Internet privacy and security course RU
 Physical access and computer forensics

Physical access and computer forensics

This chapter brings physical access and computer forensics in one chapter since they employ similar methods, so the techniques of handling these threats are in many ways similar.  


Physical access

 This type of threat has to do with obtaining physical access to a device with the intention of stealing information or performing certain actions that can inflict damage to the user. Stealing information directly, installing malicious software and connecting external media are the most common attacks. 

 Let’s look at an example of a physical access attack. A perpetrator snooped on your password, personally or via a miniature camera near your computer. Then he has to wait for you to leave your workstation for a while so that he could install some spyware to your computer. The program will be running unbeknownst to you, collecting all the information and sending it to the perpetrator.  


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Spyware can be acquired absolutely legally, and mostly these programs are intended for parental control. Unlike malicious software, these programs require physical access to computer; RATs belong to a special type of malware that controls a system remotely without physical access to the device and administrator password.

 The common functionality of such software includes recording what you do on your screen, recording all keys you press, controlling the perimeter using the web camera and microphone, creating easy-to-use reports about user’s activity. In addition to secretly collecting information, some of these programs can censor user’s activities, for instance, by blocking access to some sites.

 How do you protect yourself from similar threats? First, you need to add fake symbols in your password, this will protect you from bystanders who could snoop on your monitor. You will learn how to add fake symbols in the chapter focusing on passwords. Second, you should install and set up Panic Button – the application that protects from unsanctioned access to a computer. You can take it a step further – there are freely available locks, safes and alarms for laptops. As you work through this course, you will learn about all these methods in detail.  

 Another common type of attack has to do with connecting external devices. For instance, a USB flash drive gets attached to your computer without your knowledge. As the system boots up with this USB memory, you get infected with malware. 

 The darknet can offer already adjusted USB flash drives, and the only thing a perpetrator has to do is to insert the memory stick into the victim’s computer in hope that he or she hasn’t read the materials of this course. You don’t always need a perpetrator to have your computer infected via an infected USB flash drive. Sometimes a virus can write itself into the flash-drive independently, while its owner turns out to be an ignorant victim.

 After getting into your computer, malware often writes itself into all external media that will then infect more and more devices. A lot of Trojans, including the notorious Sality, ZeuS Citadel and Zeus Gameover, still spread using this kind of attack. This infection method was the most popular in the 2000s and is currently on the wane as more and more often files are passed through the web.  

 You will learn how to protect yourself from this problem, including how to create the trusted device lists and block untrusted devices, use USBkill software, open files in a sandbox. We will give you a breakdown of built-in protection mechanisms such as Secure Boot. You will get to test the security of devices by learning how to set up an analogous USB flash drive checking how protected your devices are. 

 Actually, there are plenty of alternate methods to perform a physical access attack, for instance, a device with a spy implant can be attached to your computer. It may be a simple cable that connects your monitor to CPU.  Indistinguishable in appearance from the normal device, it contains an implant that sends the perpetrator the readout of your monitor’s contents.

 By the way, meet RAGEMASTER, an RF retro-reflector hidden in a VGA cable for spying. It has been used by NSA since 2008. For a decent amount of money you can get a similar solution fitted for any monitor models on the darknet.


 Spy implants belong to advanced, state-of-the-art high tech solutions that are usually used for corporate and state spying. 


Computer forensics

 Computer forensic analysis is a tool kit for extracting sensitive information from digital devices. Computer forensics is applied, as a rule, by law enforcement agencies to recover evidence from suspects’ devices in course of the investigation. However, given that the techniques and software are freely available on the Internet, this tool can be used by any perpetrator.

 Forensic analysis can be applied to desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Forensic experts can deftly handle all popular operating systems: Windows, macOS, operating systems based on Linux, Android, BlackBerry и iOS.

 The difference of computer forensic analysis from physical access lies in the specific technologies it uses. For instance, forensic analysis puts a lot of focus on the physical memory of the device which may store sensitive data such as encryption keys. In some cases a DMA attack is performed where an attacker gets direct access to physical memory. DMA attacks basically superseded Cold boot attacks. 

 Cold boot attack is the notorious attack in which the attacker cools physical memory in liquid nitrogen, extracts it from the device and then reads out its contents. The modern physical memory of the fourth generation (DDR4) and later is no longer exposed to this type of vulnerability. 

 If Cold boot attacks today are basically history, swap and hibernation files, the spaces located on your hard disk and used as the virtual memory extension of RAM, can still reveal a lot about the owner of the device if accessed.  

 Computer forensic experts often resort to data recovery on media, including in special labs. Even file deletion won’t protect it from being extracted during forensic analysis. Modern techniques allow to recover deleted files quite efficiently.

 The bad news is that forensic analysis software is tailored for identifying and extracting images, videos, documents, correspondence in IM services, the information about applications being used, backup copies of devices saved to cloud storages, website history.

 The good news is that our course will teach you how to effectively protect yourself from computer forensics. You will find out how to encrypt media, set up security policy, remove files reliably, set up Panic Button – the program designed for protection against forensic analysis. You will also learn how to handle swap and hibernation files, check your device for DMA attack vulnerabilities. 


P.S. You can find out more about computer forensics tools and its capabilities by visiting the sites below.


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