The Secret to Becoming More-Than-Competent in Your Job

The Secret to Becoming More-Than-Competent in Your Job

I was part of an interesting and product online podcast today.   You can check it out at: http://nopskids.com/live/

The topics ranged from hacking, forensics, how to catch hackers, and a little on how criminals sometimes get away with it. Although I didn’t give any tips on how to get away with a crime, other than DON’T DO IT, I did speak a little on some of the things that can be found forensically on a hard drive.  Actually, I think I only had time to talk about one thing (the Windows registry) for a few minutes and nothing of which that has any impact on a criminal using the information to get away with a crime.

The one thing I wanted to stress that even if every top secret, secret squirrel, spy and investigative method was exposed, criminals would still get caught using the very techniques they know.  Proof in the pudding is seeing cops being arrested for committing crimes.  You’d figure they would be the most knowledgeable of not getting caught, but they get caught. Same with accountants being arrested for fraud, and so forth.  I’ve even arrested criminals when they had in their possession, books on how not to get caught.   The most diligent criminal can be identified and arrested by simple mistakes made and sometimes by sheer massive law enforcement resources put on a single case to find a criminal or take down an organization.

With that, I learned a few things from the podcast too.  One of the moderators was actually a case study in my latest book (Hiding Behind the Keyboard).  To be an expert, to be knowledgeable, and to be more than just competent requires talking, listening, and sharing.  That doesn’t mean sharing trade secrets or confidential information, but it does mean having conversations to learn your job better.

When I worked as a jailer, I talked to every person I booked (at least the sober arrestees and those cooperating with the booking process).  I asked personal questions like, “how did you get started with drug use?” and “how did you start doing X crime”?  I learned a lot after hundreds of bookings.  I learned so much that when I make it to patrol and hit the streets, I had a big leg up on the criminal world, in how it worked with people.  That directly helped me in undercover work.  I spoke to so many criminals, both as a police officer and as an undercover (where they didn’t know I was a police officer), that I learned how to investigate people who committed crimes.  I was darn effective.

The point of all this is that talking to “the other side” is not a terrible idea.  Working on the law enforcement side, I promise that if you have a conversation with a criminal defense expert, you will learn something to help win YOUR case.  If you talk to a hacker, you will learn something to help figure out YOUR cases.  The best part, like I said, nothing you give will make a criminal’s job easier.  In fact, anything you say will only make them worry and make more mistakes.

If you are more-than-competent, you can do your job like a magician.   My first undercover case was buying a gram of meth from a cold phone call of a guy I didn’t even have a name for.  As soon as we met, I recognized the meth dealer as someone I arrested a half dozen times when I was in patrol.   Luckily for me, he didn’t recognize me and believed my UC role.  Arrested, booked, and convicted.  This was a career criminal with dozens of arrests who probably met more cops that I ever did at that time.  Still, he was arrested, by me, because I was more-than-competent in my job.  Digital forensics work is no different.

Talk to everyone and share.  I promise you will get more than you give.  And there is no shame in learning that you don't know it all, because none of us do.

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Behind the Keyboard - Enfuse 2016 Presentation download

I had the amazing honor of speaking before a full room at Enfuse this week.  This was not only my first time speaking at Enfuse, it was my first time at Enfuse. The conference was put together well.  Kudos to poolside event coordinator.  Those who know my forensic tool choices also know that I do not use Encase as my primary forensic tool.  However, I have a license for v7 and have used Encase since v4 (with sporadic breaks of use and licensing).

This year at Enfuse, I did not speak on any forensic software (or hardware) at the conference. I gave a snippet of two recent books I published (Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard).  I say “snippet” because one hour is not even near enough time to talk about the investigative tips in the books.  I was able to give a few good tips that I hope someone will be able to take the bank and boost case work.   I could spend weeks talking about investigative methods of not only finding suspects that are using computers to facilitate crimes, but also to place them at a specific device with both forensic analysis and traditional investigative techniques.   

