Threat Intelligence

11/27/2017
10:30 AM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Cyber Forensics: The Next Frontier in Cybersecurity

We can now recover evidence from the RAM on a cellphone, even if the account is locked, and use it to prosecute a case.

Every day at Georgia Tech's College of Engineering, my lab helps to solve real crimes through cyber forensics, the application of investigation and analysis techniques to gather and preserve evidence from a computing device that can be presented in a court of law. My research has large-scale crime-solving implications, and my goal is to figure out how we can collect as much evidence as possible from any device involved in the crime to help put away the criminal.

Since I arrived at Georgia Tech, my lab has been hard at work to create forensic techniques that help investigators solve human crimes, in addition to tackling malware and cyber attacks. If someone robs a bank and drops his phone at the scene of the crime, we can mine that digital device for evidence that will help prosecute the case.

One of the primary focuses of my research is memory image forensics, the process of recovering evidence from the RAM (random access memory) of a device. I recently developed a cyber-forensic technique called RetroScope to recover encrypted information on a device, even if the user has locked his or her accounts. RetroScope leverages a copy of the memory (RAM data) from the device and recreates information such as texts or emails. An investigator can see entire sequences of app screens that were previously accessed by the user.

Terrorists are known to use an application called Telegram that is extremely secure and encrypts everything on the phone. With RetroScope, the data on the phone is recreated and made available to law enforcement. An investigator can see exactly what the suspect was communicating before or during the crime. Any data left on the memory of the device can be extracted and used as evidence.

Figure 1. Retroscope at work
Source: Georgia Tech
Source: Georgia Tech

In a recent case, cyber forensics was used at a restaurant where patrons' credit card information was being stolen. A forensic investigator was called in, but he couldn't crack the case. With more customers being hacked, the restaurant was finally sued, and management called in a more-advanced forensic analyst to look over its systems. The forensic analyst realized there was malware on the restaurant's point-of-sale system, exporting credit card information with each swipe. The hacker was leveraging the volatile RAM (e.g., the system's short-term memory) to hide the malware, and the first investigator missed it.

The first investigator was only considering the static files stored on the disk of the computer. At the time, the forensic investigator wasn't considering volatile RAM as a hiding place for malware. From research like mine, investigators now know that a device's RAM is a viable place to harbor malware. You have to look everywhere in these investigations, leaving no stone unturned. My lab and I are continuing to pioneer the investigation of volatile RAM and the power of memory forensics in cases such as this.

At present, investigating crimes that involve digital devices as evidence is done in a very ad hoc manner, with much digital evidence being left behind. We need to design more holistic cyber-forensic techniques that take into account the entire digital system, and not just a single piece of evidence that investigators happen to find. This requires a paradigm shift in the way people think about cyber forensics. It's no longer just a tool to be used in a larger investigation; it's actually the driver of the investigation itself.

Related Content:

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two days of practical cyber defense discussions. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the INsecurity agenda here.

 

Dr. Brendan Saltaformaggio is an Assistant Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, with a courtesy appointment in the School of Computer Science. His research interests lie in computer systems security, cyber forensics, and the vetting ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
pjhinders
100%
0%
pjhinders,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2017 | 9:33:10 AM
RAM analysis
Very good article....RAM analysis is so crucial in forensic investigations....so much malware is memory resident only so if your not looking then you miss it completely. RAM analysis is on of the best ways to triage a potential investigation in my opinioin...
New Free Tool Scans for Chrome Extension Safety
Dark Reading Staff 2/21/2019
Making the Case for a Cybersecurity Moon Shot
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  2/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Data breach fears and the need to comply with regulations such as GDPR are two major drivers increased spending on security products and technologies. But other factors are contributing to the trend as well. Find out more about how enterprises are attacking the cybersecurity problem by reading our report today.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-6485
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
Citrix NetScaler Gateway 12.1 before build 50.31, 12.0 before build 60.9, 11.1 before build 60.14, 11.0 before build 72.17, and 10.5 before build 69.5 and Application Delivery Controller (ADC) 12.1 before build 50.31, 12.0 before build 60.9, 11.1 before build 60.14, 11.0 before build 72.17, and 10.5...
CVE-2019-9020
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. Invalid input to the function xmlrpc_decode() can lead to an invalid memory access (heap out of bounds read or read after free). This is related to xml_elem_parse_buf in ext/xmlrpc/libxmlrpc...
CVE-2019-9021
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. A heap-based buffer over-read in PHAR reading functions in the PHAR extension may allow an attacker to read allocated or unallocated memory past the actual data when trying to parse the file...
CVE-2019-9022
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.2. dns_get_record misparses a DNS response, which can allow a hostile DNS server to cause PHP to misuse memcpy, leading to read operations going past the buffer allocated for DNS data. This affects php_parser...
CVE-2019-9023
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. A number of heap-based buffer over-read instances are present in mbstring regular expression functions when supplied with invalid multibyte data. These occur in ext/mbstring/oniguruma/regcom...