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on August 30, 2005
It's easy to think that computer filesystems are relatively simple things. After all, if 'dir' or 'ls' don't show what you're looking for, maybe an undelete program will work. Or will it? To be a decent, trustworthy expert in forensics (a requirement if you plan to participate in any criminal investigations), you'll have to learn how filesystems really operate, how tools like undelete and lazarus work, and how they can be defeated.

Carrier's book isn't a legal book at all, and it doesn't pretend to offer much insight into the law surrounding forensics. Instead it focuses on technical matters, and is sure to be the gold standard in its field. This is important, because it comes at you expecting you to have some knowledge, even if only informal, of what a filesystem contains. With a basic understanding of data structures, you'll get a wealth of information out of this book, and it will be a good reference long after you've first studied it.

File System Forensic Analysis is divided into three sections. These are arranged in the order that you'll want to study them to maximize the benefit you can hope to achieve, namely an understanding of how to examine filesystems for hidden or previously stored data. The first three chapters cover a fundamental series of topics: Digital Investigation Foundations, Computer Foundations, and an introduction to Hard Disk Data Acquisition. While they start at a basic level (e.g. what hexadecimal is), they quickly progress to more developed topics, such as the types of interfaces (SATA, SCSI, IDE), the relationship of the disk to the computer system as a whole, and how data is stored in a file and filesystem at a basic level. A lot of examples given use Linux, due to the raw, accessible nature of UNIX and UNIX-like systems, and the availability of tools like 'dd' to gather data.

Part 2 covers "Volume Analysis," or the organization of files into a storage system. This introduces the basics of things like partition tables (including how to read one). The next few chapters cover PC-based partitions (DOS and Apple), server-based partitions (BSD, Solaris and GPT partitions), and then multiple disk volumes like RAID and logical volumes. With this introduction, the final chapter of the section covers how to use these filesystem descriptions in practice to look for data during analysis. Filesystem layouts, organization, and things like journals and consistency checks are covered with a clarity and exactness that's refreshing for such a detailed topic.

Having covered the basics of filesystems, Part 3 covers the bulk of the book and material. Several chapters follow that specifically show you how to analyze particular filesystems by using their data structures to direct your reads. A range of filesystems are covered, including FAT, NTFS, EXT2 and EXT3, and the BSD types UFS1 and UFS2. Each filesystem has two chapters, one devoted to concepts and analysis, another entirely about data structures. Dividing each filesystem type like this lets Carrier focus first on the theory of each filesystem and its design, and then the practical use of its design to actually understand how to pull data off of it.

The real strength of File System Forensic Analysis lies in Carrier's direct and clear descriptions of the concepts, the completeness of his coverage, and the detail he provides. For example, a number of clear, well-ordered and simple diagrams are peppered throughout the book, explaining everything from allocation algorithms to NTFS alternative data streams. This use of simple diagrams makes the topics more easily understood, so the book's full value can be appreciated. This is the kind of thing that sets a book apart from its peers and makes it a valuable resource for a long time.

Finally, Carrier brings it all together and shows us how many aspects of filesystems can be examined using his "sleuth kit" tools, freely available and easy to use. Without appearing to hawk this tool at the expense of other valuable resources, you get to see how simple and direct filesystem manipulations can be done using a direct approach. This kind of presentation is what makes File System Forensic Analysis a great foundation.

Overall I'm pleased with File System Forensic Analysis, I think that Carrier has achieved what few technical authors do, namely a clear explanation of highly technical topics which retains a level of detail that makes it valuable for the long term. For anyone looking seriously at electronic forensics, this is a must have. I suspect people who are working on filesystem implementations will also want to study it for its practical information about NTFS. Overall, a great technical resource.
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on May 5, 2005
Brian Carrier has written a solid book that should be on the reference shelf of anyone in the Digital Forensics field that conducts analysis of file systems. The book is well organized into three parts, each with multiple chapters.

The first part discusses the foundations necessary to understand digital evidence, computer functions and acquiring data for analysis. This part is intentionally at a higher level, yet still provides the necessary foundations for the subsequent parts. A good explanation of host protected area (HPA) and device configuration overlays (DCO) is included, as well as methods by which one can test for such areas on volumes.

