#4 – Taking a Step Back

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Digital Forensics

A few people have reached out asking how I got into forensics, so before I dive too deeply into tech posts (and following up on yesterday’s iTunes Backup post), I figured I should stop to answer this.

As a child of the 80s, I grew up with the best TV shows – my favorites being Thundercats, Laverne & Shirley, MacGyver, and Inspector Gadget. The last two really drew me to puzzles, investigations, and keeping me curious. On top of that, my Dad had an old computer that I primarily used to play Avoid the Noid and figure out basic DOS commands when no one was looking. My parents really had their work cut out for them.

It wasn’t until high school that I really tried to figure out my path. My interests had shifted a bit to serial killers and their mentality. This was thanks to my fascination of the True Crime section at the library (365.1523 books) and Silence of the Lambs. The likely choice was to pursue a Psychology degree with the eventual goal of Forensic Psychology. Well, life happened, and I failed out of college with a whopping 0.3 GPA in my final semester.

Now in the predicament of figuring out my life, I started researching local tech schools. (My Dad insisted that I move in with him to get my life straightened out.) One local college was offering Forensic Science as a major – sweet! Organic Chem and Biology were my favorite subjects, so this seemed right up my alley. We learned all about crime scenes, photography, law, arson, ballistics, fingerprinting, serology, etc. It was incredible. After graduating, however, I quickly realized I needed more than an A.A.S. degree to get a decent job.

So, I went to a third college for my B.S. degree in Computer Forensics. I loved the classes! We had basic programming (in Visual Basic — shoot me), more law courses, file system analysis, network analysis, and hands-on data recovery. Our capstone was taking SANS FOR508 (back when it was mainly forensics 10 years ago) and earning the GCFA certification.

My first official digital forensics role came a couple months after graduation. It was a bit unorthodox, but I sent out paper résumés to companies (regardless if they were actively hiring) and promised to follow up with them the following week. It worked! One company, who was not hiring, decided to take a chance on me. I’ve since moved on from that company, worked a few other places, and am now a Director at my current location.

My advice to anyone starting out: TRY. FAIL. TRY AGAIN. Failure doesn’t mean you stop. Failure means you reevaluate the situation, make adjustments, and continue moving forward.

#3 – iTunes Backups

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Digital Forensics / iOS Artifacts

Scenario: You receive an iOS device and don’t have access to commercial tools to acquire the device. The custodian is cooperative and willing to give you any credentials necessary for the collection. What do you do?

My advice – create an iTunes backup. Preferably, create an encrypted iTunes backup. This allows you to grab more information from the device, such as account passwords, health, and HomeKit data. If the user has previously encrypted iTunes backups, you will be prompted for the user’s previous password. If the user has never encrypted backups, you will be prompted to create a password. IMPORTANT NOTE: This iTunes password will stay with the device. Do not lose this password!

iTunes Backups

Now that you have successfully backed up the device, how do you view the data? iBackupBot is an simple solution and has a free full-version trial for both Windows and Mac computers. You can modify backups with iBackupBot, so it is highly recommended that you make a duplicate copy of your iTunes backup first. Below are some of the items that you can see in an iTunes backup.

System Information about the iOS Device
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Multimedia and System Databases
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System Log and Crash Report

From here, you can export the SQLite databases and plists and view their contents in your application of choice. In another post, I will show you how to write basic SQLite queries to put meaning behind the databases.

#2 – SANS DFIR Summit

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Conferences / Digital Forensics / Incident Response / Smartphone Forensics

Another year, another SANS DFIR Summit come and gone. What a whirlwind! If you have never been to the DFIR Summit in Austin, TX, I would highly recommend it. This year seemed to have more new people attending than ever before. (I don’t have the official counts, so I don’t know for certain.)

