All posts by Heather Mahalik

“Life Has no ctrl+Alt+Del” – The New DFIR online Meetup

A DFIR Meetup

Most important – Sign up here:

Working from home, social-distancing, travel restrictions, and homeschooling all related to COVID-19 have changed our lives. The new normal is not always fun, to be honest. This is why “Life Has No Ctrl+Alt+Del” was created. I wanted a forum where we could casually get together, but also include a way for us to stay engaged.

This is an online meetup/show that happens several days a week to enable you to listen, see and share with others in this community. It is not a formal presentation, sales pitch or place to bore you. It’s an open forum where anyone is welcome to speak! This meetup is supported by Cellebrite, but it’s not a Cellebrite centric event – it’s a DFIR event. Curious, join for at least one!

Name: Life Has No Ctrl+Alt+Del

Link to register:

When: March 30th week – every weekday; after that M, W, F weekly

Host: Heather Mahalik (may have subs, if needed)

Guest Stars: Announced Weekly – Each star will decide if they want it to be recorded – all recordings will be shared!

Hashtag: #DFIRatHome

When you think of this show, I want you to imagine having lunch with friends when a cool conversation spikes. It’s literally that relaxed! I hope to see you on the show soon.

Twitter: @heathermahalik

Twitter: @Cellebrite_UFED

2020 Forensic 4Cast Nominations are open!

I have been meaning to get this out for a bit, so here it is. Something has been keeping me busy – you know kids, work, SANS and being all in the same place together 24 hours a day. 🙂

The forensic 4Cast awards by Lee Whitfield have really become quite a “thing” for many. It’s such a great idea and Lee, well done. You , my friend, give people and companies some to strive toward and I love it.

To nominate- click here:

Let’s get right to it. Opinions are my own and for that if you do not like them, no need to worry. Everyone has their own opinions and some simply want recommendations. Do I work for a vendor – yes. Do I sell training via SANS – yes. Do I have my own brain – YES!

I give a brief snippet for some, but not all. If you want to know who I really nominated, ask me. 🙂

DFIR Commercial Tool of the Year

  1. UFED Ultimate
  2. Elcomsoft Cloud Tools
  3. Oxygen Forensic Detective
  4. Magnet AXIOM

DFIR Non-commercial Tool of the Year

  1. iLEAPP
  2. KAPE
  3. Sysdiagnose scripts – Mattia Epifani, Adrian Leong, Heather Mahalik

DFIR Show of the Year

  1. DFIR Summit – Austin, TX
  2. Techno Security
  3. DFRWS

DFIR Blog of the Year


DFIR Article of the Year

  1. – shameless plug, but I put a lot of time and research into this right when it was released. 🙂

DFIR Social Media Contributor of the Year

  1. Heather Mahalik
  2. Alexis Brignoni
  3. Sarah Edwards

DFIR Degree Program or Training Class of the Year

  1. Cellebrite CCO/CCPA
  2. SANS FOR585
  3. SANS FOR498

DFIR Groundbreaking Research of the Year

  1. Cellebrite – checkra1n jailbreak development
  2. Sysdiagnose research – Mattia Epifani, Adrian Leong, Heather Mahalik
  3. Axi0mX – checkm8 –  need I say more?

DFIR Newcomer of the Year

  1. Geraldine Blay – She lives for DFIR, tests for everyone and is starting to blog
  2. Josh Hickman – Blogging, providing public images and staying on top of forensics

DFIR Mentor of the Year

  1. Alexis Brignoni – community contributions and work
  2. Scott Lorenz – EDL support and guidance

DFIR Resource of the Year

  1. Cellebrite Ask The Expert (Tip Tues, ATE series) – Provides snippets of information to make you smarter each week.
  2. Heather Mahalik – Cellebrite 😉 – Yes I am laughing, but again with the busting my butt thing to spread knowledge
  3. Digital Forensics Discord- A. Rathbun created this and it rocks

DFIR Team of the Year

  1. Cellebrite – I love my teammates. My SANS teammates wonder who I love more.
  2. SANS – See item 1
  3. Magnet – I have tons of friends at Magnet and they have good morale

Digital Forensic Investigator of the Year

  1. Mattia Epifani – He researches, blogs, teaches and PRODUCES! This man never sleeps.
  2. Shafik Punja – Continuous support to detecting and reporting bugs to vendors to make DF better for everyone.
  3. Ian Wiffin – Thinking outside of the box and developing tools to fill the gaps that commercial tools have yet to address.

So, some shameless plugs in there, but why not – my opinions right? Some categories were harder than others to pick just one, but you have to go with your guy. You will notice that I didn’t nominate Eric Zimmerman (my good friend) for Investigator of the Year. He is the Meryl Streep of the 4Cast! Time for the Hall of Fame Eric. 😉

Nominate now –

iOS 13 – Summary for those of you who enjoy the cliffsnotes

For those of you who don’t have time to read, here is a mini summary for you.

First – If the backup is NOT encrypted you will not get:

  • Maps
  • Calls
  • Safari
  • Health
  • Keychain
  • Wallet

Apple has upped their game on protection it seems, so you need to encrypt to extract. I used iTunes in my full blog and just testing PA 7.24 Method 1 with encryption and Method 2 is in progress. Worked like a charm and I got what I expected. You lock it up, or you don’t get much. Bottom line. Jessica Hyde wrote a post on protecting yourself from an accidental sync if using iTunes to create a backup: If you are using PA, you are protected from this.

While you are going to be forced to read the long blog for the juicy details, here are the file paths you need to be aware of for iOS 13:

  • Contacts /var/mobile/Library/AddressBook/AddressBookImages.sqlitedb
  • Calls /var/mobile/Library/CallHistoryDB/CallHistory.storedata
  • SMS /var/mobile/Library/SMS/sms.db
  • Maps /var/mobile/Applications/
  • Safari /var/mobile/Library/Safari/History.db
  • Photos Database /var/mobile/Media/PhotoData/Photos.sqlite

The biggest change other than encryption seems to be the use of protobufs, which Sarah Edwards is working on a blog to discuss, settings and how that may determine what is saved to device vs. cloud, Safari artifact storage, and encryption. Please read the full blog for all of the good details and stay tuned for my iOS series, webinars, etc.