The second part discusses volume analysis. Brian takes this topic and divides it into four chapters addressing basic volumes, personal computer volumes, server volumes and finally multiple disk volumes. He provides detailed information on a variety of common partition types, even including both SPARC and i386 partition information for Sun Solaris.

Finally the third part discusses file system analysis, and the last 10 chapters are dedicated to covering general information, and then detailed descriptions of concepts, analysis and data structures for FAT, NTFS, Ext2, Ext3, UFS1 and UFS2 file systems. The detailed information provided well-documented explanations and included analysis scenarios. For instance, in his discussion of NTFS analysis, an image of a damaged disk is evaluated, and he provides meaningful explanations of reconstructing the damaged tables to allow analysis of the data. He provides many such examples throughout.

An additional positive attribute to this work is the thorough bibliography placed after each chapter, which quickly provides the reader with other data sources, should they be needed.

Overall, this is an excellent reference for anyone that must conduct analysis of file systems for investigative purposes. He provides clear information that is valuable, regardless of what tools an examiner may use to conduct analysis. This is definitely worth having on your bookshelf.
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on October 9, 2006
I decided to read and review three digital forensics books in order to gauge their strengths and weaknesses: "File System Forensic Analysis" (FSFA) by Brian Carrier, "Windows Forensics" (WF) by Chad Steel, and "EnCase Computer Forensics" (ECF) by Steve Bunting and William Wei. All three books contain the word "forensics" in the title, but they are very different. If you want authoritative and deeply technical guidance on understanding file systems, read FSFA. If you want to focus on understanding Windows from an investigator's standpoint, read WA. If you want to know more about EnCase (and are willing to tolerate or ignore information about forensics itself), read ECF.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention I am co-author of a forensics book ("Real Digital Forensics") and Brian Carrier cites my book "The Tao of Network Security Monitoring" on p 10. I tried to not let those facts sway my reviews.

FSFA has received lengthy and glowing reviews, so I will keep my comments brief. Of the three books I cited earlier, FSFA was the only one which really grabbed my attention. I am a network-centric security practitioner, but Brian Carrier's organization, thoughtfulness, and delivery really hooked me. I very much appreciate authors who define a framework and explain potentially complicated topics within that framework.

For example, Brian is very keen to promote the scientific method. His emphasis on hypotheses and looking for evidence to refute them made me take a second look at my own practices. Brian differentiates between "essential" and "nonessential" data, where the former must be accurate in order for a user to access data and the latter not necessarily needing to be accurate. Again, this is a great way to think about digital evidence in any form. Investigation is grouped into preservation, search, and event reconstruction phases. Finally, Brian's separation of data structures into five categories (file system, content, metadata, file name, and application) facilitates comparisons of file systems in the third part of FSFA.

Besides being well-organized, FSFA does an excellent job covering material not addressed elsewhere. Server partitions, RAID, and LVM are examples. It is important to understand what is NOT present in FSFA, however. Brian very clearly stops at the application level of data, saving that for other books. I think this is a great idea, since it lets FSFA concentrate on its core topics (file systems) and saves the data on those file systems for other books. At the risk of self-promoting, I think FSFA is a powerful companion to "Real Digital Forensics" (RDF), since we provide sample file system images in dd format suitable for analysis using FSFA techniques. RDF also cares more about content than structure, which is where FSFA stops.

Anyone who even pretends to be a host-centric forensics practitioner must read FSFA. I expect it has the power to save you on the stand should you encounter intense questioning from a defense attorney.
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on August 1, 2005
Brian Carrier has stepped up to the plate and filled a void in host based digital forensics that has been missing for years. "File System Forensic Analysis" covers nearly every low level aspect of file systems, the heart of every computer forensics investigation. In an age where most digital forensic investigations are oversimplified with GUI analysis suites, Mr. Carrier brings us back to the basis of investigative techniques in a very easy to understand manner.

I especially respect how Mr. Carrier took the extra time to develop a framework used to discuss and compare the file systems. His generalized framework should make it easy for the reader to address the differences discovered between file systems.

In addition to the expected file system discussions, there were a few extra surprises in the book that are worth mentioning. Mr. Carrier included information regarding methods different Operating Systems (and versions of those Operating Systems) interface with their file systems. For example, the infamous creation time/date stamp after the last written time/date stamp phenomenon is clearly explained for Microsoft Windows file systems.

