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Introduction to Digital Forensics

Dive into Windows digital forensics with Hack The Box Academy's "Introduction to Digital Forensics" module. Gain mastery over core forensic concepts and tools such as FTK Imager, KAPE, Velociraptor, and Volatility. Dive deep into memory forensics, disk image analysis, and rapid triaging procedures. Learn to construct timelines from MFT, USN Journals, and Windows event logs while getting hands-on with key artifacts like MFT, USN Journal, Registry Hives, Prefetch Files, ShimCache, Amcache, BAM, and SRUM data.


Created by Volfar
Co-Authors: leoleg97, MadhukarRaina

Medium Defensive


Explore the Windows digital forensics domain with Hack The Box Academy's "Introduction to Digital Forensics" module. This meticulously crafted module equips enthusiasts and professionals with the skills to unravel hidden digital trails, making it indispensable for cybercrime investigations.

Key Highlights:

  • Foundational Forensics: Acquaint yourself with the core concepts of digital forensics, understanding its significance in today's interconnected world. Learn about evidence acquisition processes that stand robust against scrutiny.
  • Tool Mastery: Master industry-revered tools tailored for forensic investigations. From FTK Imager's prowess in creating exact digital replicas to the nuanced data sifting capabilities of Autopsy, this module ensures you can wield these tools with precision. Tools covered include:
    • FTK Imager
    • KAPE (Kroll Artifact Parser and Extractor)
    • Velociraptor
    • Volatility
    • Eric Zimmerman's forensic suite
    • Autopsy, and more.
  • Memory Forensics: Dive into the intricacies of volatile memory analysis. Extract, analyze, and interpret artifacts that offer invaluable insights into a system's operations and potential compromises.
  • Disk Forensics: Dissect disk images, examining their structures, files, and the tales they silently narrate. Understand how data is organized, accessed, and how it can be recovered even when deleted.
  • Rapid Triage Data Analysis: In situations where time is of the essence, equip yourself with tools and techniques for quick yet thorough investigations. Whether it's a malware outbreak or a security breach, be ready to respond with agility.
  • Timeline Analysis: Create chronological timelines using diverse data sources like disk images, MFT (Master File Table), USN (Update Sequence Number) journal, Windows event logs, and many more.
  • Hands-on Data Forensics: Dive into critical artifacts like MFT, USN Journal, Registry Hives, Prefetch Files, ShimCache, Amcache, BAM, and SRUM data.

This module is broken into sections with accompanying hands-on exercises to practice the techniques we cover. The module ends with a practical hands-on skills assessment to gauge your understanding of the various topic areas.

As you work through the module, you will see detection activities for the topics introduced. It is worth reproducing as many of these activities as possible to reinforce further the concepts presented in each section. You can do this in the target host provided in the interactive sections or your virtual machine.

You can start and stop the module anytime and pick up where you left off. There is no time limit or "grading," but you must complete all of the exercises and the skills assessment to receive the maximum number of cubes and have this module marked as complete in any paths you have chosen.

The module is classified as "medium" and assumes basic knowledge of how Windows operate and common attack principles.

A firm grasp of the following modules can be considered prerequisites for successful completion of this module:

  • Incident Handling Process
  • Windows Event Logs & Finding Evil
  • Introduction to Malware Analysis
  • YARA & Sigma for SOC Analysts

Introduction to Digital Forensics

It is essential to clarify that this module does not claim to be an all-encompassing or exhaustive program on Digital Forensics. This module provides a robust foundation for SOC analysts, enabling them to confidently tackle key Digital Forensics tasks. The primary focus of the module will be the analysis of malicious activity within Windows-based environments.

Digital forensics, often referred to as computer forensics or cyber forensics, is a specialized branch of cybersecurity that involves the collection, preservation, analysis, and presentation of digital evidence to investigate cyber incidents, criminal activities, and security breaches. It applies forensic techniques to digital artifacts, including computers, servers, mobile devices, networks, and storage media, to uncover the truth behind cyber-related events. Digital forensics aims to reconstruct timelines, identify malicious activities, assess the impact of incidents, and provide evidence for legal or regulatory proceedings. Digital forensics is an integral part of the incident response process, contributing crucial insights and support at various stages.

Key Concepts:

  • Electronic Evidence: Digital forensics deals with electronic evidence, which can include files, emails, logs, databases, network traffic, and more. This evidence is collected from computers, mobile devices, servers, cloud services, and other digital sources.
  • Preservation of Evidence: Ensuring the integrity and authenticity of digital evidence is crucial. Proper procedures are followed to preserve evidence, establish a chain of custody, and prevent any unintentional alterations.
  • Forensic Process: The digital forensics process typically involves several stages:
    • Identification: Determining potential sources of evidence.
    • Collection: Gathering data using forensically sound methods.
    • Examination: Analyzing the collected data for relevant information.
    • Analysis: Interpreting the data to draw conclusions about the incident.
    • Presentation: Presenting findings in a clear and comprehensible manner.
  • Types of Cases: Digital forensics is applied in a variety of cases, including:
    • Cybercrime investigations (hacking, fraud, data theft).
    • Intellectual property theft.
    • Employee misconduct investigations.
    • Data breaches and incidents affecting organizations.
    • Litigation support in legal proceedings.

