How to Conduct Advanced Forensic Investigation on Hacked Systems

November 27, 20235 min read

Conducting an advanced forensic investigation on hacked systems requires meticulous attention to detail, an understanding of various systems and environments, and the ability to use specialized tools proficiently. The following steps provide a detailed guideline.

Preparation Phase

  • Policy and Legal Considerations
    • Ensure that any investigative actions taken are compliant with local laws and organizational policies.
    • Attain necessary permissions and documentation for forensic activities.
    • Understand the scope of authority to avoid exceeding legal boundaries (e.g., privacy concerns, chain of custody).
  • Assembling the Forensics Team
    • Put together a team that has expertise in various areas, such as forensic analysts, incident responders, and legal consultants.
    • Establish clear communication protocols and roles for the team.
  • Gathering Forensic Tools
    • Select reputable forensic tools tailored to the systems in question, including disk imaging software, file recovery tools, network analyzers, and encryption detection utilities.
    • Ensure tools are verified and have their integrity checked to avoid compromise.
  • Creating an Incident Response Plan
    • Establish a clear and structured plan for responding to the incident.
    • This plan should include initial response steps, evidence preservation techniques, analysis processes, and reporting protocols.

Evidence Preservation

  • Securing the Scene
    • Isolate affected systems to prevent further damage or data tampering.
    • If applicable, secure the physical premises to avoid unauthorized access.
  • Creating Digital Copies
    • Use forensic imaging tools to make bit-for-bit copies of affected storage devices.
    • Verify the integrity of the copies with checksums or hashes.
  • Maintaining Chain of Custody
    • Document all actions taken, including who accessed the evidence and when.
    • Use secure storage and transport methods to ensure evidence is not tampered with.

Data Acquisition and Analysis

  • Live Data Collection
    • Capture volatile data such as running processes, network connections, and memory contents, if the system is still running.
    • Use trusted and pre-verified live forensics tools to prevent contamination.
  • Disk Analysis
    • Analyze disk images using file carving techniques to recover deleted or hidden files.
    • Examine file system metadata for evidence of tampering or unauthorized access.
  • Log File Analysis
    • Collect and scrutinize system, application, and security logs for suspicious activities.
    • Recognize log tampering by comparing entries with known system events or other log sources.
  • Network Traffic Analysis
    • Evaluate captures of network traffic for signs of exfiltration, command and control communication, or lateral movement.
    • Use network analysis tools to identify patterns and communications with known malicious IP addresses.

Incident Analysis

  • Timeline Reconstruction
    • Construct a comprehensive timeline of events to understand the sequence and impact of the attack.
    • Correlate data from different sources to identify initial access vectors, lateral movements, and duration of the compromise.
  • Root Cause Identification
    • Pinpoint vulnerabilities, misconfigurations or other weaknesses that were exploited by the attacker.
    • Analyze malware artifacts and payloads to identify their origins and methods of operation.
  • Threat Actor Attribution
    • Collect evidence that could attribute the attack to specific threat actors, considering factors like malware signatures, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
    • Utilize threat intelligence databases to compare indicators of compromise (IoCs) with known campaigns.

Reporting and Remediation

  • Documenting Findings
    • Compile a detailed report that includes methods used, findings, and the impact analysis.
    • Ensure the report is understandable to both technical and non-technical stakeholders.
  • Legal Follow-Up
    • Collaborate with legal advisors to assess the implications of the findings.
    • Provide documentation and evidence that could be required for legal actions against the perpetrators.
  • Strengthening Defenses
    • Use the insights gained from the investigation to improve system defenses and remediate identified vulnerabilities.
    • Update security policies and incident response plans accordingly.
  • Knowledge Dissemination
    • Share knowledge acquired from the investigation with the broader cybersecurity community to prevent similar attacks elsewhere.
    • Offer recommendations for best practices in securing systems and responding to breaches.

Implementing these detailed steps will help ensure that the advanced forensic investigation is thorough, accurate, and legally sound. Each phase is important and lays the groundwork for the subsequent steps, culminating in a comprehensive understanding of the hack and stronger future defenses for the system in question.