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In the #DFIR world, it seems like everyone is an expert….

…because everyone can be an expert.

One thing about the DFIR field and all of its ever-encompassing related fields, is that it is physically impossible for any one person to be an expert in the entirety of the field. To even try to be ‘that DFIR expert’ is to set yourself up for failure.

I base my opinion on what I’ve seen over the years, especially after the first time being court qualified as an expert. Once, I was even qualified as a “computer forensic expert”. It makes me cringe every time I think about that, because as far as I am concerned, no one can be realistically be an all-encompassing DFIR expert.

The reason I distance myself from being looked at as an expert is that the perception of what a court qualified expert means to many people is most time incorrect.  Being an expert implies that you know everything, that you are smarter than anyone else in that area, and that your opinion is practically fact. 

Reality is a bit different.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of expert witness testimony or how to become court qualified, let me talk about the one aspect of specialization. If you are in the field of DFIR, working to get into the field of DFIR, or preparing yourself to eventually get into the field of DFIR, you have a 100% chance of becoming an expert in a shorter period of time than you can imagine.

You can do this because you can focus on something in this field, something as little as a few bytes or as massive as some function of an operating system and learn everything about it. You can learn so much, that eventually you start discovering things about it that no one knows. You can be the expert of that thing that you researched. Do not take this lightly. If you are looking for something to propel you into DFIR, find something that no one is doing, cares about, or knows about. Research that thing and find the DFIR relationship of that thing. Master it. Publish it with any means possible, including a blog post.

I can see the future…

Here is what will happen if, I mean when, you do this. You will be recognized in the community as an expert. Court? You will shine as an expert. Confidence? Oh yeah, you will get some. Take that one thing you did and do it again with something else.

That’s all you need to do.

A warning…

Once you become noticed for something in DFIR, you are going to be known as an expert in DFIR, which means some will will think that you know everything.  For example, I was having I was having a conversation with an awesome malware researcher, who has done amazing things in her career. She can tear apart malware as if it were packaged in a wet, paper bag. As for me, I can reverse malware too! However, I can’t do it as well, or as fast, or as complete as she can. Nowhere near it.  It is not the best thing I that I can do. I actually have a 90-second conversation limit when talking about reversing malware, because after 90 seconds, all I hear is a foreign language that I do not know. (I have been increasing my 90 seconds of knowledge on a slow, but steady rate...).

The point in this story is that in this awesome conversation, after that 90 second mark, I am sure that my face turned blank and she realized that she was the expert in malware, not me. There is nothing wrong in not knowing something, and part of the expertise field is recognizing your limits, that others will know more than you do in one area of DFIR, and you will know more than they do in other areas.  This is also makes a good team, when team members cover a broad range of expertise, spread out among the team. 

So don’t be shy to say, “I have no idea what you are talking about” when you have no idea of what someone is talking about, because in this field, we each do different things, enjoy different aspects, focus on different specifics, and excel in different facets. That is how you can be an expert too. Focus on that one thing, and one thing at a time.

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Why does Google think this is a good idea?

An incredible new Gmail feature, “Confidential E-mail Mode” by Google looks to be one of those wonderful surprises that will be catching people off guard in a bad way.

TL:DR version.

Send an email using Gmail in which Google puts a link in the body (and removes your e-mail content from the e-mail). The link, in which only the recipient can open, opens an external webpage where the e-mail content can be read. The e-mail can be read, but not forwarded, downloaded, copied, or printed. This is probably a bad idea.

Google needs to first define what “confidential” means as it applies to their Confidential Mode e-mail. In plain understanding, it should mean that only the intended recipients should be able to read the contents as it is private. In practice, the email is still on Google’s hard drives, most likely still indexed by Google, and ‘deleted’ only from the sender and receiver’s view, but not from Google.

As a point of privacy, Google Confidential E-mail is not private and average users could mistakenly believe the Google confidential E-mail is encrypted e-mail that no one can read.  The good news is that if Google is not deleting the messages from its servers, they would be available with court orders in criminal investigations.

