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Sunday, April 14, 2002


I just finished reading Computer Forensics: Incident Response Essentials by Warren G. Kruse and Jay G. Heiser. The authors, both of whom have impeccable credentials, have managed to distill a complex subject into a book that can be understood by anyone with intermediate-level computer skills. More importantly, computer forensics is a relatively new sub discipline of IT security, making this book important in that there are few books on the topic.

I'll start with the beginning and end of the book, each of which are focused on legal aspects of forensics. The book begins by explaining what forensics is, and giving a three-step process that covers the essentials at a high level:

  1. Acquire evidence
  2. Authenticate it
  3. Analyze it
Although this process is presented at a high level, important details, such as the importance of establishing and maintaining a chain of custody, how to collect and document evidence and key issues to consider when presenting the evidence in court are covered. This discussion is picked up again in Chapter 12, Introduction to the Criminal Justice System, in which applicable laws, advice on dealing with law enforcement agencies, and the distinction between criminal and civil cases are discussed. There is sufficient detail and pointers to put sources of information to arm you with the bare essentials.

Between the opening chapter and Chapter 12 described above are chapters devoted to basic techniques and procedures for tracing email, specific operating system issues (the book deals with UNIX and Windows), encryption, codes and compression and other common challenges an investigator will face. The material is not overly technical, and is presented in easy-to-understand prose. Anyone who works as a network or system administrator, provides desktop support, or is an advanced end user will have no problems following the techniques that are presented or the underlying technical details. If you're seeking an advanced text this book will probably disappoint you, although there is sure to be some new trick or fact that you'll learn. For example, I have over 25 years of IT experience and was fascinated by the discussion of steganography (an information hiding technique). There were other chapters that I quickly skimmed because I was well-versed in the subject matter.

What I like about the book is the easy approach, which makes it easy to develop the fundamental skills necessary to perform forensics. The few other papers and books on the subject are far more advanced and the learning curve is a barrier. This book will give the new security investigator a foothold in the topic upon which he or she can build. I especially liked the appendices, which provide an excellent framework for incident response. One of the best features is the detailed roles and responsibilities, which are well thought out and reinforce the axiom that security is everyone's business. Another outstanding feature is the flowcharts for various incident types, such as denial of service, hostile code, etc. These can be used verbatim in a security policies and procedures manual, as can the incident response form provided in Appendix B. I also liked the valuable URLs provided throughout the book. I knew of many, but was surprised to find invaluable resources that I didn't know about.

Even though much of this book presented information I already knew, I still enjoyed reading it because I picked up facts that I didn't previously know, and was reminded of legal aspects of forensics and security that I'd forgotten. The appendices alone make this worthwhile to even advanced readers, and the fact that it provides an entry point into forensics for new practitioners makes this book invaluable as a training tool and vehicle for professional growth.