I keep very few printed books as reference guides, but this book will be close to my computer during every investigation.
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on April 21, 2005
More and more good forensics books show up at my doorstep (some bad ones have surfaced as well...). However, Brian's "File System Forensics Analysis" is exceptional in its depth of coverage of modern computer file systems. No other book published so far (and, I suspect, ever) offers that level of details on the internals of file systems such as ext2, ext3, NTFS, FAT and also UFS1 and 2. This is not a general purpose forensics practitioner guide, nor is it a guide to acquiring evidence (however, the book does contain a brief intro to the forensic process). The book just looks at the file systems! There was definitely a need for a source of low-level information on filesystem internals as they apply to forensics. What are the NTFS-specific acquisition issues? Ext3 vs ext2? Etc, etc - many other technical forensics questions are answered in this book.

Ok, so you are the type who run EnCase once and think you are ready to go to court to testify? Have you looked at Windows swap file? Alternative data streams? Host-protected area? No? Then get the book. The book will help law enforcement computer crime folks (those already skilled in forensics), forensics consultants and internal investigators to learn what is really going on when bits get copied, removed, acquired, etc.

Anton Chuvakin, Ph.D., GCIA, GCIH, GCFA is a Security Strategist with a major security company. He is an author of the book "Security Warrior" and a contributor to "Know Your Enemy II". In his spare time, he maintains his security portal info-secure.org
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on February 3, 2013
This book is the beginning and ending point for anyone who needs to know how to forensically examine a computers hard drive. Understanding the file system layouts and forensic procedures described in this book is necessary to truly testify as an expert, otherwise you are just trusting that what ever tool you use is going to work. Carrier does a very good job of laying out all of the steps necessary to create a forensically sound disk image as well as going into all of the details of how the most commonly used file systems are structured and how to examine them at the lowest levels using a simple hex editor. While this book alone will not make you a forensic expert, it provides all of the information necessary to perform a forensic examination of the most common file systems and the procedure it lays out on how to perform the examination can be used on any file system.
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on January 16, 2016
I've not completed reading this book yet but let me tell you this is absolutely the book that needed to be written on this subject. I've taken lots of courses in forensics and this re-established the knowledge from those courses. I can confirm the validity of the information provided from the courses I've taken and it's served as a good mix of new material and refresher material. Granted, I have a few hundred pages to go but the way this is going I can't recommend it enough. This is basically The Bible of file systems. It's a book you should read once simply to have the exposure to the knowledge he provides. No regrets with this purchase. Wholeheartedly recommending this to anyone who wants to go above and beyond in this field.
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on May 28, 2016
My understanding is that this book is going to be updated and if so, would be welcome. I read a ton of reviews that praised this book and while I'm sure they are correct, it's not light reading. I also felt that some topics weren't covered too well for someone that isn't a novice but isn't an expert either. It's written very matter-of-factly, so I felt like if you are strong at this topic or have a good solid foundation, you'll be good. If you are a newer person or looking to have a clearer understanding, I feel that this let me down a bit.
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Carrier's book is rare in its comprehensive coverage of how computers actually store data on disks. Other books might give lesser amounts of detail. And then, a particular book usually describes only how a given operating system does its storage. Carrier goes further on both counts.

He describes how Microsoft, Apple, BSD, linux and Sun do their disks. Though Microsoft's FAT and NTFS get the most extensive coverage, due to the prevalence of disks using these formats. Hierarchies of disks are also covered, like the RAID levels. Plus logical volumes of disks, which span actual sets of disks.

The cutting edge topic is forensics. It is to this end that he explains throughout the book how knowing certain details might aid you in recovering data. Consider his discussion of slack space as one example. He shows how if an operating system does not overwrite this, then a post mortem can reveal fragments of an earlier, supposedly deleted file. (Gosh!) Similar to how an operating system might delete a file by erasing the pointer to the file, but not the actual contents. I'm simplifying here. But perhaps you can see the utility in knowing exactly how files are kept and removed.
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on July 13, 2014
This isn't beach reading by any stretch of the imagination. I used the book as a read-along for some online seminars I was doing in digital forensics, and it helped me to understand the concepts better. Brian Carrier is also the author of the Sleuth Kit forensics package. It's a must have if you're doing any kind of digital forensics or data recovery work.
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