Only one of my Gmail accounts has the Confidential Mode option, and you can send a Google Confidential e-mail to any e-mail service besides Google and it will work the same: User clicks a link in the e-mail and prays that the e-mail is legitimate. 



Perhaps the biggest issue will be the ease at which phishing campaigns will take on using a Confidential Gmail, where the user has no idea of the content or can judge maliciousness based on content.  Users will now only have the sender and subject-line to determine if the e-mail is a phishing attempt. If the sender e-mail address is from a known sender that has been compromised or spoofed, then only the subject-line will be available for a clue as to the legitimacy of the e-mail.

Nothing should change related to host forensics, as webmail/Internet forensics is the same (same or more difficult depending on everything, such if the Tor browser was used).

The big change is yet another entry point through a potentially well-crafted phishing attempt using a Gmail feature.  Users can’t see the content until they click the link to open the external webpage, which will be too late. Personally, I don’t see this taking off as a widely used feature since it involves adding a step to read an e-mail.  One extra button will make it useless as it will be more frustrating when it consumes three more seconds to read every e-mail sent via Confidential e-mail. As for the Confidential e-mail not being able to print or forward, taking a photo with a smart phone quickly negates the security feature of deleting the e-mail all together (yes, I know the content may be gone, but the original e-mail metadata is still there with the original e-mail).

For the infosec folks. Maybe it is a good time to make sure users don't click links in e-mails. Hey…don’t we say that already anyway? Sheesh.

Thanks Google.

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Don't become a hacker by hacking back a hacker that hacked you

Emotions run deep if you are victimized.  Initially, you want blood at any cost.  You also willingly accept any potential future regret, as long as you get blood today.  And unfortunately, no matter how fast justice may come, it will not be soon enough.  This rationale applies to being a victim of any crime and having your computer system hacked counts.

I’ll give a quick two cents in this post just as I did to a victim-client that was hacked.  "Don’t hack back."  Stop talking about and stop thinking about it.  To be clearer, make sure everyone in your company understands not to hack back. Better to focus on plugging the holes and implement your response plan.

Here are some bullet points I give to clients who are blinded by revenge and want blood:

  • You might spend more money than you have in a vain attempt to ID the attacker
  • You might hack an innocent party
  • You might hack a nation-state
  • You might be hacked back by the “innocent” party you hacked back (eg: a nation-state or a better hacker than you would be)
  • You might become a criminal hacker

There are more reasons, but I believe these pretty much cover it.  Going broke, victimizing an innocent party, and going to jail are strong motivators to counter the emotion to exact revenge on a hack.


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Digital Forensics Tenure in Law Enforcement, and other fairy tales

Occasionally I am asked by police officers working in digital forensics if they should leave their current job to go to the private sector.  Luckily, I can now refer them to read Eric Huber’s blog series Life After Law Enforcement: Do I Stay Or Do I Go? to let not your heart be troubled when making this decision.

For the vast majority of everyone working in law enforcement, the effort to eventually be issued a gun and badge can take a year or more.  I’ve only known one person in my career who decided to apply on a whim and be hired in months.  Literally within six months from submitting one application to one department and being on the street in a patrol car.  Everyone else I've ever known in law enforcement (including me…) took more than a year to even be offered an interview after a battery of physical, mental, and written exams after applying to many agencies.  If you haven't experienced the LE hiring process, you may not fully comprehend how difficult this decision can be.  Compared with the private sector where you can practically be hired on the spot and start the next day (and negotiate a higher salary!), getting into LE is a bit more time consuming and more difficult. 

With that, when I am asked about leaving law enforcement before retirement to get into the private digital forensics world, I have never ever said, “Go for it!” or advised “Stay where you are!”.  It is a personal decision.  However, there is usually one point that I have to help make the decision, which Eric touched on. The main point for me is that for many law enforcement agencies, working in digital forensics is a temporary gig.  Few agencies allow for a career working in any specialty, and digital forensics falls into that category of a temporary assignment.  Being promoted is more like a trade of your digital forensic dongles for chevrons or bars.