Stay tuned for the release of PA 7.24 next week and also for #TipTues on Twitter where I will provide something useful, I hope. 😉

…Won’t you back that thing up: a glimpse of ios 13 artifacts

Don’t lie – the song is already in your head. And if not, maybe it will be by the end. If you know me, titles/taglines, whatever you want to call them, are not my thing. But since testing iOS 13, I feel like I have backed that thing up a billion times! I dump, I examine and then realize something so I then add/delete that “thing” and repeat. Hence the name of this blog!

First things first, Apple didn’t appear to mess with us too much with this update with a few exceptions. First, encryption is everything! Some artifacts moved, while others are back again (pending settings on the device) , some can be controlled by the user and some just stayed the same. For the artifacts that moved – this is where you need to TEST YOUR TOOLS! Do not trust a blog post from a vendor (even one from me) – TRY IT FOR YOURSELF. Testing and validation is so important. There are so many bugs in tool releases and even false claims of support. Try it and then rely on it.

At the time of writing this, Physical Analyzer Method 1 and Method 2 were not supporting iOS 13. A little birdie tells me it will be released next week and I may have seen the beta. For the tools that did acquire, iTunes was used. When this is the case, I just use iTunes so I can control the environment. I like to encrypt my backups because I want Health, Keychain, Safari, Calls, Maps and Wallet, but I did conduct an unencrypted one for comparison and for parsing in one tool that will be discussed in a bit. Did you notice I said Safari, Maps, and Calls in an encrypted backup – yep – stay tuned.

And then I did it again with 13.1 because I didn’t get my blog out fast enough. 🙁 So this blog really covers both, not that I expected major changes in a tiny update.

The backup content looks similar to iOS 12. The major difference was the name of the backup, which is shown below. The top backup is from iOS 13 and the bottom from iOS 12, but the hardware is different.

Bottom line – until I test the full release of Method 1 and Method 2 in PA and fairly compare it, I recommend doing an encrypted iTunes backup and here is why.

Artifact Locations – The good stuff

For this post, I tested my usual suspects of artifacts. The ones that every device should have. Contacts, Call Logs, SMS, iMessage, Maps, Photos, and Safari. Here is what I found:

Artifacts with no path changes or anything drastic:

  • Contacts/var/mobile/Library/AddressBook/AddressBookImages.sqlitedb
  • SMS/iMessage/var/mobile/Library/SMS/sms.db

My buddy Jared, who also enjoys 90s hiphop pointed out something cool to me. Look at the message below. For anyone working distracted driving cases, this could be amazing for you. Look how the messages were sent! I’m in a rush to get this out, so I hope something like this will be a quick #TipTuesday on where it exists in the sms.db. Thanks Jared!

  • Photos/var/mobile/Media/PhotoData/Photos.sqlite (nothing major about the graphics jumped out upon initial review.

I have been asked so many questions about photos.sqlite lately that it will also be a blog of its own. There is so much goodness contained there! I plan to do another blog on deleted artifacts and how to recover, if possible, so watch out for that. For fun – this is a screenshot I took today to share with Paul all for the fun of testing. You never know what I may share, right Sarah? 😉 Honestly, if you cannot make fun of yourself – you need to relax.

Artifacts with minor changes:

  • Calls/var/mobile/Library/CallHistoryDB/CallHistory.storedata

 For Calls, the data remains the same, but you need an encrypted backup to get the data. Additionally, one file was added –CallHistoryTemp.Storedata. Mine had nothing of interest, but keep an eye on this bugger. It was put there for a reason, I just don’t know the exact one yet. I initially thought that AXIOM missed the calls, but realized I gave AXIOM and unencrypted backup so it could handle the file system view.

 It is worth noting that I deleted a call and could not find it in the free pages of CallHistory.storedata. I tried Physical Analyzer, Oxygen (the trash can feature), BlackLight, AXIOM, Forensic Browser for SQLite (Paul Sanderson) and Mari’ Degrazia’s awesome script And guess what – I didn’t find the call. So more on that in another blog. I bet it’s in the cloud… 

  • Health – (yes, I snuck this one in here because it is so valuable) /private/var/mobile/Health – examine the healthdb.sqlite and healthdb_secure.sqlite databases and take note of the new ones. I will write a complete Health blog soon. The tools may not be parsing everything, so refer to the presentation Sarah Edwards and I gave a few years ago:

I do have to call out Oxygen Jet Engine here, who did a nice job on Health. Well done on connecting the device, OS version and locations. See a snippet below. More on this in my Health blog, where I plan to include Android health as well.

Apple switched the path up again – READ this part:

  • Safari/var/mobile/Library/Safari/History.db

IMPORTANT – the history.db is NO LONGER in! See below. Here we have a visual of what is included in mobilesafari for an encrypted backup. The history.db. is no longer here. (NOTE: I would  examine all of these databases for relevant info. Mine didn’t have much, but I prefer Chrome.)

Take note here – at the time of testing, not all tools parsed Safari history! I assume they thought the database would remain in mobilesafari and guess what – that no longer exists. We are back to good ‘ole history.db in it’s first home in the Safari directory. Physical Analyzer, BlackLight and AXIOM parsed all of the searches I conducted in iOS 12 and 13 if an encrypted backup was obtained. NOTE – you will not get safari history in unencrypted backups anymore. You will simply get bookmarks and the dummy login for Safari, as shown below.

Additionally, it appears that Safari has moved all of the history data, which is uncommon. This history included much more data than that of iOS 13 and what is show below is history from May 2019 to present. 🙂 Makes it easier on us. Thank you Paul for sharing yours – again, I use Chrome. 

For the tools that didn’t parse Safari history, the database was there and the searches were as well. So they just need to catch up. I will explain which tools missed the artifacts at the end of this blog.

