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GCN : August 2014
[BrieFing] Cloud computing helps to make data more accessible, but the same tech- nologies that make it readily available -- on-demand provisioning, reprovision- ing and virtual environments -- also can obscure it. "With cloud computing, you really can't see where the data is," said Rose Shumba, director of the digital foren- sics and cyber investigation graduate program at the University of Maryland University College's Center for Security Studies. A data center might have hundreds of servers hosting thousands of virtual machines being used in sequence by thousands of customers, and data can be replicated across multiple sites in different countries. This is also creating new challenges for digital forensics, complicating incident response and criminal and civil investigations into incidents and data stored in the cloud. Forensics is the science of develop- ing or extracting information for use in investigations. Digital forensics involves getting that information in a digital for- mat, usually from a computer or some electronic media. It requires getting access to the device, locating the data and copying it and analyzing it to turn the data into information that can be used as evidence. And as of now, there are no tools designed speci cally to address the challenges of locating, isolating and preserving information from the cloud in a way that protects privacy and enables it to be used in court as evidence, Shumba said. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has begun the task of addressing these challenges as part of its mandate to spur adoption of cloud computing. The NIST Cloud Computing Forensic Science Working Group has produced a draft interagency report that catalogs 65 challenges that have been identi ed by industry, academia and the legal community. The cloud exacerbates many techno- logical, organizational and legal chal- lenges already faced by digital forensics examiners, the report notes, as well as creating some new ones. Identifying these challenges is a rst step. The next steps are to identify existing standards, best practices and tools that can address the challenges and then to identify gaps where new standards and technologies are needed. "Standards are critical to ensure cost- effective and easy migration, to ensure that mission-critical requirements can be met and to reduce the risk that siz- able investments may become prema- turely technologically obsolete," the report said. But at the moment there are more gaps than standards. Cloud computing is so new that Shumba is aware of few if any tools or tactics now available to solve these problems. But she is glad to see NIST bringing the legal techni- cal and academic communities being together over this issue. "When I started in digital forensics, it meant acquiring data from a stand- alone computer," Shumba said. Then mobile devices came along, creating a host of problems in accessing data on a multitude of new platforms. The obstalces have been multiplied in cloud computing, where location and owner- ship of data might not be clear cut. Virtual machines in the cloud can be quickly created, used, released and re- used, and there are no tools for securely wiping a previous owner's data. There also is no protection against a subse- quent user's data overwriting a previous user's. • BY WILLIAM JACKSON NIST tackles digital forensics in an era of cloud computing NIST plans to explore nine broad categories in identifying challenges posed by digital cloud forensics, in- cluding architecture, data collection, analysis, anti-forensics (hiding data), trustworthiness of cloud providers as first responders to an incident, roles of data owners, legal jurisdic- tions, standards and training. A majority of the issues identified are technical in nature, and the rest are primarily legal and organiza- tional issues. The technical issues involve the differences between the operating framework of cloud computing and traditional data center physical com- puting. The legal and organizational issues reflect problems associated with crossing national borders as data is moved for operational redun- dancy, cost and reliability. What NIST's forensics plan will focus on 6 GCN AUGUST 2014 • GCN.COM