iPhone Forensics – A Series #2

Though many phone examiners are traditional electronic forensic analysts who have been trained to examine phones, this is certainly not a foregone conclusion. A phone examiner may not be, to be tongue in cheek, “classically trained” in forensics. Up until just recently, little was needed to examine a phone other than the current toolset that is on the market and a handful of free tools.


Examining phones became harder with the iPhone. Apple’s revolutionary phone has garnered at least 28% of the Smart Phone market and is poised to snatch even more. Spawning many imitators and challenging the once thought invulnerable RIM Black Berry, Apple has raised the bar on the technical skill required by the phone examiner.


This series of posts on iPhone Forensic Examinations, is meant to help level the playing field for the phone examiner who may not also be a traditional forensic analyst of electronic evidence. The first post began by examining what is meant by the term “jailbreaking” and its forensic implications. This post will continue with the discussion and will be concentrating on the makeup of the iPhone’s filesystem.


Brief Overview of the iPhone Hardware


As I stated in the introduction to this post, the iPhone has raised the bar on the technical skill required by the phone examiner. The iPhone is much more than a device that is used for voice communications, it truly is a handheld computer. Below are listed some of the hardware specifications for the device.


  • CPU : Samsung/ARM S5L8900B01 512 Mbit SRAM
  • DISK: Samsung 65-nm 8/16 GB (K9MCG08U5M), 4 GB (K9HBG08U1M) MLC NAND Flash
  • FLASH MEMORY: Intel PF38F1030W0YTQ2 (32 MB NOR + 16 MB SRAM)


Early reports of the CPU clock speed put the iPhone’s ARM processor running at about 400 MHz with a bus speed at 100 MHz (Hockenberry). It is speculated that the ARM CPU can run at 600 MHz or more but is underclocked to provide for heat dissipation and battery life. Further firmware updates are believed to begin providing this capability as the code and hardware are refined and optimized.


So as you can see from the above, you have what amounts to a full fledged computer running with impressive CPU speeds (given its small form factor) and a massive amount (for a hand held device and for mobile forensics) of Flash storage. 


The non “classical trained” phone examiner, such as the narcotics officer or border patrolman, is now faced with a device that now at the very least requires an appreciation of its capabilities and may indeed require the acquisition of more advanced knowledge of computers and a deeper skill-set in the area of traditional electronic forensics.


The iPhone Hard Disk 


Now that we have had a glimpse of the iPhone’s impressive hardware array, lets begin examining how the iPhone’s Disk is arranged.


The iPhone runs a a mobile build of Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). Schematically the OS is designed like the below graphic.

 iPhone OS Schematic

Since OS X is built upon a BSD Unix foundation (please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_Software_Distribution for a discussion of BSD Unix), and this is used in the iPhone it is necessary to cover some of concepts of the operating system.


All Operating Systems use what is called a kernel. The kernel is the the nerve center of the OS and is responsible for managing the systems resources (such as communication between the hardware and the software of a device. The iPhone uses what is called a signed kernel to limit tampering with its function (though as we saw in the first post jailbreaking is accomplished through the exploitation or hacking of the kernel).


The iPhone also borrows how it partitions its hard disk from the Unix OS conventions as well. In order to store files on a hard disk, that raw physical device must first be prepared with partitions, or contiguous sections of a disk to store common groups of information. The difference in between the iPhone’s partitioning and a physical hard disk is that the iPhone uses solid state memory as its hard disk (flash).


There are two partitions on the iPhone. The first partition is 300 MB in size and is the system or root partition(not to be confused with the root folder which will be seen in the second partition). This partition contains the operating system and the default applications that are delivered with a factory fresh iPhone. This partition is designed (unless jailbroken) to be in this pristine state for the life of the phone.


The remaining space of the hard disk is partitioned as the user-space (or media) partition. This space is where all music, videos contacts, SMS etc are stored.


Another computer science concept that is also important to understand is the concept of mounting. A file system must be “mounted” or made available to the Operating System for use. Unix type Operating Systems (such as OS X) use mount points or the location in the directory structure where the particular partition (filesystem) is available for use.  The Windows equivalent to this concept is drive mapping.


Since the iPhone uses a mobile build of OS X , it follows that the two partitions is has will have mount points. This is indeed the case as can be seen from the output of the fstab file( file system table) of a jailbroken iPhone. The fstab file usually lists all available disks and disk partitions, and their mount points.


# cat fstab

/dev/disk0s1 / rw 0 1

/dev/disk0s2 /private/var hfs rw,noexec 0 2


A discussion of the fstab is too lengthly and complicated to go into in this this post so readers are directed to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fstab for a thorough explanation of the output. It should suffice for our purposes here to state that the first (root partition) is mounted at the top of the directory tree (“/”) and that the media partition is mounted at /private/var. It is also of forensic importance to note that the root partition here is mounted read/write. This is the result of the jailbreaking technique.