Something else worth noting is that it seems like Safari wants you to go into Private Browsing when you launch it. If this happens, you won’t find anything in history.db. Verify the setting on the iPhone. The user may not even realize it’s happening, which is what occurred while Paul and I were conducting our testing over the past few days. Screenshot of what this looks like for the user is below. Note, once Private is exited, all history is capture in an encrypted backup or Method 1 in PA.

In summary – for Safari, you MUST have an encrypted backup or an encrypted Method 1 from Physical Analyzer. I know this because we tested the beta of PA 7.24 and it works like a charm.  If it’s not encrypted by iTunes or the tool – you will not gain access to  Safari/history.db.  If the user last used Private browsing and did not close Safari, chances are good you will also get nothing. If you want to find Private Browsing traces – sign up for FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensic Analysis In-Depth and we will teach you.  

It’s back – well, depending on your settings!

  • Maps/var/mobile/Applications/  – older searches – pre iOS 11 and /var/mobile/Applications/ – iOS 11 and newer searches

I have spent years on Apple Maps. Literally years… While it’s back, only some tools only parsed history.mapsdata! Again, make sure you use a tool that will parse both history.mapsdata and Geohistory.mapsdata. Verify the source of the data for everything parsed as your first clue. This is super important to ensure you aren’t missing information. Vendors – again, make sure you are doing this correctly. I found major gaps. This is what it looks like when the tool does it’s job.

You should also be able to manually examine the Geohistory.mapsdata file for confirmation.

If you see nothing at all for Maps, the user probably enabled the cloud setting for Maps, which seems to skip saving anything to the phone other than the which stores the last search in Apple Maps and can be found here: /var/mobile/Applications/ If that isn’t the case, you need to choose a tool you know properly parses Apple Maps.

Here is what the setting looks like that may keep Maps from being saved to the device. I have Maps turned off for iCloud, so the data was saved to Geohistory.mapsdata on my iPhone. On Paul’s device, his was turned on and he didn’t have a Geohistory.mapsdata. The settings seem to control what we can extract. You need to pull iCloud information to extract this and Elcomsoft does a fantastic job.


Tool Support

I’m not hiding, I swear!

If you are wondering where I have been, the answer is easy – busy! But I haven’t been ignoring you. Since joining Cellebrite, I have been working on sharing my research through their channels. To be honest, between that and SANS, I haven’t had time to blog on my own. So, here is just my promise to you – I will have another blog on here soon. Most likely on mobile acquisition techniques and iOS 13. I need to update some of the older posts anyway.

If you have missed my work, check out the following new stuff:

Cellebrite Webinar – Mastering the Mobile Device Challenges in eDiscovery – Do not let the term eDiscovery sway you from listenting to this. Here, I provided a preview of Physical Analyzer 7.23 as well as hints on what is coming in new releases. Learn about redaction, advanced searches and Legalview.

CellebriteWebinar – – Fantastic Android Encryptions and How to Defeat Them – ‘nuf said 😉

Cellebrite Blog

Cellebrite Blog

DFIR Summit Presenation – Sarah Edwards and I researched and presented artifacts relating to iOS CarPlay and Android Auto.

Coming soon:

Cellebrite Connect events – San Fran and Chicago –

SANS – FOR585 – updated cheat sheets – waiting on iOS 13 to officially be released – Keep your eye out alumni!

Podcast – Cyber Security Interviews with Doug Brush – (not yet published) – A video series with methods, tricks and just concepts you should know for investigations. I plan to blog for each one of these.

OSDFCON – iOS Sysdiagnose Bugs – Speaking with Mattia Epifani

ICAC NW – Speaking on Smartphones: How to Reach the Summit When You Have a Mountain of Data

DFIRCON 2019 – Teaching FOR585, Running DFIR Netwars with Eric Zimmerman and doing an @Night on A Wild Goose Chase: Hunting For Hard to Find Smartphone Apps and Malware

Published articles – I will tweet about them

A new podcast… just wait for it! I am better at talking when I think of something vs taking the time to write it all down. This is going to be fun!

As always, I will be teaching FOR585 around the world so look out for me. to see where not only me, but the team of instructors who support this are also teaching. We hope to see you there.

How was an iPhone setup?

I’ve realized just how important it is to blog vs just do a webcast when I was completing my course updates. I would stumble upon a webcast, but didn’t have time to watch it, so I looked in another direction. This made me realize that I should write down everything I put into a webcast. Will a webcast hold up in course? Do you have time to watch all of them? Seriously, I am curious about the impact so please let me know.

In 2019 – I am going to write down what I talk about in webcasts. If I have the time, I may try to blog about my speaking events as well (think Keynotes and SANS @Nights). Some blogs may be short and sweet, but this way when someone says, “how can I do X” I will point them to my blog. 🙂

To kick this one off, I am going to simply discuss a file that stores information on how an iOS device was setup. This is a file that I am asked about a few times a week. In many cases, it matters if the user synced from iCloud, started from scratch or restored from iTunes. So here goes!

First, you should be obtaining an encrypted backup at a minimum. If you have the ability to get a full file system dump, even better. Without encryption, I cannot guarantee that all of the files I plan to discuss in upcoming blogs will exist. Make sure your analytical tool of choice will decrypt the data. If you are trying to do this for free follow the steps below.

Creating and parsing an encrypted iOS backup for FREE:

  1. Launch iTunes on your forensic workstation. Update if necessary.
  2. Make sure you Trust the computer on the iPhone.
  3. Create an encrypted backup with a password you will remember (yep, people forget all of the time!)
  4. If you aren’t using a commercial tool or one that supports decrypting the backup, you may have to get crafty. I stumbled upon AnyTrans during my updates and it’s pretty sweet. To use this, you must know the password or crack it (refer to other blog posts in my archives.)
  5. Launch AnyTrans and it will show you if you have locked backups.

6. Select the locked backup (you know it’s locked because the option is to “unlock” it.

7. Enter the password and the backup will be unlocked! The top portion shown below is how the backup directory will look. The original backup remains and the unlocked version is called BackupUnlock. If you peek inside that directory, you will find the backup with the date it was unlocked.

