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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Compiling Identity in Cyber Investigations

Digital forensics analysis is the easy part of an investigation. That is not to say that the work of digital forensics is simple, but rather recovering electronic data is a rote routine of data carving and visual inspection of data. Interpreting the data requires a different type of effort to put together a story of what happened ‘on the computer’.  As important an analysis is to determine computer use, it is just as important to identify the user or users and attribute computer activity to each user.  An investigation without an identified suspect is a case that remains open and unsolved..sometimes for years or forever.

In many investigations (civil and criminal), identifying the computer user is obvious through confessions or by process of elimination.  Proving a specific person was at the keyboard is barely a consideration since the person either admitted control of the device or was caught red-handed and the examiner can focus more on the user activity on the computer devices rather than spending time identifying the user.

However, simply accepting the suspect’s identity without further investigation into other aspects of the suspect’s identity may sell the investigation short.  Whether the suspect is known or unknown, compiling a complete identity of the suspect adds important information that is beneficial to a case, such as motives, intentions, and identification of more crimes.  The most important point is that a physical person that has been identified, or even arrested, does not give a complete identity of that person.  It is only the physical identity.  Investigators should strive to compile a complete identity that includes digital identities.

So what’s in it for you?

Building a case against a suspect requires more than just finding evidence.  A case needs evidence to point to a suspect as well as showing motive and opportunity.  Providing evidence of every identified persona of a suspect paints a picture of the suspect, to include intent, desires, motive, behaviors, and overall character to add to the supporting evidence.  In short, you get a better case.

The Complete Identity

A physical identity (aka biometric identity) and digital identity comprises the complete identity of a person.  Biometrical features of a person, such as fingerprints and eye color, are bound to the physical identity and typically permanent to the person depending on the feature.  Although eye color can be temporarily changed with color contacts and hair can be temporarily dyed to a different color, the majority of physical features cannot be changed without drastic injury or surgery. 

Internet users create digital trails of use and subsequently (and without intention) create digital personas based on their unique computer use.  The normal, everyday use of the Internet creates a digital identity that is based on Internet surfing habits (the Websites visited), communications made online through forums, chats, e-mails, blog posts and comments, and through the accounts created for online services to include online shopping.

Compiling the digital identity and physical identity may seem like an obvious and easy task, but assembling the identities is not so simple.  In an ideal case, a suspect has a single physical identity and a single digital identity, but in reality, a person may have multiple physical personas tied to a single physical identity and multiple digital personas.  Some personas may be intentional while others unintentional.  For example, a criminal wanting to travel in a name other than his true name may create or purchase a fake driver’s license. As he goes about using the fake or stolen driver’s license, he creates a persona under the false name.  Although this persona is not truly a ‘physical’ identity, as it is not biometrically tied to a physical body, it is part of his physical identity as he uses the false name as if it were his true name. 

One example of a digital identity is the accumulation of normal Internet and computer use.  A person’s computer use is generally a reflection of that person’s personality, desires, and intentions.  The unique activity of one device is typically replicated across devices under that person’s control.  For instance, given a new computer, a user will configure it by personal preference by arranging icons, colors, sounds, and folder structure to save.  When the user has an additional computer, both computers will have a very similar order of computer activity when used over time and will even look the same, such as the placement of desktop icons and wallpaper choice.  Configurations of the computers will likely be similar, if not exact for some items, and Internet use will most certainly mirror each other by bookmarks and frequently visited Websites.  Merely comparing the type of computer use and configuration between two or more devices can give an indication that the same person used all of the devices. 

Adding to the complexity of finding both digital and physical identity of a suspect is that of multiple aspects of both types of identity.  A person leading a double life may have two spouses and two jobs with one being a false identity.  This person is physically tied to both identities, even if the false identity contains no true information.   Leading a double life is an extreme example of a fake physical identity, and examples that are more common include using a fake ID to make consumer purchases, or using fake names to register at hotels.  The depth of a fake physical identity depends upon the person’s intention and resources. Types of physical identifiers are seen in the following figure.

Digital identities, being far easier to create, generally mean that any one person can have multiple, or even hundreds, of fake digital identities.  A harassment suspect may have dozens of online identities that he uses to harass a single victim or victims through repeated e-mails from different e-mail accounts created to appear as different people.  In any investigation, treat each digital identity as its own identity that will be tied to a physical person at some point in the investigation.  Each identity gives information about a person based on the fake identity, whether the only information is the username of an e-mail or a completely falsified social networking account.

