Introduction to Network Forensics
Network forensic refers to the process of collection, analyzing and interpreting data from computer networks to investigate and uncover potential security issues. It is a specialized field within digital forensics that focuses on the examination of network traffic and activities to under what happened, how it happened and who may have been involved.
Security incidents like cyberattacks, DDoS and ransomware are quite prevalent these days, thus making network forensic a vital part of any modern cyber security investigation.
Recent incidences involving big companies are a reminder that any company or organization is vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Boeing cyber incident: Boeing, one of the world’s largest defense and space contractors, has confirmed that it is dealing with a cyber incident, days after the company was listed on the leak site of the LockBit ransomware gang last month.
DDoS attack to Singapore’s public hospitals: A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyberattack on Nov 1 took out the websites of Singapore’s public healthcare institutions, causing at least of 7 hours-long outage. The attackers flooded servers with internet traffic to prevent legitimate users from accessing online services.
MGM Resorts data breach incident: MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest gambling firms reported losing around $100 million after a September 11 breach incident.
Marina Bay Sands data security incident: Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands luxury resort has disclosed a data breach impacting the information of 665,000 customers, such as name, email address, phone number, country of residence, and membership details.
Network forensic steps in the event of a cyberattack
The relationship between a cyberattack and network forensics is closely intertwined. Performing network forensic helps organizations respond to and recover from cyberattacks by providing insights into the attack’s characteristics and origins.
Processes involved in Network Forensics:
Step 1 – Data Capture
- Capturing network packets and data using tools such as packet sniffers or network monitoring software.
- Data includes information about the flow of data, communication between devices, and potential security-related events.
Step 2 – Data Preservation
- Ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the captured data is crucial.
- Proper handling of the evidence is essential to maintain the admissibility of network forensic findings in legal proceedings.
Step 3 – Analysis
- Analyze the captured data to identify patterns, anomalies, and indicators of compromise (IOCs).
- Examine network traffic to reconstruct events.
- Determine the scope of security incidents.
- Understand the tactics and techniques used by threat actors.
Step 4 – Reporting
- Document the findings from analysis result in reports for legal purposes, internal investigations, or security improvement recommendations.
Why network forensic is important
Network forensic plays an important role in helping the company or organization preserve the security and confidentiality of corporate data. They unveil potential cyber threats to prevent those threats from performing more damage to the security of the corporate network as well as data contained within.
By learning more about how threat actors operate, the IT department can develop more effective countermeasures thereby increasing the organization’s resilience to cyberattacks. Identifying data breaches and data leakage incidents allows organizations to take immediate action to protect sensitive information.
Key aspects of network forensics
Identification and Detection
- Cyberattacks often start with unusual or suspicious network activities.
- Identifying these anomalies and detecting potential security breaches.
- Identify patterns and indicators of compromise (IOCs) in network traffic.
- Monitoring network traffic and behavior in real-time or retrospectively.
- Assist in formulating an effective incident response plan when a cyberattack is detected.
- Provide information on how the attack occurred, its impact, and the affected systems.
- Aiding in containment and mitigation efforts.
- Systematic collection of data from various network devices such as routers, switches, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and network logs.
- Reconstructing the attack timeline and understanding the attack vectors.
Understanding Incident Details
- Analyzing network traffic and logs.
- Understanding the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by attackers.
- Determining the attack’s source, targets, and any malicious payloads or malware.
- Blocking threats from the source using IP geolocation solution.
- Examining the characteristics of the attack, including IP addresses, malware signatures, and other indicators.
- Identifying a user’s IP geolocation can indeed enhance the effectiveness of existing cybersecurity initiatives.
- Help to attribute a cyberattack to a specific individual, group, or nation-state.
Legal and Regulatory Compliance
- Network forensic evidence is often crucial in legal proceedings and compliance with regulations.
- Serve as proof of an attack for legal actions and regulatory reporting.
- Considering that the attackers would interact with an organization’s network in launching their attack(s), logs from network devices can help in the determination of the type of attack and track the steps taken by the attacker.
- In certain cases, data gathered during these steps may need to be presented as evidence before a regulatory authority or a court.
Prevention and Hardening
- Help organizations to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their network infrastructure by analyzing past cyberattacks.
- Strengthen security measures and prevent future attacks.
- The insights gained from network forensics can be used to improve security policies and procedures.
- Learn from past incidents and apply this knowledge to enhance their overall cybersecurity posture.
Challenges in Network Forensics
Network forensic is a complex field with its own set of challenges and obstacles. It requires a combination of advanced tools, skilled personnel, ongoing training, and adherence to best practices in digital investigation and cybersecurity.
Small businesses may have budgetary constraint for hiring the requisite skilled personnel.
New threats and vulnerabilities appear all the time, necessitating continual security awareness training and response.
- Widespread use of encryption protocols, such as TLS and HTTPS, can make it difficult to inspect network traffic.
- Encrypted communication can hide malicious activities, making it challenging to analyze data in transit.
Volume of Data
- Amount of network traffic data can be massive.
- Sifting through vast amounts of data to find relevant information is time-consuming and resource-intensive.
- Require efficient data storage and retrieval methods to perform analysis.
- Retaining network traffic data for an extended period is often necessary for forensic investigations, thereby increasing storage costs.
- Require careful management to comply with legal requirements and privacy concerns.
- Identifying and responding to threats in real time is crucial.
- Network forensics tools and techniques must provide immediate insights.
- Alert capabilities to address ongoing attacks.
- Network traffic can be fragmented, and pieces of data may be scattered across various devices and logs.
- Reassembling fragmented data to reconstruct the complete attack scenario can be challenging.
- As networks become more complex, with various devices, IoT devices, and interconnected systems, tracking and understanding network behavior becomes increasingly difficult.
- False positives leading to an overload of alerts and distracting investigators from actual threats.
- Reducing false positives while maintaining effective threat detection is a significant challenge.
Organizations use various tools to protect their computer network. Network forensic is one of the ways to protect businesses from cyber security incidents. It has a crucial role in an organization’s incident response process or post-incident investigation.
The primary goals for using network forensic are identifying the potential damages done, unveiling the attack vectors and also zeroing in on the bad actors involved. Identifying the source is crucial in the fight against the threat actors.
When organizations know where the attack is coming from and the culprits, they can more effectively address and block it. Network forensic also has a secondary goal of auditing the security infrastructure with the aim of strengthening the security posture as a whole.
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