8. From here, you can load the unlocked backup into iBackupBot or your tool(s) of choice (iExplorer, etc.). Note: Some commercial tools HATE this format and will not support it. The free ones seem happy enough!

Now let’s get to that file you care about. Once your backup or image is loaded into your tool, you need to locate the following file: /Library/Preferences/ I normally just search for purplebuddy.

This plist stores the SetupState of the device which will tell you how the device was setup by the user.

If the user selected to restore a backup from iCloud, the will show:

If the user setup the iPhone using iTunes, the will show:

It is worth noting that I am testing on an iOS 12.1.x device and I restored from iTunes in 2 ways to obtain these results. First, I wiped and set up via iTunes and then I also forced a restore of a backup via iTunes. I wanted to be sure the SetupState didn’t change. If you find that the user restored from iCloud, consider pulling cloud data if you are legally capable of extracting that form of evidence. Should you find the user restored from iTunes, you now have to find that host computer to do analysis on other potential backups. This is where the fun begins!

Bottom line, Apple has a ton of plists that are relevant. You need to hunt for them. Do a keyword search, dump your device (yep, use the free way I described above) and VALIDATE!!!

If you want to watch the webcast, check it out here:

CAUTION: iBACKUPBOT and iOS10+ potential issues.

Below I am attempted to do the same thing with iBackupBot, but I ran into iOS version issues.

  1. Launch iBackupBot
  2. Make sure you Trust the computer on the iPhone.
  3. Create an encrypted backup. Notice that the tool is telling you that Backup encryption is turned on? This is good.

4. Select where to save the backup image. I recommend into your case directory for the investigation.

5. The backup will be created and then you can open it in iBackupBot for analysis. Once the backup is complete, it will prompt you to open it. If you have issues, this is an iOS10 error from what I have seen. :/ At this point, revert to iTunes.

Determining when an iOS backup was created

One point of contention in the FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensic class is – which files store the correct datetime for when a user created an iOS backup?  I’ve engaged in a few friendly arguments over this topic and it recently popped up again when Lee was teaching in NYC in August. Every time this question comes up, I test it again. I have probably tested this more times than I should have, which is why I am finally putting it in writing.

So, when you are asked – “When did a user last create an iTunes or iCloud backup?” – You can answer with confidence next time.

The first thing to consider is what you are examining. Are you looking at a backup file extracted from a PC or Mac? Are you looking at an iCloud backup? Are you looking at a file system dump created by a commercial or free tool? If you are looking at a backup (iTunes or iCloud) this process is a lot easier. If you are looking at a file system dump created by a tool, this is where the confusion may set in. I hope this blog makes your examination easier by breaking down what is happening for each file. For this test, I used my own iPhone that I use every day. Why? Because I know when I backup and I can then verify dates.

The files we are going to examine for backup datetime activity include:

  • info.plist
  • status.plist
  • manifest.plist
  • device_values.plist

All of these files are important, but the dates inside of each may vary and a smartphone tool may update the date inside of the file. If you are looking at a backup that was extracted from a PC or a Mac, the status.plist will contain the start date and time for an iTunes backup.  The info.plist also stores a datetime and whether the backup was successful (snapshot state), but it is not the start date. It is often the completion datetime and doesn’t state if the backup was successful, which is why I rely on the status.plist, when the file is available. The manifest.plist is more helpful when it comes to dealing with locked backup files that need to be cracked. The date in the manifest.plist is often the same as the date in the info.plist and again this file does not track if the backup was successful or not.

Now here is the tricky part. If you completed a file system dump of an iOS device, the following files will most likely show a date that is NOT when the user created a backup. This date will be when you created the forensic image. This makes people uncomfortable, but it makes sense if you think about it. iTunes (or a process like iTunes) is most likely being used in the background to create the forensic image. It makes sense that these datetimes would be trampled. In this case, I rely on device_values.plist which remains untouched by any tool or method you use to create a forensic image of an iOS device.

At this point I have either confused you or validated what you already know. Either way, let’s take a look at my test.

I dumped my iPhone using Cellebrite Physical Analyzer Method 1. I only did Method 1 because I wanted to make sure that it pulled the device_values.plist and I was doing this test during a lab and didn’t have much time. NOTE: I have noticed in the past that this file may only be pulled using Method 2, so use both just in case. If you are wondering why I recommend both of these extraction methods refer to my previous blog posts. I completed this extraction on August 18, 2018 around 14:20 (I had a few connection issues and had to troubleshoot which is why I state “around”). I did not backup my device at this time other than using my tool to create a file system dump (aka – I did not launch iTunes and create a backup).

The info.plist is shown below. Notice the timestamp matches the extraction completion time and NOT the time the device was backed up by the user? If you used a commercial tool to acquire the device, simply look at the Extraction details to compare extraction time.

Next, I looked at status.plist. Again the date is NOT when the user backed up the device. This is when the extraction completed in Physical Analyzer.

Finally, we look at the manifest.plist. And we see the same date, but a time that occurs before the times in info.plist and status.plist.

I believe this is when Cellebrite scans the phone to determine if the tool should present you with the check box to encrypt the backup, or not, if the device is already encrypted. This is also around the time I started the extraction.  So, this is really just showing you how long the Method 1 extraction took and has absolutely nothing to do with when the user last created a backup. Now we look at the device_values.plist and we get the correct answers.

Not only do we get to see datetimes for iTunes backups, but also iCloud, if the user has ever backed up to cloud under We simply have to decode our datetime stamp for the LastiTunesBackupDate and we get June 4, 2018 at 21:32:42 Eastern Time. (Note: I normally keep it at UTC, but I know when I created my last backup in local time and wanted to compare).

So, in short the forensic extraction methods will update the datetime in status.plist, info.plist and manifest.plist during the acquisition process. If you are conducting analysis of an iOS device image (not a backup) you should rely on the datetime recovered from device_values.plist. If you are dealing with a traditional backup file, use the status.plist for the datetime on when the last successful backup was created.



