Did you know that the University of Manitoba Libraries welcomed FRED over the summer? FRED can crack passwords on encrypted files and recover records you may have thought were deleted. FRED can read file formats and media you may have thought were obsolete. So who, or rather what is FRED? The Libraries’ newly acquired Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device, or FRED, is an exciting new component of the University of Manitoba Libraries’ digital preservation program. This tool is commonly used in the field of law enforcement to ensure that evidence is captured in a reliable way, as the simple action of opening or copying a file can alter the original record and compromise a case.
FRED workstation (photo credit: Seon Young Min).
So why is FRED in the Libraries? Digital forensics are increasingly relevant to the field of information sciences, which encompasses libraries as well as archives. Institutions, such as the University of Manitoba Libraries, who seek to preserve their digital heritage and collections can use FRED to ensure that they are preserving an authentic, bit for bit copy of a digital record for access and preservation purposes. With built-in write-blockers and disk imaging software, archivists working for the Libraries’ Research Services and Digital Strategies department are now able to examine a variety of records stored on various storage media, including flash drives, SATA drives, IDE drives, SD cards, etc. The storage media can be connected to FRED via an array of ports you will not usually find on a computer today. From there, an authentic copy of the records can be created by disk imaging the media, which reproduces the entire contents of the media, including files that were deleted.
Moreover, once physical media is successfully imaged, FRED can automate many actions through a program called FTK (Forensic Toolkit) that assists in processing these records for archival preservation. Reports can be used to identify sensitive information that should be removed or restricted, such as credit card information or social security numbers. FRED can flag duplicate records to reduce any redundancies within the record set, helping to maximize available storage space. Furthermore, it can assist in recovering forgotten passwords for encrypted media or files. Through these many actions, FRED will assist the Libraries in processing digital collections more efficiently and identifying high-value content that should be preserved over the long-term as well as low-value content (e.g., drafts or copies) that should be culled. Making processing practices more efficient is particularly crucial in today’s record keeping environment, as digital records, which can have a lifespan as short as 5-10 years, do not have the same durability as analog records. Improving processing techniques will enhance not only the Libraries’ digital preservation capabilities but provide greater access to researchers and the public.
Research Services and Digital Strategies is currently integrating FRED into its digital preservation program and hopes to use it for teaching purposes by welcoming classes interested in digital forensics to the library. FRED has relevance to many students on campus, including those interested in computer sciences, archival studies, justice and criminology. Instructors are invited to contact Research Services and Digital Strategies at LIBRESRV@umanitoba.ca to inquire about FRED and how it could be integrated into their courses.