An example of having multiple digital identities is that of one fake identity used to create specific online accounts and a different fake identity used to create other specific online accounts.  In this manner, a person is simply trying to distance himself from something (such as registering for a pornographic Website) by using a fake digital identity while using a different fake identity to distance himself from other aspects of his online life.  An investigator who can identify the fake accounts adds to the case by showing the intentionally hidden aspects of a personality, motive, or intention of the real person based on the real person’s actions under the fake digital identities.  A pedophile whose physical identity has no ties to pedophilia may appear innocent until fake digital personas are found and tied to his physical identity.

Of note is that each person has a true physical identity and a true digital identity.  Typically, the true digital identity shows the real information, such as a real name, and is easily tied to the physical person.  However, every identity and persona (real and fake, digital and physical) should be compiled together to show the complete identity of a person.  False information is just as important as the true information to build a complete picture of a suspect.

A great example of tying a physical identity to a false persona is in the Silk Road case where the creator of Silk Road (Ross Ulbricht) used his public e-mail/forum (rThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) account on the open Internet to market the Silk Road.  One simple post eventually tied his legitimate physical identity to a secret, false, and criminal persona on the Dark Web site, the Silk Road.

Identifying the digital identity becomes easier as Big Data continues to grow exponentially through massive data collection by government and corporations.  Social media sites contribute to identifying digital identities as the connectivity between sites exists through single usernames, using the same e-mail address across online accounts, and algorithms created to ‘find’ friends based on relationships and Internet use.  The digital identity is the sum of all electronic information of a person.  Corporations have been compiling digital identities of consumers in order to focus on advertising efforts.  Investigators should focus on compiling digital identities of suspects to determine motive and opportunity.

Any investigation benefits by compiling the complete identity of suspects.  Whether the identities contain true information about a suspect is not as relevant as tying the identities and personas to a person. Motives and intentions are clearer with a complete picture of a person in both the physical and digital worlds. 

Now that you know the ‘why’, become competent in the ‘how’ in each investigation with thorough research to find the connection between each identity in order to place your suspect at the keyboard.  Digital forensic skills are necessary and important, but solid cases usually need some old fashioned, gumshoe detective work too.

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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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Reviewing a tech book technically makes you a peer reviewer…

    If you have been in the digital forensics world for more than a day, then you know about peer reviews of analysis reports.  If you have ‘only’ been doing IR work where forensics isn't the main point (as in taking evidence collection all the way to court), then you may not be reading reports of opposing experts.  Anyway, the opposing expert peer review is one of the scariest reviews of all since the reader, which is again, the opposing expert, tries to find holes in your work.  The peer review is so effective to push toward doing a good job that I think it prevents errors by the examiner more than it does help opposing experts find errors of the examiner.  Peer reviews take different shapes depending on where it is being done (review of a book draft, review of a report, etc...) but in general, a peer review is checking the accuracy of the written words.

    Academia has always been under the constant worry of peer reviews.  One professor's journal may be peer reviewed by dozens of other professors in the same field, with the end result being seen by the public, whether good or bad. Peer reviews are scary, not for the sake that you made a mistake, but that maybe you could have missed something important that someone else points out to you.

    If you read a tech book and write a review of it (formally in an essay/journal, or informally on social media), consider yourself a peer reviewer of tech writings.  That which you say, based on what you read, is a peer review of that material.  Think about that for a second.  If you are in the field of the book you are reviewing, you practically are tech reviewing that book for accuracy (so make sure you are correct!).  That is a good thing for you as it boosts your experience in the field.  Always be the expert on the stand who can say, “I’ve read x number of forensic books and have given x number peer reviews on social media, Amazon, essays, etc….”.  If for nothing else, this shows more than that you just read books.  You read for accuracy and give public review of your findings. Nice.

    There is some stress in writing a peer review because you have to be correct in your claims.  Sure, maybe some things in the book could have been done a different way, but was it the wrong way?  The manner in which you come across in a peer review is important too.  Crass and rude really doesn't make you look great on the stand if you slam a book or paper.  You can get the point across just as well by being professional.

    Writing books takes no back seat to peer review stress, especially when it comes to technical books.  Not only does the grammar get combed by reviewers, but the actual technical details get sliced and diced.  Was the information correct? Was it current and up-to-date?  Is there any other information that negates what was written in the book?

