Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

The function {that a} Digital Forensics Investigator (DFI) is rife with steady studying alternatives, particularly as expertise expands and proliferates into each nook of communications, leisure and enterprise. As a DFI, we cope with a day by day onslaught of latest units. Many of those units, just like the mobile phone or pill, use widespread working methods that we want to be conversant in. Certainly, the Android OS is predominant within the pill and mobile phone business. Given the predominance of the Android OS within the cellular gadget market, DFIs will run into Android units in the middle of many investigations. While there are a number of fashions that recommend approaches to buying information from Android units, this text introduces 4 viable strategies that the DFI ought to take into account when proof gathering from Android units.

An Introduction to Forensics Data Acquisition From Android Mobile Devices
An Introduction to Forensics Data Acquisition From Android Mobile Devices

A Bit of History of the Android OS

Android’s first industrial launch was in September, 2008 with model 1.0. Android is the open supply and ‘free to use’ working system for cellular units developed by Google. Importantly, early on, Google and different {hardware} firms shaped the “Open Handset Alliance” (OHA) in 2007 to foster and help the expansion of the Android within the market. The OHA now consists of 84 {hardware} firms together with giants like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola (to identify just a few). This alliance was established to compete with firms who had their very own market choices, corresponding to aggressive units provided by Apple, Microsoft (Windows Phone 10 – which is now reportedly lifeless to the market), and Blackberry (which has ceased making {hardware}). Regardless if an OS is defunct or not, the DFI should know in regards to the varied variations of a number of working system platforms, particularly if their forensics focus is in a specific realm, corresponding to cellular units.


Linux and Android

The present iteration of the Android OS relies on Linux. Keep in thoughts that “based on Linux” doesn’t imply the standard Linux apps will at all times run on an Android and, conversely, the Android apps that you simply would possibly take pleasure in (or are conversant in) won’t essentially run in your Linux desktop. But Linux shouldn’t be Android. To make clear the purpose, please observe that Google chosen the Linux kernel, the important a part of the Linux working system, to handle the {hardware} chipset processing in order that Google’s builders would not have to be involved with the specifics of how processing happens on a given set of {hardware}. This permits their builders to concentrate on the broader working system layer and the consumer interface options of the Android OS.


A Large Market Share

The Android OS has a considerable market share of the cellular gadget market, primarily due to its open-source nature. An extra of 328 million Android units had been shipped as of the third quarter in 2016. And, in accordance to netwmarketshare.com, the Android working system had the majority of installations in 2017 — practically 67% — as of this writing.

As a DFI, we are able to anticipate to encounter Android-based {hardware} in the middle of a typical investigation. Due to the open supply nature of the Android OS along with the numerous {hardware} platforms from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and many others., the number of combos between {hardware} sort and OS implementation presents an extra problem. Consider that Android is presently at model 7.1.1, but every telephone producer and cellular gadget provider will usually modify the OS for the particular {hardware} and repair choices, giving an extra layer of complexity for the DFI, because the method to information acquisition could differ.

Before we dig deeper into extra attributes of the Android OS that complicate the method to information acquisition, let us take a look at the idea of a ROM model that will probably be utilized to an Android gadget. As an summary, a ROM (Read Only Memory) program is low-level programming that’s shut to the kernel stage, and the distinctive ROM program is commonly known as firmware. If you suppose by way of a pill in distinction to a mobile phone, the pill can have totally different ROM programming as contrasted to a mobile phone, since {hardware} options between the pill and mobile phone will probably be totally different, even when each {hardware} units are from the identical {hardware} producer. Complicating the necessity for extra specifics within the ROM program, add within the unique necessities of cell service carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and many others.).

While there are commonalities of buying information from a mobile phone, not all Android units are equal, particularly in mild that there are fourteen main Android OS releases available on the market (from variations 1.0 to 7.1.1), a number of carriers with model-specific ROMs, and extra numerous customized user-complied editions (buyer ROMs). The ‘buyer compiled editions’ are additionally model-specific ROMs. In normal, the ROM-level updates utilized to every wi-fi gadget will include working and system primary functions that works for a specific {hardware} gadget, for a given vendor (for instance your Samsung S7 from Verizon), and for a specific implementation.