Smartphone Acquisition: Adapt, Adjust and Get Smarter!

June 25, 2018

I have been recently asked by students for a summary on how to handle smartphone acquisition of iOS and Android devices. I have avoided writing it down, like I would avoid the Plague, because mobile changes so quickly and I don’t want people to read something and live by it. I wrote this on my plane ride to Vancouver, so forgive any typos or briefness in this blog.

With that said, these methods are what work for me today. Others may prefer different methods, and that is great. If we were all the same, this would be a boring community, right?

This blog contains what I do on a normal basis when it’s possible. Anyone who conducts mobile device forensics knows that everything changes so quickly and what is possible today may require modification to work tomorrow. We adapt, adjust and are smarter because of it. 🙂

What I decided to do was to focus on Android and iPhone for this blog. Most of you have your favorite vendor tools and that is great. I recommend you use more than one because not one of them is perfect. Don’t become so reliant on one method that you avoid opportunities to test other tools and that you rely so much on a single tool that cannot extract data properly. I am avoiding listing tools specifically that I prefer because I have blogged on that in the past . I am simply defining steps I take that work and you can use the tool of choice to accomplish the following. Remember, it doesn’t have to cost the most to work the best! Sometimes the free methods give you the most data.

Android Acquisition Recommendations

Android devices are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire. We have seen many devices now where basic information (photos, contacts and some calls) are retrieved. Sometimes only data that exists on the SIM is extracted. I am sure many of you have gotten the screen below and it’s disheartening! But we cannot stop trying.

This is not good enough for us to conduct our investigations. We need to get crafty! The first Android running OS 7 that I acquired shocked me. I was getting nothing from the tools! Below is an example of what I pulled – just a bunch of empty directories! Not good…

It was a scary moment for me until I realized that good old ADB was my key to the most data.  I will cut to the chase momentarily, but if you want more information on Android acquisition, I recommend you take vendor training if you rely on a tool and/or take FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensics, where we focus on analysis but recently updated the course to include the other options that may work when simple tool acquisition fails.

Things you will need:

  1. Install ADB on your forensic workstation (
  2. Your forensic tools of choice

Android Acquisition Recommended Steps:

  1. ADB Backup (capture both the device (all) and SD (shared))
    • adb backup –all
    • adb backup – shared
  2. Logical Acquisition using a forensic tool – especially if ADB isn’t going well for you
  3. File System Acquisition if more than a backup is offered
  4. Physical Dump if you are aware and don’t care about the traces left behind (i.e. you don’t give the device back and you are not conducting covert operations)
  5. Make sure you acquire the SD card and SIM card if one is present (I like to remove these and acquire separately to ensure nothing is overlooked)
  6. Obtain Google credentials if possible
  7. Extract cloud data – IF YOU HAVE AUTHORITY!
  8. I like to run some ADB commands to the device to ensure I extracted all information and that I am aware of what exists on the Android. Some examples are:
    1. adb shell service list
    2. adb shell pm list packages (shows apps that are installed)
  9. ALWAYS open the extraction to ensure you got what you hoped. If you have a physical dump, Autopsy is the fastest you will gain access to your data! And it’s free. (

Android acquisition leaves traces behind on the device. If you conduct covert operations – tread carefully here. I put these steps in order with you in mind. Don’t go too far without knowing the footprint your tools and methods are leaving behind. These topics are covered more in the FOR585 class. (

iOS Acquisition Recommendations

For iOS acquisition, it’s the same as it has been for years. Yes, there are rumors of the data port lockout. Yes, there are tools that crack into the device anyway. This blog is not focusing on that. It’s focusing on what you should try when you have an iOS device to investigate. You can choose to work on a Windows or Mac. I do both. Honestly, most of my acquisition takes place on my Windows forensic workstation, but I do have a Mac that I use to examine native files to Apple and for jailbreaking because Windows is sometimes flaky when it comes to that.

Things you will need:

  1. Install iTunes if you plan to create a backup
  2. Install iBackupBot (I prefer this tool over the other free ones because of the option to dump the crash logs) (
  3. Your forensic tools of choice

Recommended iOS Steps:

  1. Determine the iOS device type (chances are you will not obtain a physical dump because the device is most likely 64 bit and not jailbroken).
  2. Conduct a File System/Advanced Logical Extraction
    1. If using Cellebrite products, make sure you use Physical Analyzer and conduct both Method 1 and Method 2. I do not use UFED to dump iOS devices. Physical Analyzer is better.
    2. If you use Physical Analyzer and see Method 3 – congrats! You have come across a jailbroken device. 🙂
    3. If using another tool, use more than one to ensure you obtain all potential data from the device.
  3. If you want to be thorough, obtain a logical and/or backup file of the device. I typically stop at the file system dump since it contains the backup if I trust my tool (refer to my old blog or take FOR585 for more info on this topic)
  4. Connect the device to iBackup bot and dump the crash logs
  5. Ensure the tools you used did not enable iTunes encryption by connecting the device to iTunes and making sure “Encrypt Backup” is not selected.

6. Obtain iCloud and Google credentials if possible and extract cloud data – IF YOU HAVE AUTHORITY!

Also – do not guess passwords on the device and risk wiping it. Use a method that you have tested or a service that supports that device. If you are desperate and you are locked out, try the following:

For iOS:

  1. Attempt to communicate with (aka run command to) or pair to the device via libimobile

2. Attempt an iTunes backup

3. If you believe you can obtain iCloud credentials, pull the data from there – many tools support this

4. Try multiple cables

5. Only brute force on your own using a “hacker” box if you are willing to wipe the device.

For Android:

  1. Attempt to run ADB commands to the device. Try to collect as much information as possible.
  2. Remove and acquire the SD card in a write-protected manner, if one exists
    1. If not, attempt to acquire the emulated SD via FTK Imager or a similar tool as a USB Mass Storage Device
  3. Remove and acquire the SIM card
  4. Crack the lock if you can access the require files (*.key, etc.)
  5. Pull Google cloud artifacts, if possible – many tools support this
  6. Try multiple cables and modes (Recovery, Safe, Download, etc.) to see if your extraction is failing due to the device not being in the proper state
  7. If the device is unlocked – make sure you properly enabled all required developer mode settings

