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Perimeter

11/10/2009
10:33 AM
Robert Graham
Robert Graham
Commentary
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Partially Spilled COFEE

It turns out the version of COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor) posted to BitTorrent sites is incomplete: It contains only 45 commands, whereas Microsoft claims the tool executes more than 150 commands. It grabs neither browser history nor password hashes. It runs only built-in Windows commands, sysinternals tools, and resource kit tools.

It turns out the version of COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor) posted to BitTorrent sites is incomplete: It contains only 45 commands, whereas Microsoft claims the tool executes more than 150 commands. It grabs neither browser history nor password hashes. It runs only built-in Windows commands, sysinternals tools, and resource kit tools.The COFEE tool was published by some people in Microsoft for law enforcement. It runs from a USB flash drive. When plugged into a computer and run, it will copy to the flash drive the sorts of forensics information that law enforcement is looking for. The idea behind the tool is that law enforcement gets search warrants to enter a building and search a computer. They don't want to turn off the computer for two reasons. The first is they want to catch the suspect "in the act" -- for example, having child porn up on the screen (rather than simply on the hard drive). Second, if the suspect is encrypting things, then he will be available unencrypted as long as the machine is on, but become unavailable once it is turned off (unless he gets the password).

There is nothing special or evil about COFEE. Initial news stories reported it was a special "device" with some sort of powerful tools produced by Microsoft. That was just hype. It's really just a USB flash drive. The tools are just the standard set of tools that anybody can download from the Internet. For example, in order to see what computers the suspect is connected to, it simply runs "netstat" from the command line and dumps the output to a file (on the USB drive).

The version on BitTorrent contains only Microsoft tools, so I don't know for certain what other tools it might run. Yet similar forensics toolkits all run the same sorts of programs. They run standard tools for grabbing the browser history (from Firefox and IE). They run versions of "pwdump" to grab the password hashes for offline cracking. They copy the browser cache. They look for recently changed files. They might scour the hard drive and take an MD5 hash of all the files. They look for unique device IDs, such as your MAC address or built-in hard drive ID.

One of the worries is that now that the tool is public, criminals can now defend against it. This is nonsense. Police forensics are already well-known, and criminals already know how to defend against them.

Flush your browser history/cache/cookies, don't save your online passwords, save everything to encrypted disks, enable the "lock" screen-saver, disable "LM" hashes, and choose complex passwords.

Tools like COFEE don't do anything extra that is unknown or secret. What makes them dangerous (to criminals) is that law enforcement agents can run them without much training, in an automated fashion. That means if you are arrested, then chances are high your browser history will show up in court as evidence -- not because the agents were skilled at grabbing that evidence, but because the tools made it easy for them.

Robert Graham is CEO of Errata Security. Special to Dark Reading

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