Dr. Richard Kiper Talks FBI and Digital Forensics on Ayo News Insights - Transcript
This week on Ayo News our host Charli Fisher went behind the scenes of digital forensics with former FBI academy leader Dr Richard "Rick" Kiper. See the full transcript of the interview below and watch the full interview for FREE on ayozat.com at: https://www.ayozat.com/watch/ayo-news-insights/DpebjzFxYDnN
Charli - Welcome to Ayo News. I'm your host, Charli Fisher, and today, we have a very interesting guest. Introducing Dr. Richard "Rick" Kiper, a distinguished authority in digital forensics. Dr. Kiper worked at the FBI for 20 years, specializing in computer forensics and even the head of the FBI academy. Even after retiring, he still contributes to major cases. Dr. Kiper, welcome to Ayo News Insights, it's so great to have you on the show.
Dr Kiper - Thank you for having me. It's a, it's a thrill to be here.
Charli - So could you tell us about your career journey and what led you to specialize in digital forensics within the FBI?
Dr Kiper - Sure. Before I was recruited into the FBI, I owned and ran a internet services consulting business, and then when I got into the FBI, I started my investigative journey as a special agent doing white collar crime, organized crime, transnational street gangs, etc, and I realized that everybody has a computing device. Everybody has a computer, a laptop, a cell phone. And I figured out that, you know, it would be a good transition for me to go into computer forensics based on my computer background and so I applied for the program in the FBI, called the Computer Analysis Response Team, which is CART, and I served there as a computer forensic examiner for many years, and I also taught computer forensic examiners with the FBI, and then I trained the teachers to teach computer forensic examinations to our examiners. So, I retired from the FBI after 20 years in 2019 and, and today I still do cybersecurity and digital forensics consulting and teaching.
Charli - So you've obviously had a lot of experience. Can you share an instance where digital forensics played a pivotal role in cracking a high profile case?
Dr Kiper - I can, I can share a couple real quick. The first one actually was in 2018. We had someone in Miami who they called the MAGA bomber because he was a Trump supporter and he sent bombs, mail bombs, to a bunch of high profile people that were critics of President Trump. And, long story short, we found the guy, we, we took his computers, laptops. I processed his phone and I saw on his phone that he did several searches for these people, and people that weren't even in the news, like the mail bombs had already been sent out, but they didn't know how many more were going to be sent out. Well, I, I put together a list of everybody that he searched for, all the addresses that he searched for, for these politicians and Hollywood celebrities that were critics of Trump, and send it to headquarters, and headquarters sent out a note - it's called a duty to warn notice - to all of those people and, and a few more packages were intercepted. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, none of the bombs detonated. So, that was an interesting case and again, examination of a cell phone, right?
The other case that I'm currently working on now after retirement is the Keith Ranieri case, and this is a case where a man was sent to prison for 120 years for possession and possible creation of, of child pornography. And this case is based on the most unreliable digital forensics evidence that I have ever seen. And myself, as well as six other forensic examiners, have published our findings we've made with a defense team. Actually, his defense team has filed motions to reconsider motions for a new trial and have, have requested from the government the evidence that they used at trial that was not provided at trial. That based on the FBI's own forensic reports we know was altered and manipulated. So it's, it's a big deal and, response court filings from the, from the FBI and the government, they admit that they actually altered the evidence while in their custody. It's an amazing, it's an amazing story., there's a lot of technical details. But if your audience is very interested in computer forensics and want to know the details of this particular case in our findings, what we have sent to Congress, what we've sent to the FBI director, all of that is on a website called conjobmovie.com. C-o-n j-o-b movie.com. And they can see a preview of the documentary that explains all of this, but more importantly, the digital forensics findings that we collectively have published.
Charli - That kind of leads me on to asking you, how has digital forensics evolved during your time with the FBI?
Dr Kiper - I would say the biggest change during my tenure with the FBI has been smart devices, because we went from what I call dumb phones, the flip phones that didn't do anything, to now everyone has a computer in their pocket, a full computer with operating system, and email and pictures and videos and everything. And, and we're not just talking cell phones, of course, or smart phones, but we also have tablets. We also have drones, by the way, that also contain information forensically that we can extract. A lot of drones run on Android, for example, the same Android that you use on your phone will run a lot of droids. Also, your TVs, smart TVs, if you're browsing for movies and other information using your smart TV, all of that information is being saved on your TV for you to conveniently access later. So that to me has been the biggest change, is, is the smart technology that is, that is everywhere. Even, you've heard of Internet of Things, right? Now, now our microwaves and our refrigerators are now all connected through Alexa and spree and it's, it's just amazing, you know, the information that, that we have given to all of these devices. And, again, for investigations, it's great because there is a trail to follow. Right? If you're, if you're going after bad guys. But from the private citizen perspective, maybe it's, you know, we should be a little bit more aware of these devices and what, how much of our data is contained on those devices.
