Data Is Not As “Deleted” As You Think
Here at The Leahy Center for Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity, the Data Recovery team has been hard at work searching through hard drives. These drives have been wiped using different methods in order to find any Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, that can be tied back to an individual.
At this point, ten out of the twenty eight drives purchased have been fully analyzed for the purposes of recovering data. Three drives, numbered 7, 9, and 10, all contained PII data. Drive 7 used the wiping method of DBAN, which stands for Darik’s Boot and Nuke, and is a free Linux utility. Drives 9 and 10 use the Xerase method, put forth by EPS. Both of these utilities claim to offer “secure absolute destruction”, yet how secure can they be if a team of analysts is able to recover data using tools that are freely available to the public?
The Recovery Process
For this project, we are using four “freeware” tools to recover data. These tools are SluethKit’s Autopsy, FTK Imager, Bulk Extractor, and Eric Zimmerman’s “bstrings” utility for Windows. Every drive that was purchased was run through all of these tools, not only to ensure visibility of data, but to determine if one tool has superior discovery abilities for deleted data. The tools are relatively simple to begin using, but require a bit of technical knowledge to become comfortable with. We have built a beginner-friendly user guide for how to start all four tools for acquisitions of data, which can be seen below.
- Open Autopsy.
- Fill out the stating form as needed.
- Select “Add Data Source” –> “Unallocated Space Image File”.
- Select the first piece of the drive.
Wait for the image to finish scanning. This will take a while.
- Open the command line in the folder in which you extracted bstrings.
- Type out the command to run it on a folder recursively to search an entire drive at once.
- Example: bstrings.exe -d Disk Location > File Where Data Found Is Saved\bstrings.txt
- Adjust the conventions to match the image that you are working on.
- Point Bulk Extractor to the desired image
- Ex: HDD02.001, and a directory where you would like the output to go.
- Turn on all scanners by checking all of their boxes
- Press the ‘start bulk_extractor’ button to being the scan
- Upload disk image from the F:\Drive into FTK Imager v22.214.171.124.
- On the left hand side, click on the location i.e HD1, then select the file path (it will be the only option in the evidence tree).
- Upon clicking, there will be a file list in the middle column, and a column full of text and UNICODE on the far right. This is where all of the data is.
- Since there is no file system, the program pulls data haphazardly.
- In FTK Imager, you can use “Ctrl + F” to search from strings, but be wary of what language you are searching in.
- Select the “wrap” option as well, to ensure that if a string crosses more than one line, it will be recorded in the results.
Which Data Recovery Tools Reign Supreme?
At the current point in the project, Autopsy is proving to be the most effective tool for data recovery. Autopsy has a very user friendly interface. This provides ease of access and lower frustrations when dealing with drives that have been wiped. Also, Autopsy is very thorough in the way that it searches, parsing through nearly every single file, and every bit of unallocated space. FTK Imager is a very good tool as well, yet does not have a very easy interface to work with. This is not what would be known as a “deal breaker”, but plays into our analysis as we spend a lot of time analyzing these drives, so ease of access is a crucial part. Bulk Extractor is a utility that runs off of command line, but has a GUI—or Graphical User Interface—to facilitate the process for those who are not comfortable with command line utilities. This tool runs the drive analysis as raw data, and finds everything that is on the drive, which is very helpful for data recovery.
The last tool we have used is bstrings by Eric Zimmerman. Bstrings is a command line utility that only runs as such, making it a bit more difficult than the other tools to be comfortable with. It is ridiculously thorough, as it pulls anything and everything off of the drive that’s considered a string. However, due to CPU constraints, this tool does take the longest to fully finish, often over 24 hours.
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