Pratum Blog

Digital Forensics Acquisition

When I first began dabbling in digital forensics, the year was 1999. At the time it was little more than tepid curiosity for me. It wasn’t but a couple of months before I was thrust into my first “investigation”. The matter turned out to be a non-issue but it sure had us worried. Looking back on my procedure, I still had a lot to learn about digital investigations.

Here we are in 2020 and the practice of digital forensics continues to change with the advances in technology. For example, we used to think that live analysis of a system was taboo. First rule of thumb was turn it off and write block everything before you attempt to do any discovery. Changes in technology have necessitated a shift in thinking of live acquisitions during a forensic examination. Let’s look at a couple of the scenarios which offer highly compelling arguments for live acquisition.

Standardization of Localized Encryption

Years ago it would have been rare to find a desktop with any sort of local drive or file encryption. Today however, full drive or volume encryption is commonplace on nearly any laptop or mobile device. The device to be analyzed may be unencrypted while booted and logged in but will revert to an encrypted state once the system is rebooted or locked. Encryption is the bane of every digital investigator’s existence. Sure, you can get around some of it, but the time and frustration added to your investigation is a reality. Governments and law enforcement continue to lobby for restricted backdoor access to defeat encryption. While it would certainly make digital forensics simpler, it’s a bad idea for many reasons.

Use of Volatile Memory for Malware Applications

We used to tweak and tune our machines to scrape together an additional 2 or 3 megabytes in RAM to get an application to run. Attackers typically had to rely on placing some part of their payload on a physical disk to ensure a high rate of success. Today a PC comes with 8, 12 or even 16 gigabytes of RAM, and we have plenty to spare. Attackers have become adept at building small but powerful apps, which are completely memory resident. Shutting down a system may eliminate any evidence that once existed only in memory.

Advent of Flash Storage as System’s Primary Storage

Devices often use “blade” type solid state drives (SSD) to replace hard drives. These blade drives use a myriad of connectors, some of which are proprietary. In many cases, you can’t just pull a drive out and stick it in a duplicator. Some of the drives require connectors with special firmware or controllers, which are on the motherboard. Booting to a forensic image on a USB stick may not allow the controller firmware to load correctly, and the drive will not be recognized. Mobile devices use flash storage directly on the motherboard making this process even more difficult. Sometimes a live acquisition is the only way to get data.

As you can see, shutting a system down prior to acquisition could cause significant loss of evidence. Our first goal in digital forensics is to preserve evidence. It is equally important to prove what is present as it is to prove what is not present.

Rob Lee of SANS once gave a presentation to the ISSA chapter in Des Moines. He explained it well by saying when an EMT shows up at a shooting and the victim is still alive, they don’t worry about contaminating the crime scene when trying to save a life. Their footprints and residual evidence left behind can be identified and explained in the bigger picture. The traces left by our “prodding and poking” of a live system can be tracked and explained once the full forensic detail is laid out.

So, the next time you prepare for an investigation, think about this. Would you have a better overall picture of that system’s current state by doing a live analysis and explaining away your tracks, or by shutting it down and doing a more conventional acquisition? And so, my dear Watson… what’s your answer?

For more information on our digital forensics services, reach out to a Pratum representative today!

As a business, you have access to a lot of customer and vendor information. While many companies take this responsibility very seriously, not everyone is doing all they can to ensure security. One way that some businesses fall short is by not encrypting emails on a regular basis, or at all. In this article we’ll explain the importance of encryption, and how you can start securing your emails now.

What is Email Encryption

Email encryption is sort of a disguise for your correspondence with clients and coworkers. Encryption software turns your text, documents, and other data into scrambled code in the eyes of anyone trying to gain unauthorized access. Some describe the encryption process as creating another language. When a third party tries to open the document, all they will see is a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Encrypting emails ensures the only person who can read your message legibly is the person you intended to receive it. To anyone else who tries to intercept your email it will look like nonsense. Hackers will often try to intercept emails from businesses because they know those can contain very sensitive and valuable information. Without encryption, even the smallest companies are targets for criminals looking to gain information through this method of communication.

Risks of Not Encrypting

The dangers of not encrypting emails are numerous. Not only do you put your clients’ information at a higher risk of being hacked, but you also put your own business at risk. If a criminal were to access private information on your client or your company, they may try to use that information for extortion. They could also utilize certain details found to try and access other areas of your company. With the right data, a threat actor can hack into systems you may believe are secured.

Business owners also need to implement encryption when it is required by an agreement with a customer or vendor. This is essential when the nature of the information requires a higher degree of security. Information such as personal information, bank data, and other private details about an individual can be used to attempt other scamming methods or hacks into private accounts. Even the smallest detail may be the information a criminal would need to figure out a username or password to a secured account.