After my talk, I received emails from some who did not or could not attend my Enfuse talk; I am providing my slidedeck for them and others who may want to see high-level notes from the Powerpoint slides.  However, I removed a number of slides that had personally identifiable information to avoid any embarrassment from Google searches and cases.  I did not get to a few slides in the presentation due to time (only one hour!), and I removed them as well.   Nonetheless, the meat and potatoes of the presentation is in the below PDF.

  

 

A few toughts on digital forensic skill development and giving away investigative secrets

Forensic examiners/analysts generally follow the same path in skill development, with some exceptions of course.  For most of us, the tools are just plain neat and we initially focus on the tools.  High tech software and using the type of hardware that you cannot find at Frys turns work into play.  We dive into the box, swim around in it for days, weeks, or even months, and then we pull out every artifact we can to write a report of what happened ‘in the box’.  Writing a report usually means pushing the "Create Report" button. I suggest that every examiner go through this stage quickly and move forward.  Get it out of your system as soon as you can. There is more to digital forensics than the toys, I mean, tools.

Digital forensics investigators must investigate, unless your job is solely looking at data because someone else is investigating the case.  This is where leaving the stage of ‘playing with high-tech toys’ turns the new forensic examiner into a real digital forensics crime fighter.  When an examiner can integrate data recovered from ‘the box’ with information collected from ‘outside the box’, using any tool and investigative method available, we have a competent and effective digital forensics investigator, not just a tool user.

I have always believed that a good digital forensics investigator can practically use any software, as long as the software can do the job, without relying on the software to do the complete job.  Pushing a button to find evidence, then pushing another to print a report does not a forensic analysis make.  Just as Picasso could paint a masterpiece only using an old paintbrush and watercolors, a good forensic examiner can make a great case with only using a hex editor and gumshoe detective mindset.  The high-tech tools should be used to make the work easier and faster without becoming a crutch.

And that was the inspiration of why I wrote Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard and Hiding Behind the Keyboard, boiled down in two simple intentions:

1) To push forensic examiners out of the high-tech toy reliance into becoming a well-rounded, effective, efficient, and competent investigator.

2) As a reminder to the former investigator-turned-forensic-analyst to get back into the investigative mindset.

If you are currently in the ‘gotta-have-the-most-expensive-tools-on-the-planet’ stage while at the same time not working outside the CPU, don’t fret. It happens to most everyone, and not just in the digital forensics field.  When I was a young Marine, I went to the local army surplus store and base PX to buy every cool tool I could think that would help me in the field.  I had so many ‘tools’ that my ALICE pack looked like a Christmas tree dangling a five years' worth of trinkets from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades.  After one trip to the field, I realized how much money I wasted on unnecessary gear (if you could actually call some of those things I bought "gear"..) and focused on using only the things that work and making things work for me.  Digital forensics work is no different.  Consider yourself DFIR SEALTeam 6 once you can work a case using ANY computer and ANY tool.

Giving away trade secrets?

There is a long-standing problem in the digital forensics world: Sharing, or rather, lack of sharing.  Yes, experts and practitioners share their work, but many do not.  I completely understand why.  When you share your ideas and research to the public, there is a fear that the bad guys will see it and use it for their benefit.  The fear is that once the methods are known to the criminal world, the methods become ineffective.

In short, that thinking is incorrect.

First off, cybercriminals and criminals, in general, share information with each other.  They share the methods when they work together to commit crimes, they share it online,  and they share it during their stays in the big house.  Still, they get caught.  Still, they make mistakes. Still, the methods work against them.  I have even arrested drug dealers when they had in their possession, books on 'how not to get caught dealing drugs'.  Cybercrime is no different.  An entire website can be written on how to get away with crime on the Internet and read by every cybercriminal, and yet, they can still be identified, found, and arrested.  

