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The IT industry has teamed up with academics and the European Union researchers to develop standards for the investigation of cybercrime.

The EU Cyber Tools On-Line Search for Evidence (CTOSE) project, a research project funded by the European Commission’s Information Society Technologies (IST) programme, has developed a methodology that "identifies, secures, integrates and presents electronic evidence".

According to an EU statement, this methodology enables anyone from system administrators, information technology security staff and computer incident investigators, to police and law-enforcement agencies to follow consistent and standardised procedures when investigating computer incidents using "computer forensic tools".

The methodology ensures all electronic evidence is legally and properly gathered and preserved, acting as uncontaminated and compelling proof that a crime or fraud has been committed to company management, industrial tribunals, or civil or criminal courts. Backers of the methodology hope it will be adopted as a best practice standard throughout Europe.

“This innovative methodology, developed by the Commission, will not only help combat cybercrime, it will also increase user confidence in carrying out secure transactions in everyday life,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

The methodology was developed against a backdrop of a rise in cybercrime. Fraudulent transactions, computer hacking and viruses, high-tech crime, identity theft and computer fraud have become common occurrences.

The EU notes that computers can provide essential evidence of a crime as well as deliver the means of committing crime. Electronic records such as computer network logs, emails, word-processing files, and picture files increasingly feature as evidence in criminal cases but there is a lack of consistency across the EU in how such information is obtained and presented - hence the need for a unifying project such as CTOSE.

Pooling resources to police cyberspace

CTOSE combined the expertise of French telecoms equipment vendor Alcatel, UK security company QinetiQ and three research Institutes: the CRID at the University of Namur (Belgium), the University of St. Andrews (UK), and the Fraunhofer Institute (IAO)/University of Stuttgart (Germany), together with researchers in the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). The CTOSE Special Interest Group (SIG) also contributed to the project, which reached completion at the end of last month.

The project brought together some 50 experts from Europe and the US with a wide range of specialist backgrounds, including Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), computer lawyers, computer forensic tool suppliers, high-tech police investigators, and IT security staff from major financial institutions. The project partners and SIG members are now drawing up plans to carry forward the CTOSE's work and ensure widespread deployment of the methodology and tools developed during the project.

On-line law enforcement

Tools developed during the project include: a Cyber-Crime Advisory Tool; an expert system which offers advice on the legal aspects of computer investigations (called “legal advisor”); an XML-based specification for electronic evidence. There’s also demonstrator - a software tool designed to simulate the effects of cyber attacks (e.g. hacking, website defacement or organised fraud) on both a typical unprotected website, and on a site which has followed the project's guidelines on forensic readiness.

So how does it all fit together?

The Cyber-Crime Advisory Tool (C*CAT), for example, tells an investigator, at each stage of an investigation, which procedures to carry out and what decisions are required. The “legal advisor” points out the legal requirements to investigators, to ensure that the evidence is admissible, convincing, and legally obtained. The XML specification enables one investigator to package a piece of evidence and hand it over to another, ensuring a safe 'chain of custody' for all electronic evidence.

According to the EU, the tools developed by the project represent the first complete end-to-end methodology to guide investigators through the difficult task of computer forensics.

More information here. ®

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