the WinFE.  But now, the X-Ways course is about done to be uploaded as soon as the finishing touches are finished.  The new course includes a whole lot more than originally made and updated to the current version of X-Ways (everyone currently registered will receive an email when  the course has been published (no cost to current registrants). 

The WinFE online course will be depreciated and replaced with a longer ‘Forensic Boot CD Course” that includes Linux forensic CDs along with some updated WinFE  information.  The goal of this course is to complete cover just about every aspect of using a forensic boot OS (CD/DVD/USB), with examples of the most currently updated Linux forensic CDs.  There are plenty of outdated distros to avoid and those are not described in the course.

Until the Forensic Boot CD Course is uploaded, you can download the Mini-WinFE builder from this link: http://brettshavers.cc/files/Mini-WinFE.2014.07.03.zip  as currently, the reboot.pro download link for Mini-WinFE is broken.  I have sent the developer a message to repair it.

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Never a shortage of examples

I have given 20 presentations this year and that was only in the first half of 2016 (although, I have not scheduled anything for the remainder of the year to finish some projects).

In each of the presentations, whether the attendees were parents, children, law enforcement, or digital forensics analysts, I have always been able to give really good examples of compromises.  On the day of the presentation or day before, I search for a recent breach and will most always find a good one.  If I search a day after the presentation, I sometimes find a new breach that would have also been a good example of a hacking incident.

So for the cybercrime preventation talks, I tell everyone that anyone can be a victim no matter what you do.  Sometimes you are specifically targeted and other times, you fall into a group of victims from a third party breach.  And the more 'third party' accounts you have, the more risk of having your personal data exposed.  For example, if you have a T-Mobile phone, Premera for health insurance, applied for a government security clearance, shop at Home Depot, and ate at Wendy's, you potentially have had your personal data or credit card information compromised five times by doing absolutely nothing wrong.

If you are targeted, even if you do everything right, you can have your personal information breached.  This applies even to CEOs, like the CEO of Twitter....and Facebook...and the CIA...Most likely, as the Internet of Things heat up and everything gets connected to the Internet, our risk will skyrocket to the point that the only people who don't have their personal information compromised are have been living on a mountain all their lives...with no electricity...and no credit cards...or car...or phone...  For the rest of us, it is probably just a matter of time.    As for me...my ID has been stolen once and I seem to get notice letters from services about a new breach on a regular basis. The good news is that I always have plenty of great examples to talk about.

 

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