Documenting changes and processes: CaseNotes

I have a very bad habit that I know many people in the IT engineering field suffer from:

Poor documentation.

We tend to focus on getting the server/software/device up and running, and once it’s functional, we continue to tweak it until it works perfectly.

Unfortunately, we tend to not document the steps we took to get to that point of perfection.

I’ve tried many methods and tools to aid me in taking better notes, but they’ve all seemed to fail for one reason or another. Here’s some of the methods I’ve tried:

1) Pen and paper – takes too long to write copious notes, and I seem to misplace them. Very hard to search for that piece of information you’re looking for.

2) Helpdesk software – hard to paste in images from screen shots, fields are too small to go into detail and cite references.

3) Word processor (MS Word, Google docs, etc) – hard to organize and cross reference.

4) Notepad – can’t paste in images, same problem as #3.

5) Microsoft OneNote – works great when I have my laptop with me, which is about 80% of the time. Those other 20% I am S.O.L. Not that easy to share data with others that don’t have OneNote and want to edit the records.

As you can see I am always on the lookout for software that can help me keep better notes, and I don’t need a full blown content/process management system. Recently I came across Forensic CaseNotes while doing some research for a security evaluation I was prepping for.

This free software is provided by QCC Information Security and is described as:

“The purpose of CaseNotes is to provide a single lightweight application program to run on the Microsoft Windows platform to allow forensic analysts and examiners of any discipline to securely record their contemporaneous notes electronically.”

Well, I need to securely record my notes electronically (and had to look up the definition of contemporaneous), so I modified their free software to meet my needs. Take a look at the Quick Start Guide or download it your self. It’s only 1.35MB in size and requires Microsoft .Net Framework 2.0.

The main features of the program are:

  • Flexible configuration of case meta-data (case details, like the reference number, etc.)
  • Secure “write-once, read-many” style of case note data capture
  • Full audit trail of case note data entry and meta data edits in a self contained log
  • Tamper evident storage of data using internal MD5 hashes for all data entered
  • No use of heavy database technologies – all you need is the program and your case file
  • Use of AES 512bit encryption (optional) to further secure data in sensitive cases
  • Storage of configuration information in a user editable text based .ini file
  • Support for running multiple copies of CaseNotes at the same time
  • Tested and works in languages other than English (Japanese, Russian, Greek, Italian, …)
  • Supports changing time zones and any standard Windows date or time format
  • Tested on Windows XP, Server 2003 and Windows Vista. (sorry if you use a Mac)
  • It’s free! That means no dongles and no restrictions on how many copies you use!

If anyone else out there has better ways of documenting IT processes and troubleshooting, I’d love to here about it.

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