The other thing to note on the output above is that the media partition is formated in the HFS file format, and is not allowed to execute files (the “noexec” option).


Depending on whether a user is Windows based or Macintosh based the iPhone will be formatted accordingly. In the case of Windows with a FAT filesystem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAT_32) or HFS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierarchical_File_System) if formatted on a Macintosh.



Data Storage



Now that we know the partition structure of how the iPhone stores data, how it is mounted for user access by the Operating System, and what filesystem formating it employs, we can look at where the most relevant files for a forensic examiner might reside. Bear in mind that the tools mentioned in the first post obtain most, if not all,  of these files and report on them. The single advantage that the jailbreaking method has (offset by its non ACPO compliant forensic implications) is that the jailbrekaing method comes very near to a true forensic image and can therefore obtain possible what I have oft termed the Holy Grail of Mobile Forensics – deleted data.


As was said in the previous section the root partition is designed to stay “factory fresh” for the life of the iPhone and contains the default applications and the untampered OS of the device. It should contain most of the following if not jailbroken.


  • SMS
  • Calendar
  • Photos
  • Camera
  • Youtube
  • Stocks
  • Maps
  • Weather
  • Clock
  • Calculator
  • Notes
  • Setting
  • ITunes
  • Phone
  • Mail
  • Safari
  • IPod



Shown below is a graphic image of a jailbroken iPhone showing the media partition of a jailbroken iPhone. It was obtained by a jailbreaking the iPhone, setting up a wireless network and then using the “dd” command over the network. The resulting image was then mounted read only under OS X It should be noted that in a non jailbroken iPhone iTunes in its jailed access is only allowed to get to files mounted in private/var/mobile/Media or /private/var/root/Media depending on the generation of the firmware.

iPhone OS Schematic


The iPhone stores the information most valuable to a forensic examiner, e.g. Contacts,SMS, Call Registers in Sqllite databases. In addition, the iPhone in sharing with the full fledged version of OS X stores additional information in XML like  lists called Plists. Plists store a lot of cool forensic information but are beyond this post. Readers interested in Plists can find more information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plist. 


Below is a list of the plists and sqlite databases that are downloaded to a computer during an iTunes sync process.


  • Library_AddressBook_AddressBook.sqlitedb
  • Library_AddressBook_AddressBookImages.sqlitedb
  • Library_Calendar_Calendar.sqlitedb
  • Library_CallHistory_call_history.db
  • Library_Cookies_Cookies.plist
  • Library_Keyboard_dynamic-text.dat
  • Library_LockBackground.jpg
  • Library_Mail_Accounts.plist
  • Library_Mail_AutoFetchEnabled
  • Library_Maps_Bookmarks.plist
  • Library_Maps_History.plist
  • Library_Notes_notes.db
  • Library_Preferences_.GlobalPreferences.plist
  • Library_Preferences_SBShutdownCookie
  • Library_Preferences_SystemConfiguration_com.apple.AutoWake.plist
  • Library_Preferences_SystemConfiguration_com.apple.network.identification.plist
  • Library_Preferences_SystemConfiguration_com.apple.wifi.plist
  • Library_Preferences_SystemConfiguration_preferences.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.AppSupport.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.BTServer.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.Maps.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.MobileSMS.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.PeoplePicker.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.Preferences.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.WebFoundation.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.calculator.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.celestial.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.commcenter.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilecal.alarmengine.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilecal.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobileipod.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilemail.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilenotes.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilephone.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilephone.speeddial.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilesafari.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobileslideshow.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobiletimer.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.mobilevpn.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.preferences.network.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.preferences.sounds.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.springboard.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.stocks.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.weather.plist
  • Library_Preferences_com.apple.youtube.plist
  • Library_Preferences_csidata
  • Library_SMS_sms.db
  • Library_Safari_Bookmarks.plist
  • Library_Safari_History.plist
  • Library_Voicemail_.token


Many of these tools are obtained and reported on by the logical analysis tools mentioned in the first post. 

I will detail ways of analyzing the sqllite databases obtained in a computer sync in the next post.


As always, I stand upon the shoulders of others. Acknowledgement goes out to the following sources


iPhone Forensics, by Jonathan Zdziarski. Copyright 2008 Jonathan Zdziarski, 978-0-596-15358-8


Craig Hockenberry, http://furbo.org/2007/08/21/what-the-iphone-specs-dont-tell-you/




and of course the several wikipedia citations in the post