Charli - And how can the people at home protect themselves from this?
Dr Kiper - Well, there's a lot of resources online securing the, securingthehuman.org, or .com, I can't remember now, by the SANS Institute publishes a lot of free information. So basically, just to name a few things, we need to make sure that our passwords are strong, which means they're long, right? Length matters with passwords, make sure that we change them, that we secure them. Make sure that we're using multi-factor authentication, which means that we're using some sort of technology that, that sends a code to another device that we own to authenticate our person in that service that we're trying to access. We need to make sure we use antivirus software, and also and probably most important, we need to be very aware of what, of our personal information we are putting out there on social media and all of these public platforms.
I actually was the, on a dissertation committee for a person at Nova Southeastern University who created an index for social media and, and he actually used a bunch of high profile Hollywood stars and politicians and so forth. And he created an index to rate how exposed they are on social media, like how much can bad guys exploit the information that's being published so that they can contact you and convince you that there's someone to be trusted, so that you open a link or open an attachment to an email, or they just steal your credentials based on a dictionary attack of your password. Based on all this public information that we have. So we need to limit our digital exhaust on the internet.
Charli - So, Dr Kiper thank you so much for sharing your recommendations of what we could do. Could you provide an overview of the typical stages and processes involved in digital forensics examination and how these may vary?
Dr Kiper - Absolutely. So the very first thing that we do as forensic examiners is we look at the legal authority that allows us to do what we're doing. What we teach in the FBI is that you don't do a thing until you see a search warrant or a consent form, a signed consent form, or some other form of legal authority that allows you to perform the examination. That's first. Sometimes that skipped, believe it or not, and that's a real problem. And then and then we have to identify the digital evidence. So if we're, for example, if we're helping an investigator, like a terrorist investigator, go into a house, we can help them identify those things that could contain digital information, digital evidence, especially if the person's a hacker. If they have a bunch of books on their shelves and, you know, black hat hacking and all of this, then we probably want to take everything that they can possibly contain data. You know, we mentioned laptops, desktops, smart devices, smartphones, tablets, drones, smart TVs, right? Even video game consoles, right? Even video games can be used and have been used in the past by -
Charli - Wow, even video games.
Dr Kiper - Absolutely, absolutely. Xbox, PlayStation, anything that holds digital information can be exploited to, to commit a crime and, and some of them communicate through video games. We've seen that in the past. And some of these video games run Linux or UNIX based operating systems. And in, just because it's a, an Xbox, it doesn't mean that it couldn't have been reformatted to be an actual computer system that can be used to hack people. So, so that's a identification. And then after we identify it, then we go through the collection process, right, we take it into custody, we create a chain of custody to make sure that from the time it was discovered till the time that it's presented in court, we know every single person that has touched it. And by the way, that, that case that I, that I mentioned, the Keith Ranieri case, I had, I had to divide my findings from technical findings to process findings.
The one of the biggest process findings we had is that the broken chain of custody. We don't know who, who all touch this evidence. The government even admitted they gave evidence to somebody who was not on the chain of custody. Can you believe it? I mean it's, and that's the person that actually altered the evidence that I mentioned before. They actually altered a camera card that we're still trying to get a copy of.
So after after collecting it, we have to preserve it, and we do that by applying a write blocking device and making a forensic copy or bit for bit replica of the data from the original device. And then, then we point our tools at the replica, the original, we put in the evidence and we secure more, but the replica we can then move to the next step, which is the examination, and that entails taking a forensics tool and parsing out the information and organizing it in a way that's, that's human readable. And then we move on to the analysis of that information and find out what of this data is relevant to our investigation and what information needs to be exported from that replica of the original data so that we can then move to the next part, which is presentation in court.
And so all of those phases are very important to the forensics process. And, like I said, in the, in the case that I'm working on, it was absolutely compromised. Unfortunately, I hate to say it, but my former colleagues at the FBI really blew it on that case. Again, you can, you can, your viewers can can see the details of that at conjobmovie.com.
Charli - So, so, fascinating, though. Dr Kiper could you shed light on how digital forensics might be utilized in such high profile financial investigations or cryptocurrency?
Dr Kiper - Sure. Now, I don't have any inside information on any ongoing FBI cases, so I'll put that disclaimer out there. But I know that, for example, in the FTX's case where Sam Bankman-Fried was just convicted of securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and then he had conspiracy charges along with those, any type of fraud or finance case, when you're talking about actually cryptocurrencies or other finance investigations, you basically have you have something called misrepresentations that are made to either the the investors, the people that are sending you money for this investment, or you have misrepresentations made to law enforcement, or to the regulation agencies that are supposed to be regulating this. And then you have falsified records, falsified records, meaning bank records, falsified spreadsheets, that are showing that you're making more money than you are, or that's hiding money that is going to one entity and being kicked back, as in the case of FTX, there was a relationship with another subsidiary and another hedge fund, and they were loaning money back and forth, coming back to the owners of FTX, who then spend this money lavishly on a number of items, just the lavish lifestyle. Houses, boats, vacations and donating money to political parties. So that's really the elements of any kind of financial fraud.
