By Tim Rollins
What Is Endpoint Collection?
In digital forensics, an endpoint collection refers to the process of gathering and preserving digital evidence from an individual computing device, often referred to as an "endpoint." Endpoints can include computers, laptops, servers, mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), IoT-connected devices, and other devices capable of storing digital information. Endpoint collection is a crucial step in digital forensic investigations and is typically performed to recover, preserve, and analyze data that may be relevant to a criminal or investigative case.
Why Is Endpoint Collection Critical for Corporate Digital Forensics Teams?
Whether you’re investigating a data breach, employee misconduct, or potential IT policy violation, the ability to collect from every endpoint is key. You need to covertly access multiple operating systems and encrypted endpoints, without alerting employees or disrupting business operations. And with unprecedented growth in enterprise BYOD policies, remote workers, hybrid environments, and more and more network connected devices, the ability to quickly and covertly collect from macOS devices is more important than ever before.
How Can Corporate DFIR Teams Prepare for Remote Investigations?
Organizations without remote DFIR solutions (or SIEM/SOAR solutions) should adopt them—and soon—in acknowledgment of the likelihood that remote and hybrid workplaces are here to stay. But adopting the right DFIR solution isn't as simple as just selecting a program off the shelf. Organizations should consider carefully what capabilities they need. Three core capabilities that any enterprise should want in their solution include:
- Scalable remote, agent-based endpoint collection: DFIR teams need to be able to collect at a moment's notice from a wide range of device types (PCs and Macs, cloud shares and network shares, smartphones) whether or not they're connected to the corporate network via VPN.
- Incident response and remediation: They need to be able to scan for indicators of compromise, review programs and files accessed or executed, collect data, and delete compromised files, kill ongoing processes, or remove offending applications.
- Workflow automation and orchestration: You don't know when an incident might occur, but chances are good it won't be during the 9 to 5 hours everyone's working. A DFIR solution should integrate with SIEM and SOAR solutions, so that it automatically preserves evidence on endpoints immediately upon detection of an intrusion.
What Process Should DFIR Professionals Use for Endpoint Collection?
For the purposes of this article, we won't get too in depth on "Step Zero," which would be to install remote agents on all potentially relevant organizational endpoints. With more and more organizations moving to Zero Trust Architecture, which requires organizations be able to detect and remediate cybersecurity incidents at every endpoint, this is an increasingly common capability, one that FTK Enterprise brings to the table for our customers.
- Identification: Identifying the target endpoint(s) that may contain relevant evidence. This may be based on initial information or intelligence gathered during the investigation.
- Preservation: Ensuring that the data on the endpoint remains intact and unaltered during the collection process. This often involves creating a forensically sound copy of the data, known as a forensic image, to prevent any changes or tampering with the original evidence.
- Collection: Extracting data from the endpoint using forensically sound methods and tools. This can include copying files, extracting metadata, recovering deleted data, and capturing system logs.
- Documentation: Thoroughly documenting the collection process, including the date and time of the collection, the hardware and software used, and the specific data collected. This documentation is essential for maintaining the chain of custody and ensuring the integrity of the evidence.
- Chain of Custody: Maintaining a clear and unbroken chain of custody for the collected evidence to establish its reliability and authenticity in court.
- Analysis: After collection, digital forensic experts analyze the collected data to identify and interpret any evidence that may be relevant to the investigation. This can involve examining files, emails, internet history, and more.
- Reporting: Creating a comprehensive report summarizing the findings of the analysis and presenting the evidence in a manner that can be understood by non-technical stakeholders, such as investigators, attorneys, or the court.
Endpoint collection is a critical step in digital forensics as it helps investigators gather evidence to support their investigations, whether they are related to criminal activities, cybersecurity incidents, or other types of digital incidents. It is important to conduct this process carefully and ethically to ensure the integrity of the evidence and its admissibility in legal proceedings.
What Are Other Benefits of Endpoint Collection Technology?
We already hinted at it above, but being able to remediate cybersecurity issues or incidents on any corporate device at any moment's notice is a requirement of Zero Trust Architecture--but it's also just good common sense. Accidental loss of data, exposure to malware, or misuse of corporate resources can happen on almost any device. Without a remote agent installed, the possibility of it going undetected is far greater. And that translates into increased risk of an incident and increased costs if an incident happens.
Make sure you're prepared for remote endpoint collection today with FTK Enterprise, part of the new FTK 8.0 suite of products.