A police officer who is assigned to work digital forensics, who is also trained to the hilt in forensics on the public dime, and inundated with incredible case experience usually has a date on their calendar when the uniform will be put back on in order to work a beat, driving a patrol car…. never to plug a dongle in again.   I have always found it incredible, as in unbelievable, that police agencies do this to all specialties with only a few exceptions.  Even when someone is Knighted by the Chief to be permanently ‘exempt’ from rotation, that exemption is many times taken away at some point, which basically means you are permanently exempted until we decide the permanence was only temporary.

Given that the majority of police agencies are fairly small (less than 100 officers), it is understandable that the agencies want to spread the wealth among officers by giving everyone a chance to work a specialty position, such as SWAT or narcs or cyber crimes.  And it is understandable that those who want to get into a specialty, like digital forensics, are advocates of rotations back to patrol simply because they want the old guy out so that they can take their spot.  Both perspectives work to placate the officers, at least initially.  It also gives the impression to administrations that a highly trained digital forensics examiner who rotated back to patrol will be good for patrol to bring that experience to the street.  In reality, both perspectives don’t work.

The same officer who demands that rotations happen will also be the same officer fighting against rotation after having learned how much effort and time goes into becoming competent in that specialty.  Agency heads learn (and ignore) the fact that a 10-year detective going back to patrol isn’t going to be able to put that expertise to work on the street simply because it is a different job.  The former detective experts also are not going to be turn a patrol squad into super detectives simply by being there. It doesn’t work that way and is unreasonable to think otherwise.  You want street cops working the streets, not detectives driving police cars.

This brings me to two personal examples.

In one example, a friend of mine left law enforcement because he was told that due to career progression, he would be moved out of digital forensics.  In this case, career progression meant ‘we are taking you out of forensics to give someone else a chance to learn forensics’.  This was an investigator with more than a decade of experience and training.  I would rank him top in the LE field of forensics.  He subsequently quit and went joined the private sector world of digital forensics.  Years later, his skill and knowledge became more awesome.  And he is happy.

Conversely, another friend of mine in digital forensics was rotated back to patrol, and he had the intention of retiring from LE years later to then get into the private sector world of digital forensics.  Unfortunately, by the time his retirement rolled around this year, he was well out of the game.   You may be like me when you gauge someone’s experience in DF with the versions of software they began with.  In this example, my friend rotated out of digital forensics when he was using Encase v4 and hasn’t done forensics since.  That says a lot, at least in my mind.  Leaving so long ago means that getting ‘back’ into digital forensics is more like getting into it from the beginning (not as bad, but close).  And he is not happy.

So, for the questions I get from active police officers asking this question, which many of us have asked ourselves, I simply say, go check Eric Huber’s blog for points to consider.  But also consider that if you really like police work and digital forensics in police work, you may want to figure out a way to keep that specialty for as long as you can, because eventually, the street will drag you back and the odds of doing forensics when you are taking stolen bicycle reports and running radar are slim to none.

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Zombie-Cases:  Did you ever have a case that just wouldn’t die?

I just finished up Case Study #8, with one of those types of cases that just won’t die.  If you ever had a case like that, you know what I mean.  If you don’t know, it simply means that as much as you try to close a case (“kill it”), it keeps coming back to life.  This happens with both civil and criminal cases (and internal corporate matters as well).

A few reasons that a case may live on well past the time you wish it would are; 

  •          You keep finding more evidence, even after the investigation is over
  •          Corners were cut and now the devil is calling
  •          The attorney keeps asking for more work on it
  •          Trial comes and goes, then comes back again, then goes, then…
  •          Evidence you initially found is now found to be inaccurate
  •          Interrogatories and interviews come and go and come and go and keep coming
  •          More jurisdictions join in
  •          Case agents/officers keep changing and rotating and being reassigned
  •          Errors that were made are now coming to light, just in time for court
  •          Reports are missing or don’t contain necessary information
  •          And worse yet, the case hits the news

Case Study #8 takes a case that has a few of these things, but as for how to keep a case from coming back to life, there are things you can do to reduce the risk.   The most important method is to do a thorough job.  Doing a good job will reduce the chances of a zombie case by 90%.  Do good work, double-check your work, triple-check it, and you have less than a 10% chance of it biting you later. 

