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MS supplies cops with DIY forensics tool

Cybercrims? They'll never get their hands on one...

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Microsoft has reportedly developed a USB key that allows investigators to extract forensic data from PCs.

COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor) comes in a USB key form factor, and was distributed to a small number of law-enforcement agencies last June, the Seattle Times reports. The device includes 150 tools that allow investigators to extract internet history files, for example, or "decrypt passwords".

Rather than pointing to the existence of a backdoor the decrypting password feature appears to relate to password auditing tools. COFEE also allows investigators to upload data for analysis.

The device is used by more than 2,000 officers in at least 15 countries, including Germany and the US. Microsoft supplies the technology to law enforcement agencies without charge. The tool reportedly allows investigators to scan for evidence on site without necessarily having to cart PCs back to a lab.

Computer forensics is a painstaking process carefully designed to make sure data on a suspect computer isn't changed - simply plugging a device into a computer to extract data seems like a quick and dirty fix. The admissibility of such data in court in debatable even before we get into considering the possibility that the USB key might harbour malware.

Another, even greater concern is that the kit will get into the hands of hackers. The form factor for COFEE would be just their cup of tea.

The extraction and analysis of digital evidence features in the investigation of more on more crimes, not just those specific to computers such as internet fraud and child abuse investigations. UK specialists we've spoken to tell us they're struggling to cope with the volume of work from law enforcement clients. There's a genuine problem here, but we're not convinced COFEE is the solution.

Law enforcement officials from forces in 35 countries are meeting in Redmond this week to talk about the role of technology in combating crime. A similar event two years ago led to the development of COFEE, the Seattle Times reports. ®

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