The Sleuth Kit Informer

Brian Carrier

Issue #2
March 15, 2003



The second issue of the Sleuth Kit Informer covers the details of case management in the 1.70 version of Autopsy. The case management has been improved to support investigations involving multiple hosts from multiple time zones. The article covers all details of the directories, configuration files, and logging.

The second article in this issue examines how to break a full disk image into partitions. This will be the first in a series that examines how to extract data from full disk images. This article covers DOS/Intel partitions that are common with Windows and Linux systems.

As always, feedback and suggestions are encouraged (carrier at

What's New?

TASK was recently mentioned in two articles:

SANS expanded its forensic track to six-days, with one day for The Sleuth Kit, TCT, and Autopsy. The six-day version was presented for the first time last week in San Diego:

Autopsy 1.70 Case Management

Previous Case Management

Prior to version 1.70, there was little notion of Case Management in Autopsy. Autopsy used a 'morgue' directory, which contained all file system images and output files that Autopsy created over the course of an investigation.

This design had several limitations. First, all configuration was done by hand and a text editor. Second, the use of one directory for multiple purposes made if difficult to impose strict file access permissions. Lastly, the location and investigator were specified at compile time, which made it difficult to manage multiple cases at once.

Current Case Management Overview

The Case Management in Autopsy 1.70 was designed to handle large and global investigations with multiple systems in multiple time zones. All management is done using a graphical interface and directories have been organized so that strict permissions can be applied. There are also several types of logging and auditing being performed.

The management organization uses directories and ASCII text files. It was designed to make it easy to archive cases and provide consistency. It uses an open and generic design so that any tool can take advantage of the suspect data.

When Autopsy is installed, an Evidence Locker is identified. This directory will contain the files that Autopsy reads and writes and therefore should be in a partition with lots of disk space. The location can also be specified at run time with the '-d' flag.

Each investigation starts with an case. The case includes information such as its name, a short description and a list of investigators that will be involved with the analysis.

To handle a multiple system incident, each case can contain one or more hosts. Each host corresponds to a system whose data is being used in the analysis and each can have its own time zone and clock skew. The clock skew value is used when a host did not use NTP and the system clock was fast or slow. Autopsy will adjust the times accordingly so that it is easy to correlate events. Each host can also have a 'known good' and a 'known bad' hash database, which makes it easy to use databases that are specific to a given host or operating system.

Each host can have multiple images. Each image corresponds to a file system on the suspect system. A Windows system with only a 'C:\' drive will have one image, whereas a Solaris system with five slices will have five images. Each image has a mounting point that is used for cosmetic purposes only.

Evidence Locker Details

The Evidence Locker contains the investigation details. It is similar to the morgue directory in previous versions, but it has more structure. All cases have a subdirectory in the Evidence Locker and the Autopsy log shows when Autopsy was started.

Users that can create cases will need write permissions for the Evidence Locker. All other users only need read and execute permissions. All users will need write permissions for the Autopsy log, autopsy.log, but do not necessarily need read permissions for it.

Case Details

Each case is given a directory in the Evidence Locker. The name of the directory corresponds with the name of the case. To rename a case, simply rename the directory.

     # mv case-old case-new

The case.aut file is the case configuration file. It contains the date that the case was created on and directory names that are reserved for future use. This file must exist for all cases. The case.log file is the audit log for the case and its contents are discussed in the Logging Details section.

The investigators.txt file contains a list of the investigators that are working on this case. These names are used for logging only and not authentication. To restrict access, Unix groups should be used. After all, if the permissions on the analysis stations allows the user to write to the file system images, the user can always bypass any authentication that Autopsy requires. The investigators.txt file contains an investigators name on each line. If no investigators were specified when the case was created, then this file will not exist. To add or remove users, simply edit this file by hand.

To delete the case, simply delete the directory (using 'rm -rf CASE'). To archive the case, the 'tar' command can be used (where CASE is replaced by the actual case name):

     # tar cf CASE.tar CASE
     # gzip CASE.tar

Users that need to add hosts to the case will need write permissions for the case directory. All other users just need read and execute permissions. All users need write permissions for the case log, but do not need read permissions. All users will need read permissions for the configuration file, but do not need write permissions.

Host Details

Each host is given a directory in the case directory. The host name is the same as the directory name. Therefore, to rename the host after it has been created, simply rename the directory.

     # mv host-old host-new

The host directory contains five directories:

The images and output directories can each have an md5.txt file. This file contains MD5 values for the files in the directory so that the image integrity can be verified during the investigation.