The basic steps for performing a forensic investigation are as follows:

  1. Create a Forensic Image
  2. Document the System's State
  3. Identify and Preserve Evidence
  4. Analyze the Evidence
  5. Timeline Analysis
  6. Identify Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)
  7. Report and Documentation

Digital Forensics for SOC Analysts

When we talk about the Security Operations Center (SOC), we're discussing the frontline defense against cyber threats. But what happens when a breach occurs, or when an anomaly is detected? That's where digital forensics comes into play.

First and foremost, digital forensics provides us with a detailed post-mortem of security incidents. By analyzing digital evidence, we can trace back the steps of an attacker, understanding their methods, motives, and possibly even their identity. This retrospective analysis is crucial for improving our defenses and understanding our vulnerabilities.

Moreover, in the heat of a security incident, time is of the essence. Digital forensics tools can rapidly sift through vast amounts of data, pinpointing the exact moment of compromise, the affected systems, and the nature of the malware or attack technique used. This swift identification allows us to contain the threat faster, minimizing potential damage.

Let's not forget about the legal implications. In the event of a significant breach, especially one that affects customers or stakeholders, there's a high likelihood of legal repercussions. Digital forensics not only helps us in identifying the culprits but also provides legally admissible evidence that can be used in court. This evidence is meticulously logged, hashed, and timestamped to ensure its integrity and authenticity.

Furthermore, the insights gained from digital forensics empower our SOC teams to proactively hunt for threats. Instead of merely reacting to alerts, we can actively search our environments for signs of compromise, leveraging indicators of compromise (IoCs) and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) identified from past incidents.

Another critical aspect is the enhancement of our incident response strategies. By understanding the full scope of an attack, we can better tailor our response, ensuring that every compromised system is addressed and that no stone is left unturned. This comprehensive approach reduces the risk of attackers lingering in our environment or using the same attack vector twice.

Lastly, digital forensics fosters a culture of continuous learning within our SOC teams. Every incident, no matter how small, provides a learning opportunity. By dissecting these incidents, our analysts can stay ahead of the curve, anticipating new attack techniques and bolstering our defenses accordingly.

In conclusion, digital forensics isn't just a reactive measure; it's a proactive tool that amplifies the capabilities of our SOC analysts, ensuring that our organization remains resilient in the face of ever-evolving cyber threats.

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Relevant Paths

This module progresses you towards the following Paths

SOC Analyst

The SOC Analyst Job Role Path is for newcomers to information security who aspire to become professional SOC analysts. This path covers core security monitoring and security analysis concepts and provides a deep understanding of the specialized tools, attack tactics, and methodology used by adversaries. Armed with the necessary theoretical background and multiple practical exercises, students will go through all security analysis stages, from traffic analysis and SIEM monitoring to DFIR activities and reporting. Upon completing this job role path, you will have obtained the practical skills and mindset necessary to monitor enterprise-level infrastructure and detect intrusions at an intermediate level. The SOC Analyst Prerequisites skill path can be considered prerequisite knowledge to be successful while working through this job role path.

