Editor’s Note: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced the publication of a paper that defines and discusses a set of challenges related to achieving effective cloud computing forensics. The paper, NISTIR 8006, NIST Cloud Computing Forensic Science Challenges, notes that mitigating cloud forensic science challenges is important for cloud-based system owners, cloud forensic tool developers, forensic investigators, as well as for the development of forensic-ready solutions. According to NIST, efforts in this area will support criminal justice and civil litigation systems and provide capabilities for security incident response and internal enterprise operations.
NISTIR 8006, NIST Cloud Computing Forensic Science Challenges*
Authored by Martin Hermin, Michaela Iorga, Ahsen Michael Salim, Robert Jackson, Mark Hurst, Ross Leo, Richard Lee, Nancy Landreville, Anand Kumar Mishra, Yien Wang, and Rodrigo Sardinas
Extract – Cloud Computing Forensic Science
Many experts consider forensic science to be the application of a broad spectrum of sciences and technologies to the investigation and establishment of facts of interest in relation to criminal law, civil law, or regulatory issues. The rapid advance of cloud services requires the development of better forensic tools to keep pace. However, the resulting techniques may also be used for purposes other than legal and regulatory issues to reconstruct an event that has occurred.
Cloud computing forensic science is the application of scientific principles, technological practices, and derived and proven methods to reconstruct past cloud computing events through the identification, acquisition, preservation, examination, interpretation, and reporting of potential digital evidence.
NIST defines cloud computing as a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. Cloud forensics is a process applied to an implementation of this cloud model.
A number of researchers have defined cloud forensics as the application of digital forensic science in cloud environments. Technically, it consists of a hybrid forensic approach (e.g., remote, virtual, network, live, large-scale, thin-client, thick-client, including end-point devices used to access cloud services) to the discovery of digital evidence. Organizationally, it involves interactions among cloud Actors (i.e., Provider, Consumer, Broker, Carrier, Auditor) for the purpose of facilitating both internal and external investigations. Legally, it often implies multi-jurisdictional and multi-tenant situations.
Various process models have been developed for digital forensics, including the following eight distinctive steps and attributes:
- Search authority. Legal authority is required to conduct a search and/or seizure of data.
- Chain of custody. In legal contexts, chronological documentation of access and handling of evidentiary items is required to avoid allegations of evidence tampering or misconduct.
- Imaging/hashing function. When items containing potential digital evidence are found, each should be carefully duplicated and then hashed to validate the integrity of the copy.
- Validated tools. When possible, tools used for forensics should be validated to ensure reliability and correctness.
- Forensic analysis is the execution of investigative and analytical techniques to examine, analyze, and interpret the evidentiary artifacts retrieved.
- Repeatability and reproducibility (quality assurance). The procedures and conclusions of forensic analysis should be repeatable and reproducible by the same or other forensic analysts.
- Reporting. The forensic analyst must document his or her analytical procedure and conclusions for use by others.
- Presentation. In most cases, the forensic analyst will present his or her findings and conclusions to a court or other audience.
In order to carry out digital forensic investigations in the cloud, these steps need to be applied or adapted to the cloud context. Many of them pose significant challenges. This document is focused on the forensic analysis of artifacts retrieved from a cloud environment. A related discipline, which is not addressed here, focuses on carrying out the forensic process using a cloud environment. This involves using the cloud to perform examination and analysis of digital evidence.
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