It’s not just clients you should be considering. Encryption is also advised when handling private information of employees. Documents containing health insurance information or financial records need to be protected. It’s in the best interest of your entire firm to be cautious and secure when handling any private data.

Encrypting all email messages as a default, standard practice makes the task of finding sensitive information more daunting to hackers. Going through a long list of emails, one-by-one, will make the job of finding valuable information more time consuming. This tedious task could be enough to cause some hackers to give up more quickly.

Full Security

Creating a safe environment for your staff and customers means considering all aspects of security. Neglecting cybersecurity can be detrimental to your business. Taking the time to protect all data, especially that which is sent through emails, could be the layer of protection your organization is missing.

If you have any other questions about the cybersecurity of your company, feel free to reach out to the cybersecurity experts at Pratum.

Does your business have security, compliance, or both? While some believe having one automatically results in the other, the two are independent and need individual attention. Despite common misconceptions, compliance is not security. Knowing the difference and why it matters could mean better, long-term protection for your business.

To understand the difference between compliance and security you need to have a clear picture of what each one means for your organization.

What is Compliance

Compliance is the process an organization goes through to adhere to a minimum set of security requirements. In some industries, these requirements are required by law. For others, it’s an expectation from business associates and vendors in order to do business together. There are different types of compliance, which means different auditors who carry out the compliance process. Depending on the type of audit being done, auditors are typically looking for controls that are designed efficiently and operating effectively.

For example: Do the controls in place meet the objectives of the selected compliance framework? Are they operating as expected?

While compliance has its place in many business security programs, it can also be misleading. Here are a few pros and cons to show how compliance can be useful, but also deceptive for businesses at times.

Pros:

  • IDS/IPS Testing
  • Formalizing Processes – Compliance is an established set of guidelines. That means becoming compliant will help a business create a more structured security portfolio.
  • Maintaining Security Commitments – Ensuring security is upheld for both the client and legal requirements.
  • Initiates Security Conversation – For some businesses, security is not a top consideration until it’s required by law or a vendor. Being required to become compliant can be a first step to more security measures being implemented in a company.

Cons:

  • IDS/IPS Testing
  • Blanketed Approach - Compliance frameworks are often not comprehensive enough to ensure security is uniquely applied to all business use cases and needs.
  • Limited Scope - Compliance reports only cover a scoped environment; oftentimes, they do not include all business systems or controls.
  • Lacks Customization - Most importantly, compliance does not assess environments on the fundamental principle of risk. It simply cannot answer the question: what is the risk posture of my organization?

Now that you have a better idea of what Compliance is, and how it can help or hinder a security program, it’s important to understand why Security is important.

What is Security

When we use the term “security” at Pratum, we are referring to the clear and unique set of technical controls and business processes that define how data is stored, processed, transmitted, consumed, and accessed at an organization in order to ensure verifiable protection from evolving cyber security threats. Security is based on the risks facing your organization’s specific needs.

There are two major components in an effective and mature security program: Strong Governance and Comprehensive Technical Controls.

For strong governance you need to have a few key components including:

  • IDS/IPS Testing
  • Proper oversight and reporting
  • An accurate policy set
  • Ongoing and routine risk assessment/analysis process
  • Effective user awareness training

A comprehensive set of technical controls should protect business-sensitive information and needs to include:

  • IDS/IPS Testing
  • Network protection devices and software
  • Employee workstation protection policies
  • Sensitive data security safeguards

When these components all work together, the security posture of your organization will be equipped with customized protection that can better protect your business’s unique security needs.

Security and Compliance Working Together

While security and compliance can work together, having one does not guarantee the other. Compliance alone does not make your business entirely secure and having security measures may not meet compliance standards. The key is figuring out what your business needs to meet industry and business expectations, while also going further and establishing a strong security program to protect your company’s assets.

It can be easy to focus primarily on compliance and “worry about those security problems later”. After all, many organizations need to meet compliance requirements in order to win certain contracts, remain competitive in their industry, or conduct business altogether. However, ignoring security beyond compliance has long-term “disastrous” effects. It introduces complexity as the organization grows, and it does not develop a strong security culture.

Security culture is important because it involves the entire organization. With compliance it’s a one-size-fits-all structure. There’s no need to involve every member of the team with most compliance audits. Compliance alone cannot change a company’s security culture. Educating staff on security measures and enforcing policies and procedures needs to be a custom process designed to fit your business’s risks.

Where to Go Next

There is some overlap between compliance and security, but one does not imply the other. Compliance can help to further mature an organization’s information security program, but it does not guarantee a strong security posture. Having security in place won’t guarantee you’re ready for compliance.

If you feel your organization needs compliance, security, or both this is a great time to examine your current information security program. Reach out to a Pratum representative to learn more about where to go next with your security and compliance needs.

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