Osama Bin Laden's Computer Files and Data Encryption

Friday, May 06, 2011

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U.S. government computer forensic experts may have their work cut out for them in their effort to extract data from the array of electronic equipment that was confiscated in the raid that resulted in the death of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden.

Reports indicate that the Navy Seal assault team found five computers, ten hard drives, and a host of removeable media including compact discs and USB drives.

Conflicting reports indicate the forensic analysis, referred to as "media exploitation", is taking place either in Afghanistan or at a CIA facility in Langley, Virginia.

It is likely that the National Media Exploitation Center (NMEC) will play a central role in teh examination of the Bin Laden equipment, given a January, 2011, Department of Defense directive that states the NMEC is the "central DoD clearinghouse for processing DoD-collected documents and media."

The NMEC is responsible for  "the rapid collection, processing, exploitation, dissemination, and sharing of all acquired and seized media", and is under the command of the Director of National Intelligence (DIA).

Depending on the level of sophistication used by Bin Laden to secure the data on the equipment, forensic investigators could be facing a task on a scale from extremely difficult to outright impossible.

"Correctly implemented encryption is very difficult to break. If data is encrypted correctly using good, best practices, I'm not aware of the ability to break that encryption. If correctly implemented and done by someone who understands how to do it, it's a huge, huge challenge," said Steve Santorelli, director of global outreach at Team Cymru.

Investigators can only hope that terrorists are like most everyone else - prone to using poor encryption protocols and easy to crack passwords.

Experts speculating on the odds that Bin Laden was using state of the art encryption procedures express confidence the U.S. forensics teams will successfully extract all the data from the devices.

The "state of bin Laden's digs and the way he went down -- it is, for example, not at all obvious that he was surrounded by crack attendants as part of an elite clandestine HQ – argue for the case of slackness in his operation," John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told SecurityNewsDaily.

Waiting on word of the outcome of the investigation may prove to be frustrating for those anxious to know if the data will be devastating for the Al Qaeda terrorist group, as officials are likely to play these cards close to their vest.

The best indication of successful extraction of key data form the Bin Laden raid will probably come in the form of reports about more covert military operations aimed at neutralizing Al Qaeda leadership around the globe.

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Encryption Forensics Government Military Headlines al-Qaeda Osama Bin Laden Usama bin Laden National Media Exploitation Center NMEC
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