Digital Forensics – SY0-601 CompTIA Security+ : 4.5

The gathering digital forensics is often a critically important process. In this video, you’ll learn about legal holds, video capture, admissibility, chain of custody, time offsets, and more.

Digital forensics describes the process of collecting and protecting information that is usually related to some type of security event. As you can imagine, this can cover many different techniques for gathering data across many types of digital devices. And it also describes different methods to use for protecting that information once you’ve retrieved it.

If you’d like to get an overview of this process, there is an RFC for this– RFC 3227, which is guidelines for evidence collection and archiving. And it’s a great best practice to get an idea of what’s involved with the digital forensics process.

This RFC describes three phases for the digital forensics process– the acquisition of data, the analysis of that data, and the reporting of that data. And you’ll notice that the digital forensics steps and the entire process of collecting and protecting this data requires you to be very detail oriented, especially since some of this information could be used later on in a court of law.

One of the first notices you might get relating to digital forensics is something called a legal hold. This is often requested by legal counsel. And it’s often a precursor to other types of legal proceedings.

This legal hold often describes what type of data needs to be preserved for later use. The data copied for this legal hold is often stored in a separate repository. And it’s referred to as electronically stored information or ESI.

These legal holds may ask for many different kinds of information and many types of applications. And the information that you’re storing might be stored for a certain amount of time or it may be an indefinite hold. As a security professional, if you receive a legal hold, you have a responsibility to gather and maintain that data so that everything is preserved.

Another good source of information to gather would be in a video form. Video can provide important information that you could reference after the fact that normally would not be available. For example, you can capture the screen information and other details around the system that normally would not be captured through any other means.

And if you’ve got a mobile phone, it’s very easy to grab video from wherever you might be. You might also want to look around and see if there’s any security cameras which may also have stored video that could then be included with this information gathering. This video content needs to be archived so that you’re able to view it later in reference to this particular security incident.

One concern regarding the data that you collect is how admissible that data might be in a court of law. Not all data you collect is something that can be used in a legal environment. And the laws are different depending on where you might be. The important part is that you collect the data with a set of standards, which would allow that data to be used in a court of law if necessary.

Another concern is if you are authorized to gather that information. In some environments, the data itself is protected, in others, the network administrator may have complete access to that data. And of course, there are correct ways to gather data and incorrect ways to gather data. You need to be familiar with the best practices for your tools and the procedures that you follow.

If this data will be used by a laboratory, you want to be sure the proper scientific principles are used during the analysis process. And you may be asked for your academic or technical qualifications surrounding this data acquisition so that anyone analyzing this data knows that it was gathered properly by a professional.

Once you gather data, you want to be sure that nothing happens to that information and that no changes occurred to anything that you’ve collected. To be able to verify this, we need to have some type of documentation that shows that nothing could have been changed since the time you collected it. This documentation is known as a chain of custody.

Anyone who comes in contact with this data or uses it for analysis, needs to document what they did with this chain of custody. It’s common to have a catalog that labels and documents everything that’s been collected into a central database. We would also use hashes during the collection process so that later on we can verify that the data that we’re looking at is exactly the same data that was collected.

An important piece of information, especially as time goes on, is to document the time zone information associated with the device that you’re examining. These time offsets can be different depending on the operating system that you’re using, the file system that’s in place, or where the device happens to be located. For example, if you’re using the file allocation table file system, all of the timestamps are stored in local time on that file system. If this device was storing information in a file system using NTFS, you’ll find that all the time stamps in the file system are stored in Greenwich Mean Time.

This is where the recording of this timestamp becomes very important. If a year later we go back to this information and it shows that this file was changed at 5:00 PM, is that 5:00 PM local time or 5:00 PM GMT?

There might also be time offsets in the operating system itself. You may want to refer to the Windows Registry or the configuration settings for the operating system that you’re examining, to see exactly what the time zone settings are. This may be very different depending on where this device is located. It may be in a different time zone. And the rules regarding daylight saving time and other time information may be specific to its local geography.

Event logs provide a wealth of information because they are storing details about the operating system, the security events, and the applications that are running in that operating system. So if you’re collecting data from a device, you want to be sure to get the event logs.

There’s usually a method to export the event logs, like in the Windows Event Viewer. Or there may be a way to simply copy them off of the device, if you’re running something like Linux or Mac OS. You may not need all of the data in the event log. Maybe you only need to store a certain subset of that information.

So you may be able to filter or pass the data based on a particular application or based on a time of day. In Linux, you’ll find the log information in the slash var slash log directory. And in Windows, you can gather all of the details in the Event Viewer application.

We’re often very focused on gathering information from a digital machine. But often you can gather important details from the users of those devices so you may want to perform interviews. Interviews will allow you to ask questions and get information about what a person saw when a particular security event occurred.

You want to be sure to perform these interviews as quickly as possible after the event, especially since people may leave the organization or they may forget what happened during that particular time frame. This is the challenge we have when getting witness statements is that they may not be 100% accurate because people may see or hear things during this event, but may not accurately describe that someone during an interview.

And of course, once all of this data is collected, there needs to be an analysis and report of exactly what occurred during that security event. This might start with a summary, which would provide a high level overview of what occurred during the security event. There should also be detailed documentation that describes how the data was collected, the analysis that was performed on that data, and the inferences or conclusions that can be gathered based on that analysis.

There should also be detailed documentation about the data acquisition process. We need to know step by step exactly what data was gathered and how that information was gathered. We can then provide detailed information about the analysis of that data. And once we’ve collected the data and analyzed the data, we need to document what conclusions we can make based on that analysis.