In the case of FTX, they brought into trial and this is - there's a CNN article actually that's does a very good job of explaining all the forensics information that came in to that case. And we're talking about in the communications part, the misrepresentations. There were emails, there were text messages, and again, from laptops, desktops, smartphones, etc... there were Google Docs. Have you ever, you know, you think about that, "Hey, I use Google Docs in Google Docs. It's not on my device. It's not on my cell phone, it's not on my laptop or desktop, it's in the cloud", right? Well, that's still forensic evidence that we need to get. And in the case of FTX, they were a Google Docs, specifically spreadsheets, that were found to be fraudulent, and they were making fraudulent representations regarding how, how the money was moving back and forth between entities and how it was being spent.
So, like I said, I started at the FBI doing white collar crime, a lot of financial investigations, telemarketing fraud and things like that. And, and so there is plenty, plenty of digital exhaust that even criminals leave behind, and that's a good thing for us as forensic examiners.
Charli - Dr. Kiper, with the rise of AI, how does that affect cybersecurity?
Dr Kiper - Well, it's going to be a real challenge, at least I'm predicting it's going to be a real challenge, because in digital forensics, we're always - our goal is, is something called user attribution. In other words, we're trying to attribute something bad to a human being so that we can hold them accountable. Right? And with AI, it's going to be very difficult if we can't discern information, for example, we mentioned misrepresentations. If those misrepresentations was created by a human being or by AI. If you're using your AI, for example, to download some information about children having fun, and then it downloads a bunch of child pornography to your device, you know, that could be a real problem.
Right, right. You know, Sports Illustrated recently got caught using A.I. in their magazine to write articles. And now these are kind of soft sell articles where they're - it's like an article and you're kind of it's about a product or service. But, but they created a user, a author profile and fooled a lot of people and, and, when the, when they were called out on it they of course you know went and deleted that information. But it just goes to show you that, you know, if you're in a fraud situation, for example, and if you're, if you have a service like FTX, for example, and they're making misrepresentationss to the public, if, if that, if those misrepresentations are created by some algorithm in an AI, now who's to blame? Because people are out of their money, they've lost their money. So now who do you hold accountable? So I think that is going to be one of the biggest challenges of AI in terms of digital forensics going forward.
Charli - Do you see a solution? At all? Or like, do you predict a solution?
Dr Kiper - Well, you know, I was reading the other day that there are some schools, universities and upper upper high school levels that have gone back to actually making children write out their long responses or even full papers, to writing it out, because you can just go to ChatGPT and say, write me a term paper on such and such a topic. And so it's kind of going in the opposite direction where they're, they're trying to overcome some of these challenges. I don't know, actually. But - except for going back to doing things manually, I don't know a way to secure your, your perspective on information from AI, you know, how to how to discern what is created for AI and what is not. There are certain things like photographs, for example, that, you can compare photographs using something we call hashes, which is an algorithm that makes sure that you, that the photograph or actually any digital file is legitimate. So you run it through this mathematical algorithm and it spits out a long number that, that we consider the digital fingerprint. If AI changes it a little bit, it'll change that fingerprint. So there are some countermeasures to it, but it's going to be a real challenge going forward.
Charli - Sure. What about deepfakes as well? Like, that's pretty concerning that you can obviously Deepfake videos these days. How, like, especially with the FBI, how what are they doing to prevent this happening?
Dr Kiper - Well, there is a unit at headquarters that deals specifically with digital photographs and videos, and if I could remember what the unit's name was, it's probably changed already. But they have a specific unit at at the FBI Academy where I used to work that deals specifically with this kind of technology, and there are ways actually of comparing even pieces of digital media against each other to tell whether or not it is - it's been messed with.
Charli - That's great that there is some kind of solution. And would you like to add anything else at all on this topic?
Dr Kiper - Again, we just need to keep ourselves safe, reduce our digital exhaust, realize that - and this is something that I actually tell a lot of people - when we are using a free service or product online, then we have to realize that we are the product. Okay, nothing is free, we're giving our information to these apps, we're checking the little box without reading what we're giving permission for that app to do. And then that information is being sold and used in ways that we can't even imagine.
Charli - That's terrifying. Thank you, Dr. Kiper, for such a revealing and insightful interview. It's been so, so great having you on the show. I'm Charli Fisher, and you've been watching Ayo News Insights. We'll see you on the next show.