The remaining 10% chance of your case turning into a zombie is probably out of your control.  If you are given the wrong information, evidence is misinterpreted, or workers in your case don’t do a good job, there is a good chance that the 10% zombie case is coming for you.  And of course, if the suspect wants to fight tough-and-nail, it will drag on.  However, if it is bad enough (ie: news worthy because of investigator ERRORS), and someone leaks it to the news media, you now have a full-blown zombie breakout that will last not only years, but perhaps the better part of your career.

Back to preventing the zombie-case outbreak

Do a good job.  Even on those cases that seem minuscule at the time.  You never know how one seemingly insignificant case can end up reaching the Supreme Court, and not because you did a good job, but just the opposite.  Trust me.  I’ve seen it.  Seriously.  Do a good job, because when it happens, it is so much better to be the person that did a good job in the case and not be the one that screwed something up.

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"I don’t want to learn.  Just give me the answer."

Figure it out

It’s been more than a few years since I was in the Marines, even though it still feels like yesterday.  Although it has been decades (has it really been that long?), it seems that I am still learning lessons today that the Marine Corps exposed me to back then.  I mean that in the sense that many times I come across an obstacle in life or work that is solved by falling back on the little things I learned way-back-when.  One of the biggest lessons I ever learned: Figure it out.

I give credit to technology for making our lives easier, which doesn’t always mean for the better.  If you don’t know something, you can ask Google and get the answer.  In fact, as you type your question, Google practically reads your mind and finishes your question for you while at the same time, giving you an answer.  I believe that this part of technology is a disservice, especially those in the DFIR field because being told the answer is not the most important thing compared to personally finding the answer. It is the journey, not the destination.

My first response to being asked “how to do something” is “Did you try everything you know before asking me?”  Whether it is a student or a peer, if I am asked a question, I naturally assume that everything possible was tried before asking me.  If not, I question the question of asking in the first place because asking without trying to figure it out yourself is simply asking for the answer.  You are asking to get to your destination without taking the journey.  You are asking someone to do your homework for you.  This is the easy way, the wrong path to take, and will gradually put a cap on your skills.  Try before asking.  Then try again.  At some point you will run out of different attempts and then when you ask, I know (or will assume) that you tried everything you know how to try.  Hopefully before that comes, you will find the answer before asking for your sake. Giving the answer will not be helpful if you have the ability to figure it out yourself.  By the way, it is way easier for me to answer a question than it is to push and prod for the student to figure it out.  Answering takes me 15 seconds while being patient to watch the process can take a lot longer...

I teach the Figure It Out* method because the Eureka!  moments are those times where you learn something that you will never forget. It is embedded into your cranial cavity as if you were the first person to ever discover that answer.  In reality, everyone could have known the answer before you, but as far as your brain is concerned, you did it first and therefore, will remember it forever because you discovered it.  This doesn’t work if someone tells you that “C” is the correct answer.  You will forget being given “C” as the answer minutes afterward but you will remember the “Ah ha!” discovery for a lifetime.  You will actually be able to figure out more problems because of increased confidence.  It's a good cycle to be in.

But, I have found that some people don’t want to take the journey to discovery.  They truly just want the answer for a varied number of reasons, which are technically defined as excuses.  Procrastination is not a reason.  Laziness is not a reason.  Not caring is not a reason.  Because Google answers it for you is not a reason.  I tend to feel that we need ‘figuring it out by yourself’ as a high school class, where cell phones are not allowed, nor any Internet, in order to teach that using our own brain is what solves problems. 