Second, lack of sharing only hurts us all. If you were to find a better way to find evidence, but keep it to yourself, the entire community stagnates.  But when shared, we push ourselves ahead in skills.  Do not be afraid that the bad guys will get away with crimes if they know how you catch them.  Just as watching a Youtube video on Marine Corps boot camp does not make boot camp any easier, criminals that know how we place them behind a keyboard does not negate the process that can place a suspect behind a keyboard.  In fact, the more they know, the more chance they will slip up more than once out of sheer fear of how easy it is to put enough investigative resources to find a criminal that cannot be countered with any amount of preparation.  

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When everyone's talking about it

When everyone's talking about it

The King County Library System asked me to present on cyber safety topics in a very neat program they have (“When everyone’s talking about it..”).  I have been giving two separate, but related presentations and both have been well-received by those who have attended.  Mine is but a small part of the KCLS program.  I have even attended presentations that I had interest  (like the presentation on drones!).  

For the most part, I have skipped over the basics in my presentations. There really isn’t much need to talk about “what is email” or “the Internet is a bunch of computers connected together”.  We all know that kind of information.  Rather, I have been giving practical advice on what to do right now to reduce the risk of having your devices compromised by hackers and reducing the risk of predators accessing your children online.  Every bit of information I talk about is real time applicable, from reducing your digital footprint to surfing the Internet while maintaining your privacy.  I even show how to use the Tor Browser and encrypted email!

In every presentation, I am seeing parents take notes furiously, ask serious questions, and show a genuine interest in online safety for their families and themselves.  For me, this is easy stuff.  I have already raised two kids in the digital age of Facebook and cell phones (hint: they survived, but still not easy).  And I have investigated cybercriminals (hackers, child pornographers, and others who have used technology to commit crimes).  That is the biggest benefit to attendees I try to give.  Cram as much pertinent information from what I know into an afternoon or evening presentation that can be put to use right away.  Free to anyone.

This is one of the few presentations you can step out the door and put the information to use before you get home.

But if you think this is just another Internet safety program, you are mistaken.  I go through how to use social media to help get (or keep) a job, get into (or prevent getting kicked out) of school for families and individuals, and reduce the risk of cyberbullying.  I show how easy it is for anyone to be a victim by clicking the wrong link or opening the wrong email along with ways to identify the dangerous links and emails. The term "Third party provider" takes on a whole new meaning to attendees when they are shown the ways their personally identifiable information (PII) can be stolen when stored on third party service providers such as their health insurance company or a toy company.

Most importantly, I answer tough questions. Although I give some guidance on creating family rules and personal use of technology, I leave it up to the invididual and family to decide what is appropriate. My guidance is to show how to create rules on the foundation of safety. Everything else is up to personal morals and values.

I’d like to credit the King County Library System for adding these presentations to their program this year because cyber safety is probably one of the most important topics today.   Everything comes down to cyber.  Whether it is personal information being leaked or hacked online or a child being lured from home, cyber is serious.  You can use technology safely and still enjoy the benefits but to ignore safety is like betting the farm on the Roulette wheel.  You never know when your number will come up, but when it does, it will hurt and hurt for a long time.

As far as this program (When everyone's talking about it) goes, KCLS nailed it.  I have organized more than a dozen training events and several conferences over the past decade.  I know exactly the effort needed to put something like this together and KCLS did it right.  If you are in King County, Washington, you really should check out the programs.  They do a fantastic job at a price you can't beat anywhere.  

As for me, I only have two more talks left.  All you need to do is show up.  No RSVP.  No charge.  Free parking.

Again, kudos to KCLS for putting this great program together.  Let's do it again next year.

----------------------------------My next talks----------------------------------

Cell Phones in the Family

Woodmont Library

26809 Pacific Hwy S, Des Moines, WA 98198

April 30, 2016      2PM – 3:30PM

 

Cell Phones in the Family

Newport Way Library

14250 SE Newport Way, Bellevue, WA 98006

June 23, 2016       7PM – 8:30PM

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Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

    Every career and academic field has its own “lingo” to the extent that a conversation buried deep in lingo sounds like a foreign language. I have experienced military lingo, law enforcement lingo, and technical lingo in my life to the point that I practically dream in acronyms, speak with words not recognized by Webster’s Dictionary, and instantly recognize the glazed-over look when speaking to an non-native lingo listener.

