Feeds

Vista encryption 'no threat' to computer forensics

Who needs a backdoor when users leave the Windows open?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Security advances in Windows Vista are unlikely to frustrate cybercrime investigation, according to a leading computer forensics firm.

Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Vista include a feature that provides data volume encryption called BitLocker Drive Encryption. Suggestions that BitLocker contains a backdoor allowing law enforcement agencies automatic access to encrypted volumes have been robustly denied by Microsoft.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the availability of Vista will mean the widespread adoption of disc encryption technologies that will frustrate law enforcement investigations in computer crime, including trafficking in images of child abuse, computer hacking, industrial espionage and other offences.

For one thing, in two of its three modes of operation BitLocker requires a cryptographic hardware chip called a Trusted Platform Module and a compatible BIOS. These chips are yet to become widely available much less deployed. The third mode requires a user to insert a USB device that contains a startup key in order to boot the protected OS.

That means law enforcement officers need to get into the habit of seizing USB keys as well as PCs in the course of conducting a raid. Brian Karney, director of product marketing at Guidance Software, said the computer forensics firm had worked with Microsoft on BitLocker and that it knew of "no backdoors".

Getting to machines while they are still turned on and taking a forensically sound copy is an option even in the absence of USB Keys, Karney explained. "Even though the logical volume is encrypted the OS works on top of an abstraction layer. We can see what the OS sees so that it's possible to acquire data on a running Vista machine even when it is running BitLocker."

In cases when a consumer machine running Vista happens to be turned off at the point its seized, a password is needed. However, in corporate environments a BitLocker recovery key can be used to allow examination of target devices.

In some ways, the issue boils down to who is more knowledgeable about the use of encryption or other security technologies: investigators or the targets of investigation, an issue far from restricted to use of encryption technology in Windows Vista.

"We're seeing the same concerns with Vista as we saw with XP over the idea that built-in encryption features might frustrate law enforcement efforts. In practice XP has not proved to be a problem for computer forensics and we don't think Vista will be either," said Bill Thompson, director of professional development and training at Guidance Software. "Sometimes people use file wiping utilities or other tools but often they are not configured properly. People accept the default settings, which can leave fragments of data."

Guidance Software's EnCase computer forensic software is widely used by law enforcement agencies worldwide and is increasingly been used by private sector firms to investigate employee wrongdoing. One of Guidance's customers is the Metropolitan Police, which is using the technology to recover deleted emails as part of its cash for honours inquiry. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
Shellshock: 'Larger scale attack' on its way, warn securo-bods
Not just web servers under threat - though TENS of THOUSANDS have been hit
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
PEAK IPV4? Global IPv6 traffic is growing, DDoS dying, says Akamai
First time the cache network has seen drop in use of 32-bit-wide IP addresses
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.