The host configuration file, host.aut, is located in the host directory. It contains entries for the files used by the host and the time zone information. The first column of each line specifies the configuration type. The following are valid configuration types:

Type: desc
Description: Description of the host
Arguments: The description string
Example: desc The DNS server from the New York data center
Type: image
Description: File system images
Arguments: Path to file system image, file system type, and mounting point
Example: image images/part1.dd ntfs C:
Type: dls
Description: Unallocated data from file system images
Arguments: Path to 'dls' image and path to original file system image
Example: dls output/part1.dls images/part1.dd
Type: strings
Description: Strings file of file system or dls images
Arguments: Path to strings file and path to original image
Example: strings output/part1.str images/part1.dd
Type: body
Description: Body files used when making timelines
Arguments: Path to body file
Example: body output/body
Type: timeline
Description: Timeline files of activity
Arguments: Path to timeline file
Example: timeline output/timeline.march15
Type: timezone
Description: The time zone that the suspect system is from
Arguments: Time zone variable (legal TZ values)
Example: timezone EST5EDT
Type: timeskew
Description: The clock skew of the suspect system in seconds
Arguments: Positive or negative integer
Example: timeskew -24
Type: alert_db
Description: The 'known bad' hash database
Arguments: Path to database
Example: alert_db /usr/local/forensics/database/linux-rootkits.md5
Type: exclude_db
Description: The 'known good' hash database
Arguments: Path to database
Example: alert_db /usr/local/forensics/database/redhat-8.0.md5

After the images have been added to the host, users do not need write permissions to the images directory. All users will likely need write permissions to the output directory though. All users need read, write, and execute permissions for the logs directory and each user needs write and read permissions for their specific log and notes file. All users will need write permissions to the general host log. All users will need read and write permissions to the host configuration file.

Image Details

Each image must be located in the images directory of the host directory. Either the actual image must be located there or a symbolic link to the image. As was previously seen, the details of the image, such as mounting point and file system type are saved in the host configuration file, host.aut. When the image file is analyzed, all output data is saved in the output directory. Therefore, the images directory can have read-only permissions after all images are added to it.

Logging Details

The Evidence Locker directory contains a log, autopsy.log, with entries for each time Autopsy is started and stopped. This log identifies when Autopsy was started, on what port, and to which host.

Case logs are stored in the case directory with the name case.log. The log contains an entry for when the case is created, when it is opened and when hosts in the case are opened. Other actions are saved in the host log files.

There are two types of host log files. Both are saved in the logs directory of the host. The host.log file is the generic host log file and has entries for when the host is opened and for when images are opened. The logs directory also contains a log file for each investigator. The log file is named with the investigator name and a .log extension. It contains entries for all actions done by the specific user, such as which directories are listed and what files are viewed. Any notes that are created by the investigator are saved in a text file in the logs directory. The file is named with the investigator name and a .notes extension.

The following table shows which logs record a given high-level action.

Autopsy starting Evidence Locker Log
Case creation Case Log
Case opening Case Log
Host creation Case Log, Host Log
Host opening Case Log, Host Log, Investigator Log
Image creation Host Log
Image opening Host Log, Investigator Log
Directory listing Investigator Log
File viewing Investigator Log
Meta Data viewing Investigator Log
Data Unit viewing Investigator Log
Keyword search Investigator Log
File Type sorting Investigator Log
Timeline creation Investigator Log
Notes creation Investigator Log, Investigator Notes


Autopsy 1.70 has case management integrated into its design. The case management has been designed to make it easy for investigators to use other tools and view the configuration using standard text editing tools. Future versions of Autopsy will integrate archival and modification abilities from the graphical interface.



Splitting The Disk - Part 1


The Sleuth Kit currently requires a raw partition image as input. Support for a raw disk image has been on the todo list for a while, but has not been implemented. As the full disk is typically imaged during acquisition for simplicity and to ensure that all data is copied, many investigators are faced with the problem of breaking the full disk into partitions.

This section will be the first in a series that uses Linux to extract partitions from a full disk. This issue will cover the extraction of DOS/Intel partitions and future issues will cover the extraction of slices from BSD disk labels (FreeBSD and OpenBSD) and Solaris Virtual Table of Contents.


DOS/Intel partitions are used in Windows and Linux systems and are described in a partition table. The master table is located in the first sector of the disk and it has four entries. The first sector of the disk is typically called the Master Boot Record.

There are three major-types of partitions: primary, secondary, and extended. Primary and secondary partitions contain file systems and are the ones that we will extract. Extended partitions are used to overcome the limitations of only having four entries in the master partition table. An extended partition can be imagined as a virtual disk because it has a secondary partition table and its own partitions. Inside the boudaries of an extended partition can be a secondary partition (which contains a file system) and another extended partition. Extended partitions typically consume the remainder of the disk when the partition table is full and its partition table is then used to describe additional partitions.

