Why Hillary’s email server is important

Bob covello
Bob Covello

Hillary ClintonUS Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has found herself the subject of an investigation into emails that she sent from a personal mail server – clintonemail.com – while she was Secretary of State.

The controversy is centered on whether Mrs. Clinton communicated any classified information using the unsecured server that was operating from her home in Chappaqua, New York.

Having previously delivered copies of tens of thousands of her emails in the form of hard copy print outs, Mrs. Clinton has now turned over the email server itself.

So, why does the Justice Department want the entire server?

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All computers store information in places that are unknown to the average user. Whether it is the mobile phone in your pocket, all the way up to the most sophisticated servers, data you think you have deleted may be squirrelled away, in corners of the hard drive not retrievable by the typical consumer, such as the slack space where old ‘deleted’ files might lurk.

Enter the forensicators.

Digital forensics is not an entirely new science; however, given the constantly changing technology landscape, the science is continually evolving and growing.

Mouldy fruitOne thing that is certain is that any time a computer performs any processing – from the simple act of placing a message in a folder in your email client, to restarting the machine – the original state of the information on that machine is changed.

How forensically sound and legally admissible is six-month old digital evidence? The legal word that describes damaged evidence is spoliation. Think of it as you would a piece of fruit found in the back of your refrigerator. Eeeew.

In most investigations, the evidence is best when it is seized as close in time to the start of the investigation. Longer times result in cold trails and easily challenged findings.

We may never know exactly what the Justice Department finds on Mrs. Clinton’s email server or how it will be used to settle the controversy, but it will be an excellent lesson for all to see the extent of the power of digital forensics.

Bob Covello (@BobCovello) is a 20-year technology veteran and InfoSec analyst with a passion for security topics. He is also a volunteer for various organizations focused on advocating for and advising others about staying safe and secure online.

12 comments on “Why Hillary’s email server is important”

  1. Martin Hepworth

    Any official communication from the Secretary of State comes under FOI legislation as well as any crimial or civil case. Doesnt help the federal governemt case that the State Departments Network was in a huge mess at the time…

  2. Coyote

    "but it will be an excellent lesson for all to see the extent of the power of digital forensics."

    Anyone who has been around long enough already knows how this works. And because of how it works, and what is involved (different medium types, different file systems, how the data was deleted… all of these – and more – matter, and so it really depends on how it was done), the only thing to learn is that there are many variables (including the ability of those analysing the disks) which means if you want to securely delete data then learn more about data deletion and recovery.

    Given it was a politician who deleted these… files(?), and given that politicians are inept (comes with territory, see?), there is a good chance they recover some data. Whether it is useful or not is another matter entirely (my bias says nothing from politicians is all that useful but obviously they will disagree). Of course, politicians destroying evidence/information (of many things for many reasons) is an ancient problem and one which will not go away, ever. That is part of the corruption they enjoy subjecting themselves to.

  3. Chris

    This can be rehashed and rehashed and rehashed until the end of time . Something no one has asked, or received an answer on, is….what is the real chance justice will be served in this matter? Why are they still allowing her to campaign for the presidency. They say when a matter is turned over to the FBI, it IS a criminal investigation. Can ANYONE tell me….what ARE the chances she will be indicted if it is found she committed a crime??? Since no matter what she has done, even if she commits murder, our justice department cannot put her in jail, because Obama has the power to pardon her. Have you ever heard of such an unfair "justice" system in your life? I used to be proud of my country, but now that I know how it really works, I am totally ashamed of our supposed "justice" system and the unfair power they give our President. He is as bad, if not worse than Hillary.

  4. oteyokwa

    Let's not sugar coat this issue….Yesterday,the FBI raided HRC house and her Lawyers office. They found Ultra Top Secret Classified documents in both of their possession. And not a peep in the Media.

  5. Simon

    Perhaps I'm oversimplifying it, but I don't understand how she was permitted to conduct her duties on resources that weren't commissioned/owned by the Sec. of State to begin with…

  6. Publio Vestrone

    Hillary has had plenty of time to sanitize the server for her own safety. The "incompetence of state bureaucracy" argument probably doesn't apply, because she's way too clever to rely on in-house (government) skills (much less her own skills) for such technical tasks. And she has enough money to buy the silence of anyone who's inclined to help her in the first place.

    She has squirmed out from under worse things before — Vince Foster, Whitewater, Arkansas Troopergate…the list of Clintonian scandals goes on. In a system as venal and unethical as U.S. politics is today, to have power is to be corrupt. Yet, Hillary's corrupt excesses never get to trial. That tells me that she has enough strings she can pull to keep her image just clean enough so the true believers who worship her can keep their delusions.

    Given her track record, it seems very unlikely that the forensicators will find anything that will stick.

    1. Coyote · in reply to Publio Vestrone

      "In a system as venal and unethical as U.S. politics is today, to have power is to be corrupt."

      I won't deny that the US is a disaster. But be realistic: there is no such thing as ethical politics in any country and of all those in power, the politicians are the most corrupt there is in this world. Put another way, anyone who trusts a politician or politics is far too gullible for their own good. There is nothing to trust except that they will go wrong (if they aren't before they enter).

  7. Adam

    Can you tell me if there is a fast swift like instantaneous way to wipe out any e-device surely and definitively, full proof to any recovery and forensic software or other technology.
    maybe a device to build like a powerful electromagnet or a gamma-radiation device?
    thanks Graham I love reading your news letter

    1. Valerie McGilvrey · in reply to Adam

      I think EMF transmitters is what you are referring to. You just point and shoot a device at whatever you want to fry. There are kits for these you build yourself for sale around the internet. I bought one years ago when I bought a potato gun kit for a prank christmas present.

    2. Valerie · in reply to Adam
  8. Valerie McGilvrey

    Its relevant because she used it to communicate regarding offical business of the United States. This makes her personal email federal property.

  9. Anonymous

    It's clear from when she was asked if she wiped the server and replied "with a cloth?" that she doesn't understand the technology.

    Why would someone have something like that in their house? Why wasn't it vetted and secured by some entity of the US Government? Utter madness.

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