As far as how the Marines do it….when given the order to “Have your squad at this point by 0300” or "get across that river in the next 45 minutes", there were no answers on how to do it, what to take, what to eat, what to wear, or when to leave.  There were no expectations of failure or answers to what happens if you fail.  No Google either. Simply, you are given a mission and you figure out how to complete it.  That is what we do in DFIR.  We figure it out.  We have to.


How to figure it out

I'd be remiss in not giving some guidance on how to figure it out, or at least how to ask a question.  Firstly, depending on what you are doing, figuring it out is going to be different every time.  Basically;

1. Read the instructions, try and fail.

2. Figure out where the problem started and,

3. Try again.  If fail..

4. Go back, read the instructions and guides again, try to find where the error may be solved.

5. Try again.  If fail...

6. Get online and search.  Forums, support/chat rooms, email lists.  Find someone who has documented the same problem.

7. Try the suggestions that you found.  If fail...

8. Put together your question.  Do not ever ask, "Hey, this thing doesn't work.  Can you make it work for me?".  Rather, write up your question like a mini-research project: 

   -"I wanted to do this."

   -"But I got this error."

   -"So I tried this and got this error."

   -"Then I searched for an answer and found these suggestions."

   -"I tried again with the suggestions and got this error."

   -"I don't know what else to try.  Can you point me in the right direction?"

When I get a question like this in class, I am happy.  Maybe a few more tries would have done it, but there is a point where if each try is simply repeating the exact process without changes, it is time to stop and ask.  Part of the learning process in DFIR is self-learning.  That which you cannot teach yourself, take a course in that topic.  Read books.  Engage in conversations about the topic.  Practice and research.  The last thing that should on your mind is thinking that "I'll just ask for the answer" without first making some effort to learn first.  

*I can't claim credit for the "Figure It Out" method, since it was yelled at me by many senior Marines until I Figured It Out.

  872 Hits

5 Cool Things You Can Do with the Windows Forensic Environment (WinFE)

I’m a fan of WinFE.  I’ve used it, written about it, helped develop it, taught it, and assisted others to teach it.   The way that I talk about it, you’d think that WinFE is the best thing that ever came along, does everything you need in forensics, and nothing can out do what it does.    Actually, WinFE doesn’t do much at all.  But that for what it does, it does ingeniously.

The top 5 cool things

#5 Forensically boot a Windows, Mac, Linux machine to a Windows Forensic Environment

#4 Forensically Boot a Surface Pro to a Windows Forensic Environment

#3 Image storage drives (full, sparse, or targeted) with Windows tools

#2 Perform a triage or preview with Windows tools

#1 Do a complete exam with Windows tools on the evidence machine

There are even more things you can do as well that makes WinFE cool, but this is a good start.  Being a free tool makes it cool too.

What’s the big deal?

WinFE forensically boots to Windows. That means you can use Windows-based forensic tools!

The numbers

3,447  *  Years ago, I threw together a quick WinFE online class for free.  Over 3,000 took the course before I eventually took it offline since WinFE has had several updates since the course was developed. 

5,592  * I recently put on a longer Forensic Operating System course (that focused on WinFE more than other live CDs) and as of today, more than 5,500 have taken that course.  

15,000  * That’s the number where I stopped counting the downloads of the WinFE script and various WinFE builders from over the years.  That doesn’t mean 15,000 WinFE users, just that it is a lot of downloads of past and current WinFE build projects.  That also does not include WinFE basic builds where Microsoft downloads are required (and not a WinFE project).

The point is that WinFE is a valid tool used by many, and since there is no marketing department for it, I'm marketing it because I use it and prefer that it remain relevant in the I can keep using it :)

The latest WinFE course

I had been asked for a new course just on WinFE and not any of the other live CDs, so here it is.  I included the multiple types of WinFE builds including Windows To Go in order to cover everything about a Windows-based, forensically sound, bootable operating system.  This course is only for those who did not take the Forensic Operating System course, since the WinFE information is the same in both courses.