For example, we have a 3 GB disk drive and want to make six 500 MB partitions. The first three entries in the master partition table will each describe a 500 MB primary partition. The fourth master partition table entry will be for an extended partition that consumes the remaining 1.5 GB of the disk. Inside the 1.5GB extended partition will be a partition table with an entry for a 500 MB secondary partition and an entry for a 1 GB extended partition. The 1GB extended partition will contain a partition table with an entry for a 500 MB secondary partition and an entry for a 500 MB extended partition. The 500 MB extended partition will have a partition table that contains an entry for the final secondary partition.

Extracting Partitions

The 'fdisk' command will list all of the partitions on a disk (including some extended ones). The '-l' flag forces it to list the details and the '-u' flag forces it to output in sectors. 'fdisk' will typically default to these flags when run on a disk image created by 'dd', but it doesn't hurt to specify them.

# fdisk -lu disk1.dd
Disk disk1.dd: 0 heads, 0 sectors, 0 cylinders
Units = sectors of 1 * 512 bytes
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
disk1.dd1 * 63 16064999 8032468+ 83 Linux
disk1.dd2 16065000 32129999 8032500 7 NTFS
disk1.dd3 32130000 40162499 4016250 83 Linux
disk1.dd4 40162500 58621184 9229342+ 5 Extended
disk1.dd5 40162563 48194999 4016218+ 83 Linux
disk1.dd6 48195063 58621184 5213061 83 Linux

We see that this example has five file systems and an extended partition. You may notice though that there should be a second extended partition that contains the last partition. It is there, but 'fdisk' does not report it. Notice that there are 63 unused sectors between the end of disk1.dd5 and start of disk1.dd6. That is where the extended partition table is.

To extract the partitions, 'dd' will be used. The 'skip' flag will specify the starting sector and the 'count' flag will specify the size of each partition. The starting sector is given in the 'fdisk' output. We'll have to do a little math to get the size value though. The 'fdisk' output gives the starting and ending sectors, so we have to subtract them and add one. For example, the first partition has the following size:

     16064999 - 63 + 1 = 16064937

To extract the above partitions, the following are used:

     # dd if=disk1.dd of=part1.dd bs=512 skip=63 count=16064937
     # dd if=disk1.dd of=part2.dd bs=512 skip=16065000 count=16065000
     # dd if=disk1.dd of=part3.dd bs=512 skip=32130000 count=8032500
     # dd if=disk1.dd of=part4.dd bs=512 skip=40162563 count=8032437
     # dd if=disk1.dd of=part5.dd bs=512 skip=48195063 count=10426122

Remember to skip the extended partitions and to calculate the MD5 value for each partition.

     # md5sum part?.dd | tee part.md5
     MD5 (part1.dd) = 356317f7369e9d831e6925622e0779cd
     MD5 (part2.dd) = c4a6761b486de3c6abf7cf2c554289e5
     MD5 (part3.dd) = c7d67b58552a754a1165d8870d2b0aaf
     MD5 (part4.dd) = fb129325adad04ea02c4ba544c2b2f39
     MD5 (part5.dd) = b40170b5b8ec196c1c22739ce259dde3

In Linux, an alternative to extracting each partition is to create a loopback device for each. The 'losetup' tool allows one to create a device that can be read like a normal file. In this case, we will supply a byte offset so that when the beginning of the device is read, the data is really coming from the middle of the disk image where the partition starts.

The '-o' flag to 'losetup' is used to specify the byte offset. Since the offset is in bytes and not sectors, we will have to multiply the 'fdisk' start location by 512. For example, the offset for the first partition is:

     63 * 512 = 32256 The first step is to identify if the loopback device is being used. The loopback devices are named /dev/loopX, where X is replaced by a number:

     # losetup /dev/loop0

The next step is to configure the devices for each partition:

     # losetup -o 32256 /dev/loop0 disk1.dd
     # losetup -o 8225280000 /dev/loop1 disk1.dd

This is clearly faster to setup and requires less disk space, but there is a downside. The device will read data from the disk image until there is no more. For example, if you were to read the device for the first partition, then you would receive all of the data for the first partition, the second, and the third. Therefore, you cannot restrict a 'grep' keyword search to just one partition using 'losetup'.

Future versions of The Sleuth Kit will have tools to list the partition details from non-Linux systems and file system tools that can take a disk image as input. Future editions of The Sleuth Kit Informer will have steps for dealing with Solaris and BSD disk labels.

[Ed: The January 15, 2004 issue ( #12 ) of The Sleuth Kit Informer expands on this article by showing how to use the 'mmls' tool that now comes with The Sleuth Kit.]

Copyright © 2003 by Brian Carrier. All Rights Reserved