The presentation slides have been posted if you’d like to review them. In roughly 2-3 months, the videos should also be posted to YouTube. A few highlights:

  • #DFIRFIT or Bust – I loved this talk the most. Take a look at the slides to see why. 😉
  • Event Trace Logs – Nicole has been researching these for quite some time, and her presentation goes into awesome detail about these logs. If you’ve never examined ETLs, you really should.
  • mac_apt – macOS forensics is my jam. Yogesh’s mac_apt.py pulls [almost] all the things for forensic analysis. Obviously it requires some thought in your analysis to put together a timeline of events, but this script will be a great start in simplifying your efforts.
  • DNSplice – Shelly loves her DNS logs! Her python script helps put extra meaning behind the data.
  • Forensic 4:Cast Awards – Lee puts a lot of thought and love behind these awards, as evidenced by his 10 years of work on them. Congrats to all the winners and runner-ups!

After the conference, the DFIR Summit offers classroom training. This year I signed up for the FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensics course. Heather did a phenomenal job teaching the class and really made sure people understood the concepts. She even taught SQLite in a way that actually made sense! (I’ve struggled for years with SQLite queries, but now I can easily write basic queries, join tables, add case statements, and order columns.)

The final highlight of the DFIR Summit was the NetWars challenge. This year SANS added a Coin Slayer challenge where you could win a challenge coin from a particular course, assuming you answered all questions from all four levels correctly. There ended up being seven people who won Coin Slayer coins – two in Reverse-Engineering Malware and five in Smartphone Forensics. I happened to be one of the lucky ones to earn a Smartphone Forensics coin within the final three minutes of the competition.


All in all, the DFIR Summit was more than worth it! If you get a chance to go, absolutely do it. The Summit will be held in Austin, TX next year July 25-26 (conference) and July 27-Aug 1 (training). Hope to see you there!

#1 – The Zeltser Challenge

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Digital Forensics / Incident Response

It’s no secret that people have pushed for more community sharing in DFIR, assuming one’s company or role allows that sharing. A few years ago, David Cowen entered a daring experiment to write a daily blog. This was based on Lenny Zeltser’s challenge, lovingly termed “The Zeltser Challenge” among the community, in which one writes a blog post every day for a year. Matt Bromiley also embarked on the challenge. The goal of the challenge is to: 1) share with others and 2) push yourself to keep learning. Recently, David tweeted out a request to have others join in on the challenge, and well, here I am…

Are there any specific requests of topics you’d like to read? A few of the topics that I am considering over this next year are:

  • macOS Forensics
  • APFS Artifacts
  • Android Forensics
  • iOS Forensics
  • SQLite Analysis (a.k.a. forcing myself to learn SQLite)
  • Third-Party Application Forensics
  • OSINT (maybe?)

Here’s hoping all goes well!

DFIR Summit Family Reunion

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Conferences / Digital Forensics / Incident Response

“Reunited and it feels so good…” That lyric sums up my overall thoughts on the annual SANS DFIR (Digital Forensics and Incident Response) Summit experience in Austin, TX. Although, so does this song by Dual Core.

This conference is easily my favorite of the year. The talks are highly technical, but not to the point of overwhelming with your eyes glazing over. You can find the links to the presentations here. There were a surprising number of Mac Forensics talks this year (which I love!), open source and hardware talks (check out Brian Moran’s and Jessica Hyde’s Alexa badassery), workflow organization, and more. There really wasn’t anything that I did not find interesting, and that’s saying a lot.

The evenings provided an opportunity for networking and fun (so much fun). Honestly, the networking is worth its weight in gold. Each year I meet new people in the DFIR field and form lasting friendships (and many that are like close family). Being a naturally introverted person, for me to say that I actually enjoy the networking, that’s huge. We seriously have some truly incredible people in this industry.

Rather than uploading a bunch of photos from the talks and evenings, it’s likely easiest to just check my Twitter account: @4n6woman. Feel free to also follow me on there!

Hopefully next year I will see more new faces in Austin. It really is worth the trip!