Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

12/21/2017
01:00 PM
Paul Shomo
Paul Shomo
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

Digital Forensics & the Illusion of Privacy

Forensic examiners don't work for bounties. They do what is required to catch criminals, pedophiles, or corporate embezzlers, and now their important security research is finally being acknowledged.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to keep what we do online or on an electronic device private. Every action creates digital forensic artifacts — residual forensic evidence left behind when users or applications interact with an operating system. Nevertheless, the privacy myth lives on: browsers offer "anonymous modes," users can clear their history, or apps provide guarantees of "disappearing" content. Yet forensic experts have a wide range of tools at their disposal to uncover the various pieces of evidence and piece together what happened. The first attempt to put forensic research in the mainstream of security research will be a shocker to many.

While forensics has historically gone unremarked by the media, Guidance Software (recently acquired by OpenText) on Wednesday announced the winners of its inaugural Forensic Research Awards Program. These researchers include digital detectives who exposed a popular antivirus product that left behind users' long-term Web history, regardless of users' attempts to clear histories or use private browsing modes. Other research revealed IP addresses of anonymous users exposed by peer-to-peer software often deployed for pirating. There was also a major encryption vendor that left keys behind that could be recovered by law enforcement.

Vulnerability versus Forensic Research
Forensic research is a close cousin to vulnerability research. Vulnerabilities typically allow malicious code to execute or security controls to be bypassed. Forensics concentrate on the digital evidence that operating systems and applications leave behind. Both forms of research expose privacy concerns, but forensics shatters the illusion of privacy altogether. Everything leaves forensic residue: running applications, clicking files, accessing data, opening email attachments, and surfing the Internet.

Vulnerability research typically embarrasses software vendors, and gag orders are common. Vendors pay bounties to control the disclosure and patch before vulnerabilities become public. Forensic examiners don't work for bounties. They do what is required to catch criminals, pedophiles, or corporate embezzlers. Their findings are often public record in court cases — but not widely recognized in the media or elsewhere.   

The Forensic Research Awards Program was created to recognize the importance of forensics and reward researchers for their work. Consider the winner of OpenText's top research prize, Justin Bartshe, a longtime forensic examiner and an investigator with the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). One of Bartshe's cases involved searching all of a user's data, encoded or not, including every system file and every nook and cranny of a user's operating system. Bartshe found URLs related to his case in a SQLite database left behind by a popular open source AV product. Despite the fact that the suspect cleared the browsing history many times, much of the long-term history still existed in the database. The AV product even records most of the browsing done in private or incognito mode.

Privacy & the Future of Forensics
An examiner at NCIS typically needs to present findings in court and defend them. Many people don't know this, but forensics is a science; defense teams often conduct their own forensic analysis to challenge prosecutors as well. Findings must be reproducible or they will be shot down in court. 

Bartshe wasn't attempting to embarrass the AV vendor or collect a bounty. His job required him to reverse engineer the AV platform's previously unknown SQLite DB to prove the conditions where it records browsing. Depending on the case, these findings can go into public record as part of prosecution. In this instance, Bartshe's research was used in a case to protect children from abuse.

Related Content

Paul Shomo is a senior technical manager for third party technologies at OpenText. A veteran of cybersecurity, Paul Shomo has spent more than 15 years as a software engineer with experience working in security and forensics, networking, and storage. Paul has spent several ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Data Privacy Protections for the Most Vulnerable -- Children
Dimitri Sirota, Founder & CEO of BigID,  10/17/2019
Sodinokibi Ransomware: Where Attackers' Money Goes
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  10/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
2019 Online Malware and Threats
2019 Online Malware and Threats
As cyberattacks become more frequent and more sophisticated, enterprise security teams are under unprecedented pressure to respond. Is your organization ready?
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-18216
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-20
** DISPUTED ** The BIOS configuration design on ASUS ROG Zephyrus M GM501GS laptops with BIOS 313 relies on the main battery instead of using a CMOS battery, which reduces the value of a protection mechanism in which booting from a USB device is prohibited. Attackers who have physical laptop access ...
CVE-2019-18214
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-19
The Video_Converter app 0.1.0 for Nextcloud allows denial of service (CPU and memory consumption) via multiple concurrent conversions because many FFmpeg processes may be running at once. (The workload is not queued for serial execution.)
CVE-2019-18202
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-19
Information Disclosure is possible on WAGO Series PFC100 and PFC200 devices before FW12 due to improper access control. A remote attacker can check for the existence of paths and file names via crafted HTTP requests.
CVE-2019-18209
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-19
templates/pad.html in Etherpad-Lite 1.7.5 has XSS when the browser does not encode the path of the URL, as demonstrated by Internet Explorer.
CVE-2019-18198
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-18
In the Linux kernel before 5.3.4, a reference count usage error in the fib6_rule_suppress() function in the fib6 suppression feature of net/ipv6/fib6_rules.c, when handling the FIB_LOOKUP_NOREF flag, can be exploited by a local attacker to corrupt memory, aka CID-ca7a03c41753.