Building a Forensics Computer

Forensics ComputerAt work it is fairly common for hard drives to die, machines to become infected with a virus, trojan or worm and the occasional compromise. It just happens when you have so many machines; the odds are against you.

For this reason I wanted to build a machine specifically for forensics purposes, similar to the Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED) systems put out by Digital Intelligence.

The first time I saw the FRED it just made sense.

  • Empty removable drive bays for the drive you want to image, analyze or restore.
  • Conveniently accessible ports for every imaginable type of peripheral.
  • A large storage disk for storing images of drives, case files and VMWare images, etc.
  • And of course, load it with every imaginable forensic and security tool you could ever need.

Here are the parts and reason for their selection:

Multi-function Panel
I used the SunBeamTech 20-in-1 5.25 Multi-function Panel. This little unit is awesome! It occupies one 5.25″ drive slot and contains USB, Firewire, SATA, Composite Video, Audio Jacks, a -TON- of card readers, two internal thermometers that display their respective temperatures on an LCD display on the front and two fan speeds controllers. This unit has a LOT of cables that really clutter up the interior of the computer. If your totally anal you may be able to zip and twist tie them up, but man; it is a LOT of cables.

5.25″ Storage Drawer
I use this to store adapters screws for the drive trays. As well as a couple of my commonly used adapters; the 2.5″ Laptop hard drive to 3.5″ IDE hard drive converter and the dual PS2 to USB.

Hardware Write Blocker

If you want your evidence to be admissible in court a write blocker is going to be a necessity. This ensures that the data isn’t altered in anyway (inadvertently or otherwise) during your investigation. I went with the MyKey NoWrite FPU. It comes recommended from the forensic’s community and is accredited for forensic investigation. It also supports both IDE and SATA and is relative inexpensive compared to other write blockers.

Removable Drive Bays

I have 3 SATA and 2 IDE. These particular removable drive bays have built in silent fans, with a nice digital temperature readout.

10 Bay ATX Case

I went with the Aerocool Masstige, mainly because it had all of the 5.25″ bays I needed in a mid-tower-ish size. Anything else with that many bays was a beast of a full-tower. It also turned out to be a strange coincidence that this case looks strikingly similar to the one used on the FRED.

Power Supply

You’re going to need a great deal of juice to power all of these drives and devices. I went with a 500w PSU.

SATA Controller Card

I used a generic PCI IDE/SATA combo. Anything will do.

FireWire/USB Controller Card
Once again, I purchased a generic PCI card for this purpose. The one I got has one firewire and one usb port on the inside. On the outside it has 2 firewire and 4 usb ports. In my case, most of those ports were taken up by my multifunction panel.

Be sure to use a modern motherboard with about 4+ PCI slots. These will fill quick as you add device capabilities.

The more RAM the better. If you plan on doing viral research or virtual honey nets you will want to run VMWare. The more virtual machines you have running the more RAM you need.

Hard Drive(s)
Drive images, case files, evidence collection bin; you will be using the storage on this machine for many many purposes. It would be best to run a large RAID5 array in addition to your boot drive. Your array will be fairly static as far as physical drive additions and subtractions so its not necessary for it to be in removable drive bays, however keeping your OS drive in the bays is a good idea so you can switch OS by swapping in a new drive.

Once you put all of these pieces together you will have a very useful multipurpose machine. You will find that it will come in handy for so much more than forensic analysis.

The software I chose to install and why, will be outlined in a later article.

One Reply to “Building a Forensics Computer”

  1. I liked this article. I’m getting into computer forensics and I’m looking to build my own analysis machine. Your blog entry has been up a while so I’m inclined to ask: how has the machine handled? Is there anything you would do different. Do you run a particular software suite, ie., UTK or ENcase, on this machine?

    I’m just looking for your thoughts.


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