Law Enforcement, Cryptography & Cybercrime

Instructor: Erik Rodriguez

Erik has experience working in Cybersecurity and has a Master's of Science in Information Systems.

In this lesson, we will discuss how law enforcement officials use cryptography and cryptanalysis in their digital forensic investigations. Additionally, we will also discuss how cybercriminals use these concepts and how they present a challenge to law enforcement officials.

A Hidden Message

''What could this mean?'', you ask yourself as you look over the crumpled piece of paper. You were sitting at a bench in your university waiting for your next class when you found the piece of paper lying on the ground. On your way to toss it in the trash bin, however, curiosity got the better of you and you proceeded to open it in order to view its contents. To your surprise, there was only a mess of letters that didn't seem to make any sense. Surely, there was a hidden meaning in the note, but it was only intended for its original recipient. In a similar manner, law enforcement officials and forensic investigators can devise hidden messages to prevent evidence and other sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, cybercriminals can also use this same method to prevent any incriminating evidence from being able to be read by law enforcement.

secret note

Cryptography and Cryptanalysis Defined

Cryptography refers to the act of making data unreadable to everyone besides those for whom the data is intended. Security analysts utilize cryptography to ensure that data remains safe, secure, and out of the hands of a malicious actor. If you have ever written a letter with a secret code, then you probably understand the basic principle of cryptography. On the other hand, cryptanalysis refers to the study of cracking the secret codes used in cryptography. This is employed by security researchers when attempting to gather digital evidence that may have been obfuscated, or made unintelligible, by a cybercriminal.

Law Enforcement and Cryptography

Cryptography can play a vital role in digital forensics and how law enforcement approaches cybercrime. As stated earlier, cryptography can be used in order to keep forensic data and digital evidence secure by preventing unauthorized access to the data. Much like how you are unable to read the secret note you found crumpled up on campus, an unauthorized individual (whether malicious or not) would not be able to gain access to data or evidence that has been cryptographically secured. Additionally, by using cryptography, forensic investigators are able to ensure the integrity of the data. This will further strengthen the evidence's use in court as prosecutors will know that no unauthorized changes have been made to the evidence.

Example of a basic cipher
cipher

On the other hand, cryptography can be a source of headaches to forensic investigators. Cybercriminals can employ cryptography to ensure that any potential evidence they leave behind after committing a crime cannot be traced back to them. A study conducted by Ponemon Institute in conjunction with A10 Networks states that 50% of security analysts involved in the study had experienced a cyber attack at their organization where the hacker utilized cryptography in order to avoid detection. This statistic is alarming as it shows that there is about a 50/50 chance that a cybercriminal may not get caught.

Law Enforcement and Cryptanalysis

Not all hope is lost, however. Forensic investigators can utilize cryptanalysis to try and break the encryption that a hacker may have used when launching an attack. One way this is done is by employing the use of mathematical algorithms that attempt to crack the code, or cipher, that was used to encrypt data. Once the cipher has been determined, investigators can then begin decoding the encrypted data. This can lead to the discovery of evidence that can be used to prosecute cybercriminals responsible for hacks and other attacks.

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