    So, to get any positive reviews makes for a good day.  Not for the sake of ego, but for the sake of having done it right so others can benefit from the information.  Writing is certainly not about making money as  much as it is putting yourself out there to share what you have learned at the risk of having your work examined under a microscope by an unhappy camper.

    b2ap3_thumbnail_HBTK.JPGWhich brings me to my latest reviews for Hiding Behind the Keyboard.  This is my third tech book (more to come in both nonfiction and fiction) and with each book, I have always cautiously looked at Amazon book reviews each time.  Not that I have written anything inaccurate, inappropriate, or misleading, but that I just want to have written something useful in a topic that I wish existed when I started out in the digital forensics field.  My best analogy of what it is like to write a book is to walk outside to your mailbox nude and then check Facebook to see what people say about you…then do it again.  At least I don't have a Facebook account...

    So far, the reviews for my latest book show that I did a good job (my gratitude to the reviewers).

And that brings me to another point of this post. 

    One of the social media reviewers is actually in a case study in the book.  Higinio Ochoa read and reviewed my book in a Tweet (as seen below).   

 

    You will have to check the Internet to get Hig’s story, or read it my book…  Suffice to say he was a hacker who was caught, and then ended up as one of the case studies in my book.  Positive reviews from forensic experts are great, but so are reviews from former hackers that can double-validate the work.  Like I said, it takes a lot of guts to write a book and almost as much guts to peer review it in public.  That’s what we are doing when we write a review of a tech book.  We are all peer reviewers.

 

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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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I'm just a Tor exit node! I'm just a Tor exit node!

I'm just a Tor exit node!  I'm just a Tor exit node!

Never thought I would still see this happening…

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/seattle-police-raid-home-privacy-activists-who-maintain-tor-anonymity-network-node-1552524

I have personally seen warrants served on the wrong address on two occasions.  The first was a drug investigation where the lead detective went to the wrong door to an apartment.   The warrant was correct in having the correct address, but the detective didn’t take the time to check the numbers on the door…

The second time I witnessed a wrong door entry was when the lead detective had the wrong address on both the search warrant and affidavit.  The detective never even corroborated the information to find the right address.  Basically, the detective looked down the street and picked the house she thought was the drug dealer’s house.  After SWAT kicked in the door and broke a few things in the process, it took all of 5 minutes to realize that it was the wrong house.  The drug dealer was on the next street over…the victim house got a new door from Home Depot and carpet cleaning paid for by the task force.  

Both of these warrants taught me something that I will never forget.  Before you kick in the door, make sure you got the right door.  After you make sure you got the right door, make sure again.  Then ask your partner to double-check that you got the right door. Then get a warrant and kick it in if the suspect doesn’t open it for you.

After investigating drug crimes, I went into cyber cases.  The same fear of entering the wrong house became even more worrisome since relying on IP addresses is not the same as relying on your eyes. You have to rely upon a fax from an Internet service provider for the address.  In an investigation case of following a suspect to his home, it is easy to physically see the house for which you plan to swear to in an affidavit.  But with an IP address, you have to rely on some third party service provider to give you the subscriber at the physical address where the IP address exists and trust that the information is accurate. That is at least one step before swearing to an affidavit to ask for authority to force your way into someone's home.  Investigators must still confirm that their suspect and/or evidence is at that particular and specific address, which requires at least some legwork to confirm the physical address.

When Tor is used by a criminal, relying on the IP address is worse than a bad idea, especially since it is so common knowledge that an exit node on the Tor network has nothing to do with the origin of any data that flows through it, other than the data flows through it.  I have taught and wrote about Tor as it relates to criminal/civil investigations for several years now, each time repeating:

IP address ≠ a person

MAC address ≠ a person

Email address ≠ a person

Tor IP address ≠ the address you want

CSI Cyber regularly does one thing right…whenever the cybercriminal uses Tor (proxies) on the show, the Hollywood FBI hackers don’t even try to trace it because they know that a proxy is not going to lead back to the cybercriminal.   They then resort to other means to find the cybercriminal before the hour ends.  Not that any of their other methods are realistic, but at least they got Tor right.  Anyone watching CSI Cyber even one time is exposed to explanations that tracing cybercriminals using Tor is virtually impossible.  This is the “CSI effect” in reverse.

Since TV show viewers can figure it out, you can imagine my surprise seeing this tweet today:

I don’t have access to the case reports, nor know anyone involved, but the one thing I can tell is that if this case was based on an IP address alone, I cannot fathom why no one checked to see if the IP address was a Tor exit node.  Checking a Tor exit node takes about 10 seconds.  The Tor Project even helps and provides everything you need.

https://check.torproject.org/cgi-bin/TorBulkExitList.py

Certainly, there are probably other details that could have led to going to the ‘wrong’ house, but running a Tor relay should not be one of those details.  At least currently, it is not illegal to run a Tor exit node.