                The reasons for individualized lingo range from the coolness factor such “oh dark thirty”  in order to express time as ‘really damn early’ to efficiency such as using “HMMWV” instead of saying “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle”.  Many acronyms are spoken as works when gives an added effect of the listener not having a clue of what you are talking about.  For example, “I’m going to pick up a hum-v” means “I’m going to pick up a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle”. Even in law enforcement, the acronyms can irritate the most patient listener if they are not in the club.

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                There are two situations where lingo can get you killed, or at least make you feel like you are getting killed. One is in court. The other in your writing.

                Getting killed in court by lingo as a witness is painful. In fact, I’ve seen witnesses get physically ill as if the roach coach burrito eaten at lunch has suddenly reached its final destination in all its glory. Getting beat up on the stand by an attorney or judge is so unpleasant, that time actually slows to a stop and you wonder why you even got up that morning. Using lingo on the stand can give you a bad case of ‘why did I say that?” when being cross examined.

                I talk about lingo today, because I recently experienced one of the best cases of using lingo in all the wrong ways in a federal district court.  I gave my testimony first as the defense expert in a class action lawsuit, and spoke as simply as I could to make sure the judge understood what I intended to say. Then the opposing expert was called. One of the attorneys asked her a question, she answered, but her answer was not only complicated, it was complex, full of lingo, and I even felt a sway of arrogance. I barely understood what she said and took notes to make sure I got correct what she said.

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                Then the beating started. The judge asked her to repeat her answer. She did. Then the judge asked her the same question by rephrasing it and asked for a better explaination. The expert answered again but it sounded even more complex. After three more tries with increasing tension and the judge telling the witness that she does not understand the answer, the judge turned to me at the back of the courtroom and said, “Can you tell me what she is trying to say?”

                That is when I knew this cross country trip for court was worth the trip. I translated the opposing expert’s answer, the judge understood it, and the opposing expert said I was correct.  Boom. Lingo killed that day, but luckily it didn’t kill me.

                The other place where lingo can kill is in writing. I’ve written more police reports and affidavits for search warrants than I could ever count and the one thing I learned is to keep lingo out unless it is pertinent, relevant, and understandable. Jurors don’t get lingo and much of what they hear in the movies is incorrect or misused. Judges don’t like it either.  Don’t be the only person in the room that understands what you are saying…

In fiction books where computer technology is a key element or theme, using lingo without explanation is like using a foreign language to frustrate a reader. I say this because I just read an unnamed book that when I read it, I had to really slow down my reading in order to understand what was being described. I don’t like reading slow...which means I won’t finish reading it if I don’t have to.

It is one thing to use a technical term in a sentence, but there comes a point that when the majority of words in a sentence are acronyms and “words” not found in a dictionary, the reader becomes lost and frustrated. That’s not good. It’s not good for reports, testimony, or fiction writing. Nonfiction technical writing is a little different since generally, the reader of a technical writing is a technical person.  For those types of writing, give the definition once and move on since the audience is a technical reader audience. In the other types, even though you give the definition once, the reader/listener is going to forget by the time the uncommon word or acronym is used again. So be sparse in the lingo unless it really matters or that it is used so often, your reader won’t be frustrated trying to figure out what it means.

I’ve given a few talks of putting ‘cybercrime’ into writing for fiction authors who are not computer experts.  Some of the talk is showing what forensics look like (hint: it’s not like what you see in James Bond…) as well as how to use technical terms without turning off the reader or sounding like you don’t know what you are talking about. For me, when I read, I just want to read without having to say to myself, “Excuse me, that’s not how Tor works…”.

Remember, lingo kills.

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