Even although there isn’t any ‘silver bullet’ resolution to investigating any Android gadget, the forensics investigation of an Android gadget ought to observe the identical normal course of for the gathering of proof, requiring a structured course of and method that handle the investigation, seizure, isolation, acquisition, examination and evaluation, and reporting for any digital proof. When a request to study a tool is acquired, the DFI begins with planning and preparation to embrace the requisite methodology of buying units, the required paperwork to help and doc the chain of custody, the event of a function assertion for the examination, the detailing of the gadget mannequin (and different unique attributes of the acquired {hardware}), and a listing or description of the data the requestor is searching for to purchase.

Unique Challenges of Acquisition

Mobile units, together with cell telephones, tablets, and many others., face distinctive challenges throughout proof seizure. Since battery life is restricted on cellular units and it’s not usually beneficial {that a} charger be inserted into a tool, the isolation stage of proof gathering could be a essential state in buying the gadget. Confounding correct acquisition, the mobile information, WiFi connectivity, and Bluetooth connectivity also needs to be included within the investigator’s focus throughout acquisition. Android has many safety features constructed into the telephone. The lock-screen function could be set as PIN, password, drawing a sample, facial recognition, location recognition, trusted-device recognition, and biometrics corresponding to finger prints. An estimated 70% of customers do use some sort of safety safety on their telephone. Critically, there’s out there software program that the consumer could have downloaded, which can provide them the flexibility to wipe the telephone remotely, complicating acquisition.

It is unlikely through the seizure of the cellular gadget that the display will probably be unlocked. If the gadget shouldn’t be locked, the DFI’s examination will probably be simpler as a result of the DFI can change the settings within the telephone promptly. If entry is allowed to the mobile phone, disable the lock-screen and alter the display timeout to its most worth (which could be up to half-hour for some units). Keep in thoughts that of key significance is to isolate the telephone from any Internet connections to forestall distant wiping of the gadget. Place the telephone in Airplane mode. Attach an exterior energy provide to the telephone after it has been positioned in a static-free bag designed to block radiofrequency indicators. Once safe, you must later give you the chance to allow USB debugging, which is able to permit the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) that may present good information seize. While it could be necessary to study the artifacts of RAM on a cellular gadget, that is unlikely to occur.

Acquiring the Android Data

Copying a hard-drive from a desktop or laptop computer laptop in a forensically-sound method is trivial as in contrast to the info extraction strategies wanted for cellular gadget information acquisition. Generally, DFIs have prepared bodily entry to a hard-drive with no limitations, permitting for a {hardware} copy or software program bit stream picture to be created. Mobile units have their information saved inside the telephone in difficult-to-reach locations. Extraction of knowledge by way of the USB port could be a problem, however could be achieved with care and luck on Android units.

After the Android gadget has been seized and is safe, it’s time to study the telephone. There are a number of information acquisition strategies out there for Android and so they differ drastically. This article introduces and discusses 4 of the first methods to method information acquisition. These 5 strategies are famous and summarized under:

1. Send the gadget to the producer: You can ship the gadget to the producer for information extraction, which is able to value additional money and time, however could also be essential if you happen to do not need the actual talent set for a given gadget nor the time to be taught. In explicit, as famous earlier, Android has a plethora of OS variations stylish on the producer and ROM model, including to the complexity of acquisition. Manufacturer’s usually make this service out there to authorities companies and legislation enforcement for many home units, so if you happen to’re an unbiased contractor, you have to to test with the producer or acquire help from the group that you’re working with. Also, the producer investigation choice might not be out there for a number of worldwide fashions (like the various no-name Chinese telephones that proliferate the market – consider the ‘disposable telephone’).

2. Direct bodily acquisition of the info. One of guidelines of a DFI investigation is to by no means to alter the info. The bodily acquisition of knowledge from a mobile phone should consider the identical strict processes of verifying and documenting that the bodily methodology used won’t alter any information on the gadget. Further, as soon as the gadget is related, the operating of hash totals is important. Physical acquisition permits the DFI to get hold of a full picture of the gadget utilizing a USB wire and forensic software program (at this level, you ought to be pondering of write blocks to forestall any altering of the info). Connecting to a mobile phone and grabbing a picture simply is not as clear and clear as pulling information from a tough drive on a desktop laptop. The drawback is that relying in your chosen forensic acquisition device, the actual make and mannequin of the telephone, the provider, the Android OS model, the consumer’s settings on the telephone, the basis standing of the gadget, the lock standing, if the PIN code is understood, and if the USB debugging choice is enabled on the gadget, you might not be ready to purchase the info from the gadget beneath investigation. Simply put, bodily acquisition results in the realm of ‘simply making an attempt it’ to see what you get and will seem to the court docket (or opposing aspect) as an unstructured method to collect information, which may place the info acquisition in danger.