Of course there is a promotion 😊

For any course I publish, you probably noticed that for a few days, I have a promotional discount.  This course is no different.  I ask that you share the promotion because invariably I get emails asking to extend the promotion (no extensions….sorry).


The Windows Forensic Environment social group

Since WinFE isn’t a commercial tool, with no developers or support staff, it has been pretty much living on its own, being pushed about by its community of users.  Searching for WinFE gets you about a dozen websites, most of which is outdated information, without any sole collection point.  Therefore, there is now a group for it. 


I will be putting everything in the social group as it comes up in terms of updates to WinFE building, usage, powerpoints for training, and curriculum if you want to have a turn-key model to add it in a forensic course that you teach.  Only those who have registered for either this new WinFE or Forensic Operating System course are invited.  The social group is a repository for community support, related downloads, and updates to the WinFE projects; it is not a beginner’s class in what WinFE is.

The time to self-learn WinFE can take days. There is no help desk, tech support, help line, or single point of reference information for WinFE.  If you don’t have patience to self-learn how to build it, you will give up.  Even tho the Internet is full of instructional guidelines, the good is intermingled with the outdated.  This course is the most current and up-to-date WinFE building and the WinFE social group will have all future updates for you to get it right the first time.

ps: Pass the quiz at the end of the course and receive a certificate of course completion (3 hours) in the instruction of building and using WinFE.

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Make DFIR easier to learn with visual aids (and teach students to share their work)

In my most recent course that I was teaching, the question of imaging speed came up during the hands-on imaging practicals (it's always the same question, "How can I make it go faster?").  My go-to illustration of imaging tests has been referring to Eric Zimmerman's imaging tests.  However, I tried something different this time.   I used Eric's tests (both imaging and software testing) and converted the spreadsheet data as visuals.   The visuals made all the difference, especially given mixed language in the course (as the course was not just in English…so it was a bit more difficult to get points across at times).  

With the visuals, it was easier for the class to see that some speed differences in the tests are slight enough to be irrelevant (in that personal preference of a tool may override the speed of another tool without detriment), while other speed differences are glaringly too far apart to rationalize a personal choice over a more logical choice when speed is important.  I ended up adding a separate lesson in doing personal testing, documenting the tests in the fashion of Eric Zimmerman's, and using the results to base decisions upon.  Nearly every slide had the same suggestion: "SHARE YOUR WORK'.   By sharing, I mean giving it away or selling it or teaching it or sharing it in any means you desire for fun or profit.  Just get your work out there.  

Eric set a standard in documenting imaging speed tests, but he also did something else; he showed that documenting and sharing tests results impacts the community globally for years as it is referenced constantly.  His test also shows that this is something any of us can also do.  If you think that your work is but a sliver in what can or should be done in sharing, keep in mind that a sliver to you is most likely an amazing bit of knowledge for someone else.  And by sharing, I mean publish, teach, show, or compare your work with others.  Most of the innovative developments in history have been inspired by a sliver of an idea.

The fear that your public work will be critiqued is real, not just because it will be, but because it must be.  Public peer-reviews require thick skin and a willingness to accept being wrong, and how to improve our work.  It also shows that you have the guts to put yourself out front, which any job in DFIR requires anyway.  Do it and be prepared to learn from your peers when your work is peer reviewed.  That is your goal: peer reviewed research that you personally conducted.  As a side benefit of sharing your work, software developers will certainly look at what you have documented to see where their tool stands.  Regardless of their tool is on the top or bottom, the tests show how developers can improve their tools, which benefits you (and me) directly.

About the critiques of your shared research….in a perfect world, everyone plays nice, is polite to each other, and we support the work of our peers with respectful and productive discussion.  But don’t expect that every time, and accept that some folks just aren’t nice.  Actually, be prepared for someone to be dismissive, impolite, and even downright disrespectful.  It happens because people are people.  My personal opinion is that everyone should be respectful or not say anything at all.  However, “polite” is not a word in the vocabulary of some.   Still, don’t let that stop you moving DFIR forward with your shared work and ideas.  Each of us have a choice to follow the path that others have blazed or we can blaze a trail that others will follow.  Blazing a trail sometimes means going the wrong way or hitting a dead will be wrong on occasion.  