Again, we cover other methods and direct ways to interact with the device in FOR585 and I don’t want to, nor can I, give all of those juicy details away. This is simply a guide for things you should consider when faced with these devices. Obviously, we don’t all have time to run through all of these steps, but it’s nice to lay out what may work the best for you. If you want to learn more about smartphone forensics, sign up for FOR585 in DC next month. WARNING: The class is sold out so you can log in LIVE via Simulcast! This means you get to take the live course from anywhere and you get 6 days of action from 9-5 with me. You can ask questions via an online moderator and I will answer them LIVE! It’s not pre-recorded it is not OnDemand. It’s a pretty cool setup and I think you will like it. Check it out

First the Grinch and now the Easter Bunny! Where is Apple Maps hiding?


Why is it that I stumble upon a smartphone artifact that drives me bonkers around holidays??? I am in the midst of the FOR585 course updates and I go through everything in great detail during this time. I expect to see major changes in a full version update (aka iOS 10 to iOS 11 or Android 7 to Android 8) but seeing artifacts hop around (bunny reference there just in case you missed it) in the minor steps of updates (iOS 11.2.5 to iOS 11.2.6) is not something I like. I don’t like it because it makes even more work for me and for you!

As I am writing this, I am updating to iOS 11.3. I hope to have that added into this blog by the end. For now, my research is based on what I noticed when examining 11.2.5 and 11.2.6 in great detail. The Apple Maps is different, inconsistent and just doesn’t make sense. All of the Apple Maps uncertainty started in the minor updates of iOS 10.  I wrote a blog about it titled “How the Grinch Stole Apple Maps.” Read it for all of the details. I am going to summarize what the “Grinch” did.

To do my Grinch blog, I tested the following devices. (Again, a special thanks to my trusting friends and family for granting me access to their devices.)

  • iPhone 6s with a fresh install of 10.0.2
  • iPhone 7 updated from previous iOS versions running 10.0.2
  • iPhone 6s updated from previous iOS versions running 10.0.2
  • iPhone 7 updated from previous iOS versions running 10.2
  • iPhone 6s with a fresh install of 9.3 – jailbroken
  • iPhone 6s+ with a fresh install of 10.1.1
  • iPhone 6 updated from previous iOS versions running 10.1.1
  • iPhone 6s+ updated from previous iOS versions running 10.2
  • iPhone 7 updated from previous iOS versions running 10.1.1

I was attempting to find where Apple Maps was storing my search requests and directions since I couldn’t find them in GeoHistory.mapsdata or the older history.mapsdata.

For each of these devices, I opened Apple Maps and searched for items I could easily identify:

  • Radio City Music Hall, NYC
  • Malvern Buttery

So, when I was just updating my slides, I decided to take a look at my iPhone again (running 11.2.6) and verify the file paths.  I was SHOCKED to see that the GeoHistory.mapsdata was gone.  Literally, not even there. Did the Easter Bunny hide it or did the Grinch steal it completely?

Before, he appeared to be snatching the new data and being evil and allowing you to see the old stuff.  But where the heck are my searches and where did my file go? I honestly even considered that Apple reverted back the history.mapsdata because that file is still present, but that isn’t the case.

What’s a girl to do next? PANIC and then I phoned a few friends and asked them to try to find GeoHistory.mapsdata on their devices (thank you Lee and Mattia for testing with me)  and ultimately went back to my first blog post on it and read it again. Sometimes revisiting your old work can spark something in your mind. One major thing that I took away from reading that blog post again is this:

“*Note: Some of the devices below are syncing with iCloud and some are not. I wanted to be thorough and make sure that the Grinch didn’t take the file to the cloud…”

Could it be that the Easter Bunny did what the Grinch had envisioned and hid the GeoHistory.mapsdata in iCloud? We know the bunny is tricky and this year Easter falls on April fools, so we should expect anything. Here is what I tested and found (so far) during my hunt for this file.

The following test devices were used:

  • iPhone 6s with a fresh install of 11.2.5
  • iPhone 7 updated from previous iOS versions and currently running iOS 11.2.6
  • iPhone X updated from previous iOS versions and currently running 11.2.6 (being updated to 11.3 as I type)
  • iPhone 7 with a fresh install of 11.2.5
  • Many backups from all of my test devices

My iPhone is the iPhone X (listed above and I know I searched for locations in Dallas, Panama and in Paris  on recent trips. I rarely use Apple Maps (probably because the Grinch killed it for me) so I rely on it only when Google Maps and Waze let me down.  The iPhone 6s is a test device that I have searched for directions many times in Apple Maps. It makes testing so much easier when you know what data you expect to find. Here is what Apple Maps looks like on my iPhone X.

Once all data was populated, I conducted both iTunes/iCloud backups and Cellebrite Physical Analyzer File System dumps (Methods 1 and 2) to quickly acquire the data. I even tried looking at my attached device live in BlackLight and iBackupBot. I tried parsing the data dumps in BlackLight, Oxygen Detective, Magnet AXIOM, Cellebrite Physical Analyzer and manual examination to ensure I wasn’t overlooking something. I pulled my own iCloud data with Elcomsoft and searched for the file in those backups and still didn’t find exactly what I was looking for – wait for it…

When I manually examined the file system of the backups and data dumps, I started to see major inconsistencies just like I did in iOS 10. The GeoHistory.mapsdata file was sometimes present and sometimes not. The history.mapsdata file was there no matter what. History.mapsdata, contains legacy searches in Apple Maps, it does not contain any data since iOS 8. If you don’t see this file, chances are the user didn’t have a device running iOS 7 that they updated from (aka, they either started fresh with iOS 8 or a newer iOS version).

Based upon my experience with iOS device forensics, it seems that when Apple no longer uses a file, the file persists and is no longer updated. When Apple wants to protect a file, they encrypt it and/or make it inaccessible without a full physical image, which is currently not possible on new devices without a jailbreak.

