Feeds

Vista encryption 'no threat' to computer forensics

Who needs a backdoor when users leave the Windows open?

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

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. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.