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Perimeter

11/18/2009
01:35 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Push-Button Forensics

Digital forensics, computer forensics, or whatever you want to call the investigation and analysis of computer systems and digital media, is a challenging field that requires deep knowledge of the systems being analyzed. There is a push, however, to lower the barrier to entry for lesser skilled analysts to perform digital forensics using modern forensic tools.

Digital forensics, computer forensics, or whatever you want to call the investigation and analysis of computer systems and digital media, is a challenging field that requires deep knowledge of the systems being analyzed. There is a push, however, to lower the barrier to entry for lesser skilled analysts to perform digital forensics using modern forensic tools.I saw a few references on Twitter to a blog entry titled "The Value of Push Button Forensics" and several mixed responses on the topic of having forensic tools that are so easy that a caveman could use them. Okay, well, maybe not a caveman, but at least a technical analyst who doesn't have years of forensic training, experience, or the deep understanding of what's going on under the hood of the forensic tools that a seasoned forensic investigator has.

As the author of the blog mentions, push button forensics (PBF) has a lot of appeal for organizations that are coming under increasing pressure to perform more forensics but finding themselves backlogged. For example, I just spoke to one law enforcement group that has two forensic examiners with a six month backlog. Six months! Wow.

Now if that group had several analysts who could process the smaller cases using PBF tools, that would free up the primary investigators to work on the bigger, more serious cases. Or, it might mean they could create the case in the PBF, pre-process evidence so indexing, file carving, etc. is done, that would help streamline getting the evidence into the hands of the experienced examiners.

Do I think inexperienced analysts should be performing forensic investigations from start to finish and possibly, testifying in court? I have some doubts. I've read numerous comments from forensic guys who have been in the forensic field for years that said they'd love to go head-to-head against someone who only knows how to use the PBF tools but not what's happening at the filesystem level or how the tool parses the registry.

What concerns me is the forensic cases that occur more on the fringe where an attacker or suspect uses a system that isn't supported by the PBF tool. Or they use anti-forensic techniques that will hide data from the PBF tool that leads to an incorrect final conclusion. Will there always been a senior investigator there to review the work? Or should it be left to the senior investigator in the first place?

I'm looking forward to how the forensic tool market will play out. Digital forensics in a time-consuming activity and I welcome tools to make it easier as long as it doesn't abstract the underlying activities so much that we forget our roots.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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