We saw in Chapter 1, "Digital Investigation Foundations," that the first phase of a digital investigation is the preservation of the digital crime scene. A technique that is commonly used in the preservation of a system is to make duplicate copies of the hard disks so that they can be brought to a lab for a dead analysis. We can think of this phase the way we would think of the process of making an exact replica of a building where a physical crime occurred so that investigators can search it for evidence in a lab.

General Acquisition Procedure

The general, and intuitive, procedure for acquiring a storage device is to copy one byte from the original storage device (the source) to a destination storage device and repeat the process. This is analogous to copying a document by hand and reading a letter, punctuation mark, or space from the original and writing it to the duplicate. While this works, most of us do not copy documents this way because we can remember entire words, and it is more efficient to transfer one or more words at a time. Computers do the same thing and copy data from the suspect systems in chunks of data, ranging from 512 bytes to many thousands of bytes.

The chunks of data that are transferred each time are typically a multiple of 512 bytes, because that is the size of most disk sectors. If the acquisition tool encounters an error while reading data from the suspect drive, many of the tools will write zeros to the destination.

Data Acquisition Layers

The general theory of non-volatile data acquisition is to save every byte that we think may contain evidence. We saw in Chapter 1 that data can be interpreted at different layers; for example, the disk, volume, file, and application layers. At each layer of abstraction, data are lost. Therefore, the rule of thumb is to acquire data at the lowest layer that we think there will be evidence. For most cases, an investigator will acquire every sector of a disk, which is what we cover in this chapter. Note that when we save only the contents of each sector, we lose data that data recovery specialists may need.

To show why we typically acquire at the disk level, we will consider some scenarios. Suppose that we acquired a disk at the volume level and we made a copy of every sector in each partition. This would allow us to recover deleted files in each partition, but we would not be able to analyze the sectors that are not allocated to partitions. As we will see in Chapter 5, "PC-based Partitions," a disk that has DOS partitions may not use sectors 1 to 62, and they could contain hidden data. If we acquired at the volume level, the hidden data would be lost.

Suppose that we used a backup utility and copied only allocated files. In this case, we would not be able to recover deleted files, we might not have access to all the temporal data, and we would not be able to find data that has been hidden inside partition or file system data structures. Sometimes a backup is the only available data, and the investigator needs to make the most of it. A scenario where a backup would be critical is in a corporate environment where a server is not responding because its disks were wiped with 0s and then rebooted. The last backups of the system might provide clues about who had access to the system and whether an attacker had compromised it.

For some systems, our rule of thumb about acquiring at the level where we think there will be evidence means that we need to copy only files. Consider an intrusion investigation where there is an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) that contains log entries corresponding to the attack. If we do not think that the IDS was compromised, the only evidence on the system is at the file level, and we can simply copy the necessary logs and take the appropriate preservation steps. If we think that the IDS was compromised, we should acquire it at the disk level so that we can analyze all the data.

Acquisition Tool Testing

Acquisition is a crucial part of the investigation process, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has conducted tests on common acquisition tools. The Computer Forensic Tool Testing (CFTT) project at NIST developed requirements and test cases for disk-imaging tools. The results and specifications can be found on their Web site (

Part I: Foundations

Digital Investigation Foundations

Computer Foundations

Hard Disk Data Acquisition

Part II: Volume Analysis

Volume Analysis

PC-based Partitions

Server-based Partitions

Multiple Disk Volumes

Part III: File System Analysis

File System Analysis

FAT Concepts and Analysis

FAT Data Structures

NTFS Concepts

NTFS Analysis

NTFS Data Structures

Ext2 and Ext3 Concepts and Analysis

Ext2 and Ext3 Data Structures

UFS1 and UFS2 Concepts and Analysis

UFS1 and UFS2 Data Structures




File System Forensic Analysis
File System Forensic Analysis
ISBN: 0321268172
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 184
Authors: Brian Carrier © 2008-2020.
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