The best analogy I can give to how relying on a Tor exit node to accurately reflect the physical address is that using an envelope.  Consider a criminal committing a crime through the mail (mailing drugs or something like that).  Instead of putting his address as a return address, he puts your address as the return address, drives to another city, and drops the package in a mail box on the side of the street.  Let’s say the police seize the package of drugs at its destination and then kick down your door because your return address was on the package.  Any investigator charged with tracking criminals online must (not should) be aware of how Tor works.  Even in the private sector investigating employee misconduct, or IP theft, knowing how Tor works is mandatory when IP addresses are involved.  You just can't get around knowing it unless you don't mind kicking down the wrong door one day..

https://www.torproject.org/about/overview.html.en

On side note, I am one of the biggest advocates of those who have the job of tracking, investigating, arresting, charging, prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating predators of children.  I have not a bit of compassion for these criminals and I cannot imagine anyone feeling any different.

Coincidently, I gave a presentation on this very topic at an ICAC conference in the Seattle area last year…oh well.

 

UPDATE: APRIL 8, 2016

Link to the search warrant affidavit:  AFFIDAVIT

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Barking up the Encryption Tree. You're doing it wrong.

Barking up the Encryption Tree.  You're doing it wrong.

There always comes a time when an obscure, yet important concept, leaves the technical world and enters the main stream.  Recovering deleted files was one of those where we pretty much knew all along not only that it can be done, but that we have been doing it all along. The Snowden releases were another aspect of ‘yeah, we knew this all along, but the GFP (general f’ing public) was oblivious.

Encryption is just the most current ‘old’ thing to make the limelight.  Whenever something like this happens, there are ton of people ringing the end-of-the-world bells, clamoring that national security will be lost, and personal freedoms take a back seat to everything.  It happens all the time and when it happens, there is a fire to make new laws on top of thousands of other laws, in which the promise of better safety and security is as strong as a wet paper bag holding your groceries on a windy and rainy day.

b2ap3_thumbnail_bancalifornia.JPG

Legally, it is super easy to ban, control, and/or regulate encryption. A stroke of the pen with or without citizen oversight can make it happen quickly and painlessly.  One signature on the last page of a law that is a ream in size is all it takes.

Practically, it is impossible to completely eliminate or control or regulate encryption.  The only thing laws will do is restrict the sale of encryption products by corporations.  Encryption exists in the minds of mathematical practitioners and can be recreated over and over again. You can't blank out someone’s brain (I hope not…).  Encryption is available everywhere on the Internet, from software programs that are FREE and OPEN SOURCE to download and even in TOYS that can be bought off Amazon.com.  These 'toys' work by the way.

b2ap3_thumbnail_engima.JPG
Enigma encryption...for sale on Amazon.com

Go ahead and ban encryption and people will just buy a $10 toy to create cipher text for emails.  Tor use will skyrocket as will third party online privacy providers operating in safe harbors overseas.  Banning encryption or breaking the trust of companies like Apple will only result in loss of business for corporations and (more) loss of trust by consumers of both corporations and government.  Even if encryption is not banned, but under the complete control of any government, that particular piece of technology won’t be used for anything other than entertainment. No business is going to transmit sensitive intellectual property data through an insecure system.  No government is going to use a system that can be more easily compromised by enemies or hackers.

b2ap3_thumbnail_veracrypt.JPG
Free encryption software: https://sourceforge.net/projects/veracrypt/

The end result of banning encryption is creating a whole new class of “criminals” who just want to protect their private communications.  “Private” does not mean “illegal”.  Controlling the source code of Apple is only going to cause Apple to end up with 3 employees who will their only customers.  Not even the government will use Apple if they know the source code has been compromised...especially if compromised by the government itself.

Not long ago, I gave a presentation on Internet investigations to a group of law enforcement investigators.  One of the first questions I asked was 'Given authority and ability, what would like to see done in regards to the Internet?".  Most answers were to 'lock it down', 'watch everything', 'control it all', and "give government complete control".  At the end of the presentation, no one felt that way after I explained how that will negatively affect everyone down to the individual person business, including the government.  Ignorance may be bliss, but that doesn't make ignorance a good idea.

If this 'ban encryption bandwagon' keeps going, the next thing we will see is envelope regulations requiring the paper to be transparent, just in case the government needs to read your mail without opening it.

b2ap3_thumbnail_envelope.JPGI also do not believe that there is any one 'thing' that can prevent the apprehension of criminals, prevention of terrorist attacks, or investigation of a crime.  If encryption can do all of those, we need better investigative training for our detectives and case officers.
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