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Internet Forensics Paperback – Oct 17 2005
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""Internet Forensics" compiles a lot of information that has typically been available only by word of mouth or bitter experience. The average user will find themselves able to apply its techniques, and even if they choose not to, they will gain a deep understanding of how the Internet works. The book's clear style and firm grounding in reality make it an excellent read." - Gavin Inglis, news@UK, June 2006
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However, after reading the book, I realized that this was the most accurate review. Is the book for Administrators or for home users? For UNIX or Windows users? The author would have you believe that it offers something for all. I disagree.
Ultimately, it is so superficial and spread out that it is of little use to anyone. Why the author throws in a simple intro to IP Addresses and then seems to take up paragraph after paragraph on parameter options for Unix-based commands is beyond me.
This book reads like bad spam - enticing the using with yet another title with catch words that are trendier than "free Vigra" - Internet + Forensics - both a limp approach to the quest for more money - yours and mine.
Fight back - Don't waste your money on this book.
Also notice that the author tries to gain our alliance and sympathies with his similar plight of spam email. If the guy truly is a security "expert" he should be spam-free. Free advice: Try a spam blocker, an email referral service, or just good system administration.
Sadly, Internet Forensics is not an exception to this rule. While I like this book more than some of the other recent O'Reilly security books, that isn't saying much. We've come to expect clear, authoritative books or inspired tricks and tips type martial from O'Reilly's authors, and instead we're given unfocused, incomplete pages.
To be fair, the topic of Internet Forensics is broad, not very well focused, and no one has written a good book on the subject. It's coming into the foreground, especially in this past year, as threat analysis has become popular. This is a new, wide open field, covering a broad range of malware, spam, phishing, and malicious website analysis coupled to tracking the origin and leading to takedown of the materials. However, this book doesn't really do a good job of much of that. And, at the end of 2006, some of the material feels positively quaint (even though it came out in late 2005). Although the author has defined his target audience in the introduction (infosec professionals, and software developers and IT operations people), I don't think they're well served with this offering.
Chapter 1, an introduction to the book, is short and scattershot. Nothing promised in the preface is really delivered (no overview of spam, phishing, or other threats). Instead, it's just some writing with little focus. This tone carries throughout the book. Chapter 2 covers the basics of IP addressing (what the heck?! if you don't assume your readership knows this, they're in the wrong place), and then talks about DNS lookups with dig and whois. The people reading this should know how to use these tools already, where are the suggested requirements for the reader? Sadly, no tips on disambiguating whois results (p 22) are given, not an unexpected finding in this book. And we start with the inefficient Perl scripts, too. All in all, we're not off to a good start.
Chapter 3 covers email, and sadly we waste time on the basics of email headers, and then go into making very good use of them. The coverage here is inconsistent and again, unfocused. By the time you finish chapter three with "is it really spam?", you're left wondering what the heck the author wanted you to learn. Chapter 4 is slightly better, focusing on on URL obfuscation. Sadly, none of the techniques given really hold up all that well any more. Again, we start with some basics and try and get somewhere, but along the way we're distracted and we've never really gotten a good sense of what's the objective.
Chapter 5 on websites tries to cover some ground, but again, it's too unfocused. We talk about mirroring a site (why "wget -r" isn't listed, which is a common way of getting a malicious phishing site or directory, I don't know) and we even talk about SQL injection, but I don't know what the author is really after. It feels like random observations thrown in with no overall goals. Chapter 6 talks about web servers, and we talk about headers and redirection, and then delve into Netcraft stats (why?) and honestly I'm not clear what was useful here. This felt more like introductory material than anything useful. If the readers are infosec professionals, they should know what a web server header looks like and how to properly fingerprint the server.
Chapter 7 is the complement to that, and talks about your browser. Again, some useful info, but it's incomplete. No real discussions about why you want to alter things other than some basic concepts. Chapter 8 talks about file contents, and there's some interesting basics on examining Word docs (track changes, strings, etc) but aside from some basics, there's not much great there. Sadly, no discussions on how to un-redact a PDF are given, just that it's been a problem.
Chapter 9, which is a nice departure from solid technical materials, comes up short. It's incomplete and disappointing. Chapter 10 talks about pattern detection and signature creation, but again, this could have been beefier.
Chapter 11, "case studies", is OK, but some better treatment to tie the lessons learned (or hopefully imparted) would have been nice. Finally, Chapter 12, "taking action", isn't very useful. No real great info or insight is here, and if you think that you'll be calling police departments about every phishing site, you're in for a sad wake up call -- there's just no way you can do that. One of the comments made in this chapter, specifically wanting to see a community response, tells me that the author (Jones) isn't well connected to the community that actually does track and respond to these threats.
Internet Forensics is a poor attempt at this broad subject. While I appreciate the scope of what the author is trying to do, the execution is weak and suffers from a lack of focus or discipline. A book twice this size covering a fraction of the material, well executed, would have been a better offering. If you feel you must get this book, make sure you get it at a steep discount.
Contents: Introduction; Names and Numbers; Email; Obfuscation; Web Sites; Web Servers; Web Browsers; File Contents; People and Places; Patterns of Activity; Case Studies; Taking Actions; Index
Unlike some of the internet security books I've read and reviewed, this one is actually understandable by those who aren't full-time network administration geeks. Jones examines the subject of tracking down computer crime (phishing, spam, etc.) by using forensic techniques to narrow down potential culprits. This isn't to say that there's a "follow these steps and nail the spammer" recipe that can be applied in all cases. Too many things can be forged, and spammers (in some cases) are pretty adept at hiding their tracks. But by learning how to read email headers, domain registrations, and patterns, you can learn more than you might expect. The nice thing about this book is that the information is explained in a clear fashion that doesn't rely on years of experience to follow. His explanation of mail headers and how to interpret them might be the first time I've ever actually understood what was going on. He also switches the view on some subjects (like web browsers) to help you understand how to better hide your own tracks to prevent others from finding out information about you. And if you're trying to track down someone who's abusing your site, hiding your own tracks might be critical in not causing him (or her) to bolt...
Important information, and extremely practical. I guarantee you'll walk away with a couple things immediately that you can use, and over the long haul the book will more than pay for itself...
The book lists a lot of different techniques to track down those on the "dark side" of the 'Net, such as how Internet addresses are assigned, the dig tool, host name lookups, also how some email headers (but not all) can be forged and how URLs can be forged. I also found out how domain names can get redirected. You can also "capture" a web page and look at the HTML source to find out more. On a side note, I was intrigued to find out about the "Wayback" machine, a web site that archives old web pages. While I have yet to find any of my old web sites I designed there, it's likely only a matter of time.
Not only is this book a good resource for tracking down spammers and phishers, I also learned a few things about how browsers and web servers work as well as searching for similar things in multiple files (to link together seemingly different sites that likely can be tied back to a spammer). A lot of spammer web sites are gone within a few days or so, and the author points out any investigating you do should be done quickly.
If you're "mad as hell" at bogus email clogging your in box (and who isn't?), this is a good book to have to fight back at those who send it out.
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