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How the FBI can r00t your hard drive

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The FBI is working hard to establish itself as the world's premier computer forensics expert. The Bureau has deployed 193 Special Agents devoted specifically to cyber crime, along with more than 100 related support personnel at FBI Headquarters in Washington, and 142 "parts examiners" busily recovering data from seized computers in the field, FBI Director Louis Freeh told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday. "These are people who can take evidence off a hard drive that even fairly sophisticated users would think had been erased," Freeh explained. Most computers sold in 1998 featured hard drives of six to eight GB capacity. But by the end of this year, sixty to eighty GB hard drives will be common, he noted -- and with considerable exaggeration, we observe. To tell the truth, twenty to forty GB hard drives will be "common" towards the end of this year. Sixty to eighty... well, that will remain in the realm of "dream boxes" for some time to come. In any event, the continuing development of big HDDs "vastly increases the area that needs to be searched", he complained. Yet there is hope on the horizon. The FBI has developed a program it calls the Automated Computer Examination System (ACES), which allows investigators to examine huge areas of magnetic media quickly, Freeh revealed. This, combined with the FBI's Computer Wizards' ambition to "de-centralise computer examination," should eventually yield an efficient mechanism for lifting data from confiscated boxes, he reckons. One putatively successful effort along these lines is a collaboration between the FBI and the San Diego Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory. This de-centralised approach is supposed to increase the Bureau's efficiency in forensic investigation. New centres are planned for New England and Texas, and ought to be running soon, Freeh said. ®

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