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Dynamic Recreation of Kernel Data Structures for Live Forensics, DFRWS 2010


The role of live forensics in digital forensic investigations has become vital due to the importance of volatile data such as encryption keys, network activity, currently running processes, in memory only malware, and other key pieces of data that are lost when a device is powered down. While the technology to perform the first steps of a live investigation, physical memory collection and preservation, is available, the tools for completing the remaining steps remain incomplete. First-generation memory analyzers performed simple string and regular expression operations on the memory dump to locate data such as passwords, credit card numbers, fragments of chat conversations, and social security numbers. A more in-depth analysis can reveal information such as running processes, networking information, open file data, loaded kernel modules, and other critical information that can be used to gain insight into activity occurring on the machine when a memory acquisition occurred. To be useful, tools for performing this in-depth analysis must support a wide range of operating system versions with minimum configuration. Current live forensics tools are generally limited to a single kernel version, a very restricted set of closely related versions, or require substantial manual intervention.

This paper describes techniques developed to allow automatic adaptation of memory analysis tools to a wide range of kernel versions. Dynamic reconstruction of kernel data structures is obtained by analyzing the memory dump for the instructions that reference needed kernel structure members. The ability to dynamically recreate C structures used within the kernel allows for a large amount of information to be obtained and processed. Currently, this capability is used within a tool called RAMPARSER that is able to simulate commands such as ps and netstat as if an investigator were sitting at the machine at the time of the memory acquisition. Other applications of the developed capabilities include kernel-level malware detection, recovery of processes memory and file mappings, and other areas of forensics interest.