Medium Path Sections 165 Sections
Required: 1220
Reward: +260
Path Modules
Path Sections 9 Sections
Reward: +10
Security Incident handling has become a vital part of each organization's defensive strategy, as attacks constantly evolve and successful compromises are becoming a daily occurrence. In this module, we will review the process of handling an incident from the very early stage of detecting a suspicious event, to confirming a compromise and responding to it.
Path Sections 11 Sections
Reward: +20
This module provides a concise yet comprehensive overview of Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and the Elastic Stack. It demystifies the essential workings of a Security Operation Center (SOC), explores the application of the MITRE ATT&CK framework within SOCs, and introduces SIEM (KQL) query development. With a focus on practical skills, students will learn how to develop SIEM use cases and visualizations using the Elastic Stack.
Path Sections 6 Sections
Reward: +20
This module covers the exploration of Windows Event Logs and their significance in uncovering suspicious activities. Throughout the course, we delve into the anatomy of Windows Event Logs and highlight the logs that hold the most valuable information for investigations. The module also focuses on utilizing Sysmon and Event Logs for detecting and analyzing malicious behavior. Additionally, we delve into Event Tracing for Windows (ETW), explaining its architecture and components, and provide ETW-based detection examples. To streamline the analysis process, we introduce the powerful Get-WinEvent cmdlet.
Path Sections 6 Sections
Reward: +20
This module initially lays the groundwork for understanding Threat Hunting, ranging from its basic definition, to the structure of a threat hunting team. The module also dives into the threat hunting process, highlighting the interrelationships between threat hunting, risk assessment, and incident handling. Furthermore, the module elucidates the fundamentals of Cyber Threat Intelligence (CTI). It expands on the different types of threat intelligence and offers guidance on effectively interpreting a threat intelligence report. Finally, the module puts theory into practice, showcasing how to conduct threat hunting using the Elastic stack. This practical segment uses real-world logs to provide learners with hands-on experience.
Path Sections 6 Sections
Reward: +20
This module provides a comprehensive introduction to Splunk, focusing on its architecture and the creation of effective detection-related SPL (Search Processing Language) searches. We will learn to investigate with Splunk as a SIEM tool and develop TTP-driven and analytics-driven SPL searches for enhanced threat detection and response. Through hands-on exercises, we will learn to identify and understand the ingested data and available fields within Splunk. We will also gain practical experience in leveraging Splunk's powerful features for security monitoring and incident investigation.
Path Sections 16 Sections
Reward: +20
Microsoft Active Directory (AD) has been, for the past 20+ years, the leading enterprise domain management suite, providing identity and access management, centralized domain administration, authentication, and much more. Throughout those years, the more integrated our applications and data have become with AD, the more exposed to a large-scale compromise we have become. In this module, we will walk through the most commonly abused and fruitful attacks against Active Directory environments that allow threat actors to perform horizontal and vertical privilege escalations in addition to lateral movement. One of the module's core goals is to showcase prevention and detection methods against the covered Active Directory attacks.
Path Sections 15 Sections
Reward: +10
Network traffic analysis is used by security teams to monitor network activity and look for anomalies that could indicate security and operational issues. Offensive security practitioners can use network traffic analysis to search for sensitive data such as credentials, hidden applications, reachable network segments, or other potentially sensitive information "on the wire." Network traffic analysis has many uses for attackers and defenders alike.
Path Sections 18 Sections
Reward: +20
Through network traffic analysis, this module sharpens skills in detecting link layer attacks such as ARP anomalies and rogue access points, identifying network abnormalities like IP spoofing and TCP handshake irregularities, and uncovering application layer threats from web-based vulnerabilities to peculiar DNS activities.
Path Sections 11 Sections
Reward: +20
This module offers an in-depth exploration of Suricata, Snort, and Zeek, covering both rule development and intrusion detection. We'll guide you through signature-based and analytics-based rule development, and you'll learn to tackle encrypted traffic. The module features numerous hands-on examples, focusing on the detection of prevalent malware such as PowerShell Empire, Covenant, Sliver, Cerber, Dridex, Ursnif, and Patchwork. We also dive into detecting attacking techniques like DNS exfiltration, TLS/HTTP Exfiltration, PsExec lateral movement, and beaconing through IDS/IPS.
Path Sections 9 Sections
Reward: +20
This module offers an exploration of malware analysis, specifically targeting Windows-based threats. The module covers Static Analysis utilizing Linux and Windows tools, Malware Unpacking, Dynamic Analysis (including malware traffic analysis), Reverse Engineering for Code Analysis, and Debugging using x64dbg. Real-world malware examples such as WannaCry, DoomJuice, Brbbot, Dharma, and Meterpreter are analyzed to provide practical experience.
Path Sections 11 Sections
Reward: +10
This module will take you step-by-step through the fundamentals of JavaScript Deobfuscation until you can deobfuscate basic JavaScript code and understand its purpose.
Path Sections 11 Sections
Reward: +20
This Hack The Box Academy module covers how to create YARA rules both manually and automatically and apply them to hunt threats on disk, live processes, memory, and online databases. Then, the module switches gears to Sigma rules covering how to build Sigma rules, translate them into SIEM queries using "sigmac", and hunt threats in both event logs and SIEM solutions. It's all hands-on, using real-world malware and techniques.
Path Sections 8 Sections
Reward: +20
Dive into Windows digital forensics with Hack The Box Academy's "Introduction to Digital Forensics" module. Gain mastery over core forensic concepts and tools such as FTK Imager, KAPE, Velociraptor, and Volatility. Dive deep into memory forensics, disk image analysis, and rapid triaging procedures. Learn to construct timelines from MFT, USN Journals, and Windows event logs while getting hands-on with key artifacts like MFT, USN Journal, Registry Hives, Prefetch Files, ShimCache, Amcache, BAM, and SRUM data.
Path Sections 23 Sections
Reward: +20
This Hack The Box Academy module is focused on pinpointing attacks on Windows and Active Directory. Utilizing Splunk as the cornerstone for investigation, this training will arm participants with the expertise to adeptly identify Windows-based threats leveraging Windows Event Logs and Zeek network logs. Furthermore, participants will benefit from actual PCAP files associated with the discussed Windows and Active Directory attacks, enhancing their understanding of the respective attack patterns and techniques.
Path Sections 5 Sections
Reward: +10
Tailored to provide a holistic understanding, this Hack The Box Academy module ensures participants are adept at identifying, categorizing, and documenting security incidents with utmost accuracy and professionalism. The module meticulously breaks down the elements of a robust incident report and then presents participants with a real-world incident report, offering practical insights into the application of the concepts discussed.