What I found is that some of the devices running versions ranging from iOS 10.0.2 – 11.2.5 had GeoHistory.mapsdata with older Apple Maps content. None of the devices running iOS 11.2.6 have GeoHistory.mapsdata. This is insanity. Again, I believe if Apple doesn’t want you to see something they encrypt, restrict or hide it.

I promised to keep hunting for you and what better time to hunt than Easter. So, where the heck is this darn file hidden? Well, the Easter Bunny got crafty and hid it in the cloud. Before doing what is listed below, you need to make sure you have legal authority or written consent from the user to access their cloud data. You also need their credentials.

I used Elcomsoft Phone Breaker to first pull iCloud, which I previously mentioned, and didn’t find anything further than what iTunes had presented. Then I pulled the “Synced data” from iCloud. (Thanks Mattia for providing me your results as well!)

I then entered my iCloud credentials and my PIN for 2FA (yes, this is required the first time you use the tool and will alert the user – user caution here).

From here, I was presented with a list of options to pull from synced iCloud data. Since this is all about Apple Maps, that is all I selected. If you want to learn about the others, I suggest you sign up for FOR585 Advanced Smartphone Forensics (shameless plug-

What I found when I opened this file blew my mind. I expected this of Apple, so I shouldn’t be shocked, but I couldn’t believe that the crazy Easter Bunny decided to hide my Apple Maps in iCloud. I am just thrilled that I can access some, if not all of the history. Side note: the user must sync to iCloud or you will not find it here. 🙁

To examine the results, Elcomsoft creates an AppleMaps.db file that I examined manually and a file that can be opened in Elcomsoft Phone Viewer. Let’s start with Phone Viewer, because let’s be honest, most people like for a tool to show them the results. (Click on the image to see the graphic in a zoomed in format.)

In Elcomsoft Phone Viewer, I started examining searches and saw everything from Paris and Panama that I searched for in addition to other historical searches. This is great news, but let’s keep going because these could just be generic searches where the user didn’t request directions.

Next I looked at explored places and found other searches that I performed on my iOS device, but not necessarily in Apple Maps. However, when you search for something on an iOS device, the device assumes you may ask for directions and caches that info.

Finally, we find the directions the user searched for. Best part, we get to see how the requested the directions (walk, drive, transit, fly, etc.) Pretty cool stuff.

Thanks to Mattia, I can even show just how far back some of these artifacts span… Again, I am not a huge fan of Apple Maps, so seeing dates from 2015 in Mattia’s data is pretty sweet. Below we can see searches from 2015.

Mattia also had directions from 2015.

The databases can be used as well. This is really helpful if you like to write SQL queries to parse these artifacts. This database is created by Elcomsoft and isn’t something you are going to find on the device. It’s strictly iCloud based. The table provided is called AppleMaps.db. There are several tables provided. You need to determine what is relevant to your investigation, but I recommend during a cursory glance of all of them.

I wrote a simple query to parse the DirectionsSearch table. Please do not copy and paste from this blog. WordPress does some funky formatting the SQLite doesn’t like. Grab it here: AppleMapsQuery.txt

datetime(timestamp,’UNIXEPOCH’,’localtime’) AS “Timestamp”,
transport_type AS “0-Drive, 1=transit, 2=walk”,
start_point_is_current_location AS “Start Point:1=Current Location”
from DirectionsSearches
order by timestamp desc

This query found all of the directions I searched for including the pesky Malvern Buttery and Radio City Music Hall, which I was searching for in my Grinch post.

Now I am wondering if the Grinch is in cahoots with the Easter Bunny and it was hidden here all along. :/ This is why we keep testing and digging. This is why we need more than one tool. This is why we have to get out of our own way and start trying to new methods and tools. I also plan to keep testing the cloud capabilities of the other tools to include in my FOR585 update.

Just as I was done writing, my update to iOS 11.3 completed. I did a simple Apple Maps search for directions to Jim’s in Philadelphia. (Another thanks to Lee for introducing me to Jim’s in 2003! Here, you will get the world’s best cheesesteak.)

I forced my device to backup to iCloud and repeated all of the steps above. Everything appears to be the same and Elcomsoft was able to parse my search from the Synced data. And unfortunately, the GeoHistory.mapsdata is still missing from the file system image.

All of this was done with the demo version of Elcomsoft Phone Viewer. If you want to try a tool, ask the vendor. Most will give you at least a free demo. Not one tool can do it all, so get out there and help me hunt! Oh, and Happy Easter.

Other things you may want:

Files of interest on the device (if the plist appears to be Base64 encoded use Oxygen Detective’s Apple plist Viewer):

Note: For graphics on what these files look like and the paths for each data dump, refer to the Grinch blog.





My Handy Smartphone Toolbox

I realize it’s been awhile and these tools have really changed since my last post in 2015.  Have they changed for the better? Not necessarily. Some tools update so quickly that they lose the basics. For that reason, please test and validate your tools and never trust what is advertised. Your goal should be to determine how the artifacts were placed on the device, not that the artifact exists on the phone. By this I mean – how did it get there? Did the phone suggest it, the user searched for it or was it synced to the device?  This level of analysis is something your tool cannot do for you, which is why you probably read blogs like this and learn what you can trust and where you must apply your smartphone skills.

One of the most common questions I am asked is “which tool is the best?” Guess what? There isn’t just one! And I strongly recommend you use more than one, especially for analysis and sometimes even for acquisition (read my blog on iOS 11 from Oct. 2017).  These tools are picky and seem to like one device better than another and parsing is not the same across the board. You must know the tool strengths and be able to defeat the weaknesses.  To help you out, I am listing the tools that I prefer and my reasons why. These tools are not perfect and they DO NOT have a “Find Evidence” button. Is your tool missing from this list? Offer me a demo and I will try to find time to test it and give feedback. 🙂

As I stated in the last blog I wrote on this topic, I am not going to delve too much into acquisition tools and methods. There are so many out there. Some of the ones I rely on to get my data are Cellebrite UFED (not for iOS devices), Cellebrite Physical Analyzer (for iOS devices), Oxygen, iTunes and my good ‘ole Mac.  I always tell my students to try everything when you have a smartphone on your desk. You don’t know how that device was used and what settings are already enabled behind that locked device. You may surprise yourself when you are able to grab everything with the click of the “acquire evidence” button on your tool of choice. However, it’s not always that easy so verify that you have unencrypted data even if you get a dump.  Additionally, I recommend you always get a physical dump and logical or backup to help you parse the data.  Make sure you test your tools and test them often. Don’t let one hurdle knock you down.

