This statement takes understanding data structures a step further because we're not simply recognizing that, say, a particular data structure contains a time stamp. In this case, we're modifying code to meet the needs of a specific task. However, simply understanding basic programming principles can be a very valuable skill for DFIR work, in general, as the foundational concepts behind programming teach us a lot about scoping, and programming in practice allows us to move into task automation and eventually code customization.
David Cowen has been doing very well on his own blog-a-day-for-a-year challenge, and recently posted a blog regarding some DFIR analyst milestones that he outlined. In this post, David mentions that milestone 11 includes "basic programming". This could include batch file programming, which is still alive and well, and extremely valuable...just ask Corey Harrell. Corey's done some great things, such as automating exploiting VSCs, through batch files.
My programming background goes back to the early '80s, programming BASIC on the Timex-Sinclair 1000 and Apple IIe. In high school, I learned some basic Pascal on the TRS-80, and then in college, moved on to BASIC on the same platform. Then in graduate school, I picked up some C (one course), some M68K
The result of this is not that I became an expert programmer...rather, take a look that something David had said in a recent blog post, specifically that an understanding of programming helps you put your goals into perspective and reduce the scope of the problem you are trying to solve. This is the single most valuable aspect of programming experience...being able to look at the goals of a case, and break them down into compartmentalized, achievable tasks. Far too many times, I have seen analysts simply overwhelmed by goals such as, "Find all bad stuff", and even when going back to the customer to get clarification as to what the goals of the case should be, they still are unable to compartmentalize the tasks necessary to complete the examination.
There's a lot that we do that is repetitive...not just in a single case, but if you really sit down and think about the things you do during a typical exam, I'm sure that you'll come across tasks that you perform over and over again. One of the questions I've heard at conferences, as well as while conducting training courses, is, "How do I fully exploit VSCs?" My response to that is usually, "what do you want to do?" If your goal is to run all the tools that you ran against the base portion of the image against the available VSCs, then you should consider taking a look at what Corey did early in 2012...as far as I can see, and from my experience, batch scripting such as this is still one of the most effective means of automating tasks such as this, and there is a LOT of information and sample code freely available on the Interwebs for automating an almost infinite number of tasks.
If batch scripting doesn't provide the necessary flexibility, there are scripting languages (Python, Perl) that might be more suitable, and there are a number of folks in the DFIR community with varying levels of experience using these languages...so don't be afraid to reach out for assistance.
There's a good deal of open source code out there that allows us to do the things we do. In other cases, a tool that we use may not be open source, but we do have open source code that allows us to manipulate the output of the tool into a format that is more useful, and more easily incorporated into our analysis process. Going back to the intro paragraph to this post, sometimes we may need to tweak some code, even if it's to simply change one small portion of the output from a decimal to hex when displaying a number. Understanding some basic coding lets us not only be able to see what a tool is doing, but it also allows us to adjust that code when necessary.
Being able to customize code as needed also means that we can complete our analysis tasks in a much more thorough and timely manner. After all, for "heavy lifting", or highly repetitive tasks, why not let the computer do most of the work? Computers are really good at doing the same thing, over and over again, really fast...so why not take advantage of that?
While there is no requirement within the DFIR community (at large) to be able to write code, programming principles can go a long way toward developing our individual skills, as well as developing each of us into better analysts. My advice to you is:
Don't be overwhelmed when you see code...try opening the code in a text viewer and just reading it. Sure, you may not understand Perl or C or Python, but most times, you don't need to understand the actual code to figure out what it's doing.
Don't be afraid to reach out for help and ask a question. Have a question about some code? Reach out to the author. Many times, folks crowdsource their questions, reaching to the "community" as a whole, and that may work for some. However, I've had much better success by reaching directly to the coder...I can usually find their contact info in the headers of the code they wrote. Who better to answer a question about some code than the person who wrote it?
Don't be afraid to ask for assistance in writing or modifying code. From the very beginning (circa 2008), I've had a standing offer to modify RegRipper plugins or create custom plugins...all you gotta do is ask (provide a concise description of what's needed, and perhaps some sample data...). That's it. I've found that in most cases, getting an update/modification is as simple as asking.
Make the effort to learn some basic coding, even if it's batch scripting. Program flow control structures are pretty consistent...a for loop is a for loop. Just understanding programming can be so much more valuable than simply allowing you to write a program.