Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recovery, digital forensics and Hippo

Ever watch an episode of NCIS and marvel how Abby Sciutto (played so expertly by New Orleanian native Pauley Perrette) can recover data off a hard drive that's been shot, set ablaze or otherwise damaged in a way only a Hollywood scriptwriter could devise? It must be fiction, you will undoubtedly assure yourself, otherwise why couldn't the computer technician recover data off the hard drive that died with a simple whimper last week? Aren't they the same thing? After all, if it happens on TV, it must be steeped in fact and reality. So what gives? Has my computer technician been misleading me? Why did I have to buy a new computer workstation or reinstall my operating system and lose all of my data? First of all, we need to make two distinctions. There is data recovery or digital forensics and then there is a recovery of the operating system, meaning the Windows, Mac, Linux or other operating system along with attendant applications like Word or Quickbooks. I think most of us will recognize that the computer drive that's been used for target practice is not likely to come back to life. However, if there were critical data needed on that drive, it might be able to be recovered and then copied to a healthy system. The ability to return a crashed drive back to healthy status requires a great deal of knowledge and forethought. Doing something silly like keeping an extra hard drive plugged into a new operating system install can have dire consequences later. Tuesday night I learned quite a bit more about about both data recovery and digital forensics when the Louisiana Technology Council invited their members and interested parties to learn from two experts who have been movers and shakers in these two areas of computing technology. The first was Chris Read from Carrollton Technology, one of the lead partners with the LTC in the project which resulted in restoring thousands of what the LTC and Carrollton jointly concluded were deliberately deleted e-mails from the New Orleans mayor's server. These e-mails were the subject of a public records request made by several local reporters including WWL's Lee Zurik at the time (Zurik now works for crosstown rival WVUE-TV) and the Times-Picayune. Also included in the forum was Golden Richard, III, a professor at the University of New Orleans, considered one of the foremost local digital forensics experts. He talked about how data is like an unwelcome visitor; it never truly goes away when you'd like it to do so. So-called registry "scrubbers" or rewriting programs intended to "wipe" hard drives of data are no match for Richard or any of his peers and students. Richard has been used by several federal groups to assist authorities in determining criminal activity by suspected purveyors of child pornography, for example. As Richard explained, sometimes a simple dumb act like not securing one's wireless access could have disastrous consequences. Richard gave an example of a person wrongly accused in hosting child pornography over the Internet, when it turned out it was his pedophile neighbor "stealing" his wireless access. By the time the facts were sorted out, the unlucky person who was accused had lost his computers, had his good name sullied and had endured a great deal of aggravation and unnecessary stress. If this doesn't scare you into placing security on your wireless access, I guess nothing ever will.
Maurice "Hippo" Katz, a well-known and attuned political confidante of major players on both a city and statewide level, passed away on Tuesday morning. Katz, 75, a local character earned his nickname for his wide girth when he was still a very young man. A successful insurance executive, Katz was noted for his political insight and he counseled many candidates for public office over the course of five decades. He was often seen holding court at Ruth's Chris Steak House with such powerhouse politicians as Edwin Edwards, Harry Lee and Aaron Broussard. Although he was accused of being a bit too close to some politicians who had influence and sway, Katz was never convicted of any offense and carried on business with several local governments and entities. That fact seems to have been ignored in the Times-Picayune obituary, which ran today. Much of the article addressed charges that were never proven and Katz's survivors and friends were left scratching their heads over why the newspaper felt it necessary to trot out information that was salacious at worst and misleading at the very least.

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