3. JTAG forensics (a variation of bodily acquisition famous above). As a definition, JTAG (Joint Test Action Group) forensics is a extra superior method of knowledge acquisition. It is basically a bodily methodology that entails cabling and connecting to Test Access Ports (TAPs) on the gadget and utilizing processing directions to invoke a switch of the uncooked information saved in reminiscence. Raw information is pulled instantly from the related gadget utilizing a particular JTAG cable. This is taken into account to be low-level information acquisition since there isn’t any conversion or interpretation and is comparable to a bit-copy that’s finished when buying proof from a desktop or laptop computer laptop tough drive. JTAG acquisition can usually be finished for locked, broken and inaccessible (locked) units. Since it’s a low-level copy, if the gadget was encrypted (whether or not by the consumer or by the actual producer, corresponding to Samsung and a few Nexus units), the acquired information will nonetheless want to be decrypted. But since Google determined to cast off whole-device encryption with the Android OS 5.0 launch, the whole-device encryption limitation is a bit narrowed, until the consumer has decided to encrypt their gadget. After JTAG information is acquired from an Android gadget, the acquired information could be additional inspected and analyzed with instruments corresponding to 3zx (hyperlink: http://z3x-team.com/ ) or Belkasoft (hyperlink: https://belkasoft.com/ ). Using JTAG instruments will mechanically extract key digital forensic artifacts together with name logs, contacts, location information, searching historical past and much more.

4. Chip-off acquisition. This acquisition approach requires the removing of reminiscence chips from the gadget. Produces uncooked binary dumps. Again, that is thought-about a complicated, low-level acquisition and would require de-soldering of reminiscence chips utilizing extremely specialised instruments to take away the chips and different specialised units to learn the chips. Like the JTAG forensics famous above, the DFI dangers that the chip contents are encrypted. But if the data shouldn’t be encrypted, a bit copy could be extracted as a uncooked picture. The DFI will want to take care of block handle remapping, fragmentation and, if current, encryption. Also, a number of Android gadget producers, like Samsung, implement encryption which can’t be bypassed throughout or after chip-off acquisition has been accomplished, even when the right passcode is understood. Due to the entry points with encrypted units, chip off is restricted to unencrypted units.

5. Over-the-air Data Acquisition. We are every conscious that Google has mastered information assortment. Google is understood for sustaining huge quantities from cell telephones, tablets, laptops, computer systems and different units from varied working system varieties. If the consumer has a Google account, the DFI can entry, obtain, and analyze all info for the given consumer beneath their Google consumer account, with correct permission from Google. This entails downloading info from the consumer’s Google Account. Currently, there are not any full cloud backups out there to Android customers. Data that may be examined embrace Gmail, contact info, Google Drive information (which could be very revealing), synced Chrome tabs, browser bookmarks, passwords, a listing of registered Android units, (the place location historical past for every gadget could be reviewed), and rather more.

The 5 strategies famous above shouldn’t be a complete checklist. An often-repeated observe surfaces about information acquisition – when engaged on a cellular gadget, correct and correct documentation is important. Further, documentation of the processes and procedures used in addition to adhering to the chain of custody processes that you’ve got established will be sure that proof collected will probably be ‘forensically sound.’


As mentioned on this article, cellular gadget forensics, and particularly the Android OS, is totally different from the standard digital forensic processes used for laptop computer and desktop computer systems. While the non-public laptop is well secured, storage could be readily copied, and the gadget could be saved, secure acquisition of cellular units and information could be and infrequently is problematic. A structured method to buying the cellular gadget and a deliberate method for information acquisition is important. As famous above, the 5 strategies launched will permit the DFI to acquire entry to the gadget. However, there are a number of extra strategies not mentioned on this article. Additional analysis and power use by the DFI will probably be essential.

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