Back to the point of visuals in training: Here one example of turning Eric’s work into visual aids.  The takeaway in these visuals is not that a visual is ‘better’ than a spreadsheet, but that it is (1) different, and maybe (2) more appropriate for specific audience types.  The imaging example is just an example of practically anything in DFIR that can be more easily described in a visual compared to rows and columns, depending upon your goal of showing data.

I will post my slidedeck at some point, but I hope you got the point of taking complex data and painting a picture with it to make it easier to digest.


  896 Hits

Dragnet: 2018

Definition of dragnet

1a : a net drawn along the bottom of a body of water

   b : a net used on the ground (as to capture small game)

2: a network of measures for apprehension (as of criminals)


In Hollywood movies, citizens have virtually no expectation of privacy and no practically no protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.  The movies typically depict cops routinely committing dozens of felonies in search of the criminal.  Given any cop movie, I can (and usually do) count more than a dozen felonies committed before the credits roll.  In some movies, the lead police character actually commit more crimes of more seriousness than the suspect they are chasing...

We must keep the Hollywood movie fantasy separate from reality otherwise we risk moving over the line.

Case in point: Blanket search warrants

 “The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses. In the Efobi homicide case, the cordon included dozens of units in the Washington Terrace complex near St. Augustine's University.” 

Where a warrant is supposed to describe a specific person, place, or thing, going beyond that criteria is getting close to the line, if not clearly jumping over it.   Creating an analogy of searching a person/place/thing using high tech methods (non-invasive) and physically searching a person/place/thing (invasive) escapes most.  Few want a stranger, police officer or otherwise, to open their closets and toss items around, but when it comes to digital information, it seems that many people don’t have the same concerns over privacy and their protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"…Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners….At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people," Wessler said. "Location information is really revealing and private about people's habits and activities and what they're doing." 

Our data privacy problem resides partly in the service providers and partly with us, the users.   For example, to have the convenience in finding a specific type of restaurant based on your location, a service provider needs to know (1) your location, and (2) your desires.  The service provider stores each of your location way-points and all of your typed desires. They keep this information well past your immediate use of the service.  Your consent is key to making this data fair game to advertisers, spammers, criminals, and the government today and into your foreseeable lifetime and after death.

The difference between your home being searched by the government and your data being searched by the government is that when it is your data stored by a service provider, you are not generally aware that it is going on.  It doesn’t feel invasive because it happens without you seeing it.  You don’t see an investigator reading details about your life and would not expect it happen anyway.   

For investigators, it is so much easier to search the private data of every citizen in an entire city than it is to physically go house-to-house and physically search the homes.  By the way, if there comes a day where we see blanket warrants to search house-to-house, we probably are not having a good day.  But that is what happens to our personal data.

My hope is that law enforcement doesn’t lose the ability to use high-tech methods because of an over-reaching search warrant, but I know that this is what invariably happens because the easy way is going to be chosen by someone when they should have chosen the more reasonable way.

I’m curious to see where the fine line will be drawn in using dragnets to obtain everything to search for a specific something.





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Some things about training, education, and learning in DFIR

In theory, if you know what you are doing and are competent, that is all you need.  In practice, being competent is rarely enough. You probably need documentation....

The importance of documentation was hammered into me for years by my employers as a government employee (military and LE).  Courts made sure that anything that I did not realize was important to document before testifying, better be documented next time.  

TL/DR aka Cliff Notes: Don't just download some DFIR tool and use it. Create documentation to justify your self-training/education/experience in using that tool, especially if you will be facing a jury or hiring manager.