The list below doesn’t include all smartphone tools, but simply the ones I rely upon. If you have others you like, please comment and share. I love hearing what others are using because I don’t have time to test every tool and keep up with the quickly released updates. So, help me out here.

The Heavy Hitting Commercial Solutions (Not in any particular order):


  • Magnet – IEF Mobile – Great for Internet evidence and parsing 3rd party application data. One of the best iOS app parsers out there. AXIOM is now the up and coming tool, but does have some growing pains, so test it for yourself.  In both of these tools, the Custom/Dynamic App finder is so useful as location additional databases of interest that you should examine for relevance.  This tool easily ingests image files from other tools.
  • Physical Analyzer – Probably the best analytical platform out there specific to smartphone tools. It doesn’t parse everything, but it gives us a platform for analysis where we can leverage it find the evidence with some manual carving and hex searches. PA doesn’t seem to omit files it doesn’t understand, which seems to be happening in other tools.  Best physical search feature for locating data in raw hex, other than in file system dumps of iOS devices. The new fuzzy models plug-ins are fantastic as they identify databases commonly associated to 3rd party applications that aren’t parsed by the tool. This tool easily ingests image files from other tools.
  • MSAB XRY/XACT – One of the only tools that consistently provides access to the raw files (databases, xml, dat, plists, BLOBs, etc.) during a logical acquisition. Guess what, to recover data that the tools don’t parse you need the raw files. This tool give you access to them! XRY is strong at parsing strange backup files from smartphones, such as those created with Samsung Kies.
  • BlackLight – Great tool that can run on a Mac or PC! Primarily supports iOS devices, but I have seen students force load Windows Phones and Android devices into the tool to use it as a file system examination platform. However, it was designed to support iOS devices.  Haven’t you heard that you should examine a Mac with a Mac? A wise examiner once told me that and it still resonates with me. This tool uniquely pulls out Google Maps and Apple Maps searches that the other tools commonly misinterpret. If you hear me talk about BlackLight, you know that I rave about the Windows hard drive support. Strange that the Mac guys are doing so well on Windows. 😉
  • Oxygen – This is one of my new favorites because I am constantly examining 3rd party applications. This tool highlights files the applications use and where they are stored. Guess what? That list is now your cheat sheet. Pretty sweet! I also love the built in PLIST Editor (hex and xml views) and the SQLite editor.  This is the best tool for BlackBerry and BlackBerry 10 devices. It acquires the event log and provides a secure way to create a BB backup file. Also counts out all those nasty little databases for you. I wrote a recent blog on Oxygen, so read it if you want more details on this tool. Just like most of the others, there are growing pains, so test it and validate that it’s showing you all of the data.
  • Elcomsoft – I use the Phone Password breaker to crack locked BlackBerry device, BlackBerry and iOS Backup files. I also use this tool to pull cloud data. It’s awesome! Runs on both a Mac and PC.

The Other Guys (Not free, but not as expensive as the heavy hitters):

Not in any particular order…

  • Andriller – This tool can crack passcodes for locked Android devices and provides logical parsers for iOS, Android and Windows 3rd Party Application files. Free for LE and well worth it for everyone else. The fee is small the results are huge!
  • Sanderson Forensics tools – Great SQLite support! The SQLite Forensic Toolkit is so useful in recovering deleted data and for converting those pesky timestamps. I love how this tool shows you how the queries are run and what’s happening when you press a button. New to SQLite forensics – start here!  Stay tuned for Pauls’ new SQLite Forensics book (it’s fantastic and is not a sales pitch for his tool!)  Paul will provide a free demo upon request.

Open Source and Other Solutions:

Parsers developed by the community. These people are rock stars and often give back by developing scripts to help us sift through application and smartphone data. Check out their blogs and githubs to get the latest scripts that I rely on to parse the massive amounts of data the commercial tools just don’t support.

  • Mari DeGrazia (
    • SQLite-Deleted-Records_Parser – A must have for unveiling deleted data in SQLite databases.
  • Adrian Leong (
    • His blog rocks! Adrian hits on hard topics. Read it! (HEIC/HEIF on iOS 11 is one of his latest). Also, all of his scripts have been tested to work in the SANS SIFT.
    • Honestly, he has so many scripts out there – go check them out! (Facebook Messenger, SQLite parsers, coordinate converters and more!)
  • Jon Baumann was a student of mine recently who decided to build scripts to fix the things that were broken in the tools. LOVE THAT!
    • His new sqlite-miner script parses databases containing BLOBs that contain human-readable data. Not only does it identify the contents, it parses them and exports them!
  • Autopsy – The Android Analyzer module hasn’t been updated in a while, but it still supports parsing some items from Android devices. It also gives you access to the File System directory tree faster than any commercial tool out there. Most tools make you wait to see the file system during parsing – not Autopsy. Also, the keyword searching and carvers are top notch.
  • iBackupBot – Great for parsing iOS backup files. Works on both Macs and PCs. Make sure you have the latest version that supports iOS 10 and 11.

As I always say, I am sure I have forgotten to give credit to some where it’s due, so I am requesting that you help me out. What tools really help you and how? Is there one script that you found and cannot live without? Do you use something more robust than a Java decompiler for mobile malware? Is there something parsing double Base64? Don’t know what that means??? Take FOR585 and Cindy Murphy, Lee Crognale and I will teach you. Our course is offered almost every month and all over the world. Check it out

Keep digging in that Hex! The data is there and it’s your job to find it.