What you need to know about the cloud forensic analysis process
The shift towards the cloud is happening at an increasingly rapid rate, as businesses and organizations around the world look to get on board with this transformational technology.
In fact, Gartner predicts that, by 2025, 51% of all IT spending in application software, infrastructure software, system infrastructure markets, and business process services will have shifted to the public cloud.
The rise in the adoption of cloud services such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform demonstrates how organizations are looking for more dynamism, scalability, and flexibility. However, this increased reliance on the cloud brings with it an obligation to ensure the integrity of its environment. This is achieved through cloud forensic analysis.
In this article, we take a look at what a cloud forensic analysis should achieve, consider the various types of forensics that are implemented during the process, and discuss the benefits in relation to cloud security management.
Cloud forensics is a cloud security process that uses various security techniques to explore a cloud environment after a cyber incident has occurred. These incidents could include the likes of data breaches or identity thefts. The ultimate aim of cloud forensics is to investigate the circumstances of a cyber incident and to provide evidence for prosecution, as well as to increase cloud security and protect the assets of an organization.
The process involves a variety of data collection and analytical tools and techniques used to detect and respond to cyber incidents and, ultimately, to improve the cloud security posture of an organization.
Think of cloud forensics like a cybercrime scene investigation within the cloud environment.
A computer-based forensics process takes place in the wake of a cybercrime. Much like any other type of criminal forensics procedure, it adheres to a set of predefined processes that help to identify, collect, and analyze evidence.
Computer-based forensics can be divided into five distinct groups:
Digital forensics refers to the collation, investigation, and analysis of materials found on digital devices, including desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, remote storage, etc.
Specifically focusing on internet-based cyber crimes, web forensics identifies and examines evidence from the ‘client side’ of a web browser, including cookies, session logs, user history, log files, and registry data.
A sub-branch of digital forensics, network forensics relates to monitoring and analyzing traffic within a network in order to detect suspicious activity and collate evidence for criminal proceedings. Network forensics can take a ‘catch it as you can’ approach, in which all network traffic is analyzed, or a ‘stop, look and listen’ approach, in which data packets are analyzed and only relevant data is captured for extended analysis.
Cloud forensics is a subset of digital forensics involving cyber crimes that take place within a cloud infrastructure.
Another subset of digital forensics, mobile forensics utilizes evidence from mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Evidence within mobile forensics can include call logs, SIM contacts, SMS logs, and any images, audio or visual information.
Digital forensics techniques have been used for several years to investigate in the wake of a cybercrime. The fact that the cybercrime would have taken place within a system and infrastructure owned by the affected organization meant that traditional digital forensics could be relatively straightforward.
However, the emergence of the cloud makes things more complicated. Using forensics to respond to cloud security threats and crimes means blurring the lines between rights to data, particularly if it is held off-site outside local jurisdictions or if storage systems are hosted by third parties.
Broadly speaking, cloud forensic analysis can be used for:
There is a range of essential objectives in cloud forensic analysis:
Here are the various sources from which evidence can be gathered within a cloud environment:
A variety of logs can be gathered from the cloud service providers. These include application logs, system logs, firewall logs, network logs, web server logs, and audit logs.
Evidence can be collected from data stored within the cloud. Also, signs of illegal modification or unauthorized access to the cloud storage system, with uploading or downloading of files, can be useful evidence.
Cloud forensics can also detect whether a cyber attacker has altered user information within the cloud storage account.
This is where web forensics and cloud forensics overlap. The activity logs of a user on a web browser, such as Chrome or Mozilla, maintain the actions taken within the cloud. Stored within cookies and the cache, these logs are valuable when used in conjunction with cloud logs and cloud storage information.
The memory or RAM of a particular device hosted on the cloud can contain valuable evidence to support cloud forensic analysis.
First, forensic investigators identify the specific nature of the cybersecurity incident. Suspicious, potentially criminal acts or cloud security threats can be identified through a cloud security audit, cloud security assessment, or intrusion detection systems implemented by MDR providers.
Multiple methods and tools using algorithms such as machine learning, filtering, and pattern matching are used to detect anomalous activity. Once they identify the act, the team can also distinguish various pieces of potential evidence.
Once investigators pinpoint any evidence, it is isolated and secured. This prevents it from being corrupted, whether accidentally or deliberately. Preservation can include restricting people from using a device or accessing cloud storage. Once preserved, investigators extract all relevant data from cloud logs, cloud storage, web browsers and from the memory of devices, as well as from abnormal user/admin behavior.
During the collection process, forensic investigators must remain fully compliant with data protection and privacy regulations. They must remain fully aware of the laws surrounding the data of users and organizations. It might also be necessary to serve a legal order to a cloud service provider to obtain relevant data.
Through the use of digital forensic tools, investigators then examine the captured data to determine exactly what took place and why. This is perhaps the most complex step within the whole cloud forensics process, as the analysis is required to construct a picture of the cybersecurity incident –– including the precise details of what took place along with the intentions of the malicious actor.
Once the cloud forensic investigator has made an analysis of the available data, they put together an organized report of the findings. This summarization of the cyber incident should be constructed in a way that is simple to understand, displaying the details of the case in a clear and succinct manner.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of carrying out a cloud forensics analysis:
The constant evolution of the cloud brings exciting new possibilities, but also challenges. The complexity of the cloud environment means traditional digital forensics techniques need to evolve, while increased adoption of the cloud means that more and more organizations will need to look to cloud security experts to provide cloud forensics analysis.
At Ackcent, we use our knowledge and expertise to take the complexity out of cybersecurity and help organizations to secure their environment. We work closely with our clients to build robust cloud infrastructures and to better understand the modern cybersecurity landscape.
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