 One example I had early in police work was that of drug field tests (not the kind you see on TV, where the cop puts some unknown substance on their tongue and says, "That's good stuff").  Getting trained on how to do field drug test wasn't something that we'd get in the academy, or as a normal part of the job.  Most would just follow the instructions on the test kit and call it good.  I think I may have been the first person in my department to be eaten up on the stand for a drug test in my report because I said, "I followed the instructions on the kit", yet had no formal or informal training in it.  My field test result was confirmed by the state lab, but I was badgered for a bit on the stand by the defense attorney on the drug test because I had no formal training in how to do it.  I did nothing wrong, I followed the instructions perfectly, the case was fine, but I didn't like getting attacked for something minor like not having a piece of paper showing 'training'.  

Here is what I did that day after court.
 I found the most senior narc in the department, who had testified to field testing drugs, who had taught narcotic work at the academy, who did major cases, and most important, someone who would spend a few minutes with me.  The senior narc (who was a Commander at the time), spent 30 minutes teaching me what I already knew, but also gave me some things that I did not.  Before I left his office, I had a department head memo detailing the 'training' I just received with a brief bio of the Commander who taught me.  That memo went into my training record, which I would use any time I were to testify to a field test of drugs in a case.  

Having gone into narcs years afterward, I created a formal in-service class and taught every patrol officer in field-testing to make sure they didn't get eaten up on the stand for not having any training in field-testing drugs.  It's a little thing, a memo or a training record, until it's a big thing.

I apply the same concept in the DFIR world.  Every breakout session at every conference I attend incurs labor on my part.  I write up the specific session, with the name of the presenter, with notes I take, plus the time spent in that session.  If there is hands-on, I document that as well.  All the better if there is a booklet of the sessions that I get in the swag bag to keep me organized.  I have a spot on my shelf with these for reference. For anything that I learn on my own, guess what...I document that too.  I never ever get on the stand to testify about something I did in which I do not have documentation at the ready.  If/when asked, I know:

  • The names of the presenters that I have learned from at the specific courses and conferences I've attended, and/or
  • The number of hours that I have researched practiced with a tool or process (learning hours, not case hours), and/or
  • The tools that I have written (itty bitty things that I have written) and the tests done with them.

I have documented formal education/training and documented informal training.  Anything that is not documented, I don't even refer to it.  I don't comment on it.  I don't list it.  If you have ever been on the stand to testify about your training, education, and experience, then you know that if you don't have documentation to support it, you will be under a microscope about it.  If you are new to DFIR, you are lucky because you can start saving your documentation now.  If you have been doing this for some time and not been saving your documentation, then you have lots of work to do.  

For anyone who doesn't feel the need to keep training records or documentation, either you don't have court appearances in your planned future, haven't met the devil of an opposing counsel yet, or are in a job you don't ever plan to leave.

I tend to create online courses for the benefit of getting something on paper for those wanting something on paper.  I believe we can do this job without taking a class or getting a degree.  I believe that if you are in DFIR, you are smart enough to learn on your own.  Actually, if you can't learn on your own, you may have a difficult time in this field.  But that's not how it works if court appearances or job interviews are in your future.  You need paper, and lots of it.  Degrees, certifications, conferences, courses, and personally documented research & practice.  The learning is implied if you do these things.  Competence is assumed if you have them.  All becomes clear when you employ them (clear as in, your employer will see if you actually know what you are doing or not). 

If you are in a position of authority, leadership, or mentorship, teach others something.  In classes I teach, whether a LE course, college course, online course, or in person at coffee, I implore the learner to take seriously what I am saying in documenting what I am teaching them, because it may become useful later.  In one way that I have used this in my testimony is that I have specifically stated, "I have been trained in the use of this tool by the developer of the tool."  Or, "I have been taught this forensic process by name of person, who developed the process".  Or even, "I have been trained by the person who wrote a book on it."  This is all the better if you are the author, tool or process developer, but second best is being taught by the tool or process developer, or the organization that developed the tool or process you used.  

In a perfect world, everyone accepts that we are competent because we say that we are and we can prove it.  In reality, even proving it is sometimes not enough if you don't have a document that says it. 


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