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Best Computer Forensic Tools For A Cybersecurity Analyst

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By: Shimon Brathwaite

September 7, 2021

Most of a cybersecurity analyst’s work will be done before a cyberattack, focusing on implementing security controls to prevent the company from getting hacked. However, when a cyberattack does happen, an analyst must know how to assist in the investigation properly. This area of expertise is routinely referred to as computer forensics. Simply put, computer forensics is a branch of digital forensic science that focuses on extracting digital evidence from devices. You can imagine whenever a cyberattack happens, several questions get asked. Among them, upper management wants to know what infected the company, how many machines and user accounts are affected, etc. The only way to answer these questions is to examine the computer systems and extract information to answer these questions. As a forensic investigator, it’s your job to rebuild the story of the incident and relay that information so that the company can take the appropriate corrective action. To assist with this, we have put together a list of the most important computer forensic tools that a cybersecurity analyst should be familiar with:

FTK Imager

FTK stands for Forensic Toolkit, which is forensic software made by AcessData. It can scan hard drives for various pieces of information. This software is popular with law enforcement and government agencies. FTK comes with many different sub-services. One of their best tools is FTK Imager, which is used to create a forensic image of the machine. Essentially, an image is just a full copy of that computer system as it is. This image is important because you never want to perform forensic work on the original computer. However, just if the investigator makes a mistake or changes something, you always want to have the original copy intact.

Autopsy/The Sleuth Kit

This combination is very effective for hard disk analysis. The Sleuth Kit is the command-line tool that performs forensic analysis of forensic images of hard drives and smartphones. An autopsy is a GUI-based system that The Sleuth Kit uses. Both tools are free and open-source; commercial support and training are available. However, it’s important to note that these tools cannot create a forensic image; they can only be used to perform the analysis. Typically they are used in combination with a tool like FTK Imager for full analysis.

Volatility

Many tools focus on hard drive forensics, but Volatility is more focused on performing memory forensics. While most artifacts are saved to the computer’s hard drive, much information can be found in the computer’s memory. However, this assumes the device is not turned off. Since memory is volatile, if power is lost to the machine, the computer memory will be lost, and memory forensics will be impossible. An important tip: never disconnect the power cord from a machine that has been compromised; remove internet access. Volatility is free, open-source, and supports third-party plugins. It also holds an annual contest for users to see who can develop the most innovative extension to the framework, so the community support for this software is very strong.

Registry Recon

If you’re looking to perform Windows registry analysis, registry recon is a great tool. A windows registry acts as a database for the configuration information of the windows OS and the applications running on it. While you can open and view the windows registry via the built-in windows application, tools like Registry Recon are designed to let you view and rebuild windows registries from a forensic image and also rebuild deleted parts of the registry based on analysis of unallocated memory space.

Cellebrite UFED

Mobile devices have become increasingly common in today’s world. Almost everyone has a cellphone, and most people use them for personal life and work. Subsequently, there is a growing need to extract digital evidence from mobile devices, where cellebrite UFED comes into play. It’s widely regarded as the best commercial tool for mobile forensics, and it supports both iOS and Android devices.

Wireshark

Wireshark is a highly rated security tool, and it’s a great software for learning forensics and performing general security work. When it comes to network analysis, Wireshark is by far the most popular forensic tool. It’s free and open-source, with an easy-to-use GUI. It supports live traffic capture as well as ingestion of network capture files for analysis. Additionally, since most cyberattacks occur within a network, Wireshark can help identify malware or provide access to data that may have been deleted or overwritten on the endpoint.

CAINE

The last tool on this list focuses on Linux distributions. CAINE stands for the Computer-Aided Investigative Environment, and rather than it being a single software tool, it’s a Linux distribution that contains a wide range of computer forensics tools. Anyone who has used something like Kali Linux can consider this the computer forensic equivalent. It comes with many of the most popular tools pre-installed and contains third-party plugins for tools like Autopsy. Using something like CAINE, specialists don’t have to bother with installing and configuring individual tools; instead, they make one installation and pick from several options.

Recap

Computer forensics is an essential part of a sound cybersecurity program. Regardless of the number of security controls in place, how many penetration tests are performed, or any other safeguards, there will come a time when things go wrong. It may not even be an attack from outside your company; it could be an insider threat like a disgruntled employee who tries to delete thousands of files from the organization. For these types of situations, it’s vital to have access to a forensic expert who can come in, figure out what damage was done, and then advise on what to do to remediate the situation. Since most of this will be done in a time-sensitive environment, an organization doesn’t want to be stuck trying to do these things manually, or it may require work that can’t be done by hand. This is where the tools in this list come in handy, helping extract the necessary information reliably and quickly while maintaining records that will ensure that the findings are acceptable in the court if it gets to that point.

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