We can define an analyst as a function taking data and caffeine as inputs that outputs (hopefully useful) knowledge:
But analysts need more than just good data and properly brewed coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing). We need well-written “internal code”: our thought processes, if you will. As I’ve previously mentioned, too much material focuses on the data and not enough on the processing. If you look for information on log management, you can find endless advice on how to collect your logs, and how to store them. If you look for information on SIEM systems, you can find lots of vendor “marketecture”, compliance guidance, and so forth – but not enough guidance on what to do with the information you find there.
To find what we really need, two things have to happen. First, we need to look outside the IT security echo chamber. Simply repeating the same endless mantras won’t advance the state of the art at all, but looking at other fields with related problems and finding ways to cross-pollinate certainly can bear fruit. In my view, the intelligence community has spent decades working through similar issues. Some really useful references I’ve found lately include Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (which largely discusses “Tools for Thinking” and “Cognitive Biases”). But another document, Basic Counterintelligence Analysis in a Nutshell, has much better applicability to DFIR. Some things work directly, like the section on “Analytic Traps and Mindsets”, others have simply gone out of date, and other concepts have useful analogues. For example, map analysis usually doesn’t reveal very much if invoked in a geographic context (since network links and physical proximity don’t correlate very well), but when you overlay your data on a network map, it certainly can.
So in February, I intend to take the “Basic Counterintelligence Analysis in a Nutshell” document and adapt the ideas in it to network security investigations in particular. But to do this justice takes more than a simple post, so instead of posting that here as originally intended, I’ll spend some time on it and get feedback when it’s ready. This post mostly serves the purpose of getting it out there so that my colleagues, friends, and readers can hold me accountable next month.