Click here to close now.


Linux Containers Authors: JP Morgenthal, John Grimm, Elizabeth White, PagerDuty Blog, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Why Recovering a Deleted Ext3 File Is Difficult . . .

and why you should back up important files

The file we are trying to recover is /home/carrier/oops.dat and we can see it previously allocated to inode 415,926. The "(28)" shows us that the directory entry structure is 28 bytes long, but we don't care about that.

File Carving Recovery
The first recovery technique, called file carving, uses signatures from the deleted file. Many file types have standard values in the first bytes of the file header, and this recovery technique looks for the header value of the deleted file to determine where the file may have started. For example, JPEG files start with 0xffd8 and end with 0xffd9. To recover a deleted JPEG file, we would look at the first two bytes of each block and look for one with 0xffd8 in the first two bytes. When we find such a block, we look for a block that has 0xffd9 in it. The data in between are assumed to be the file. Unfortunately, not all file types have a standard footer signature, so determining where to end is difficult. An example of an open source tool that does file carving is foremost and there are several commercial options as well.

We can run a tool like foremost on the full file system, but we'll probably end up with way too many files, including allocated ones. We therefore want to run it on as little data as possible. The first way we can restrict the data size is to examine only the block group where the file was located. Remember that inodes and blocks for a file are allocated to the same block group, if there is room. In our case, we know which inode the file used and therefore we can examine only the blocks in the same group. The imap command in debugfs will tell us to which block group an inode belongs:

debugfs: imap <415926>
Inode 415926 is part of block group 25
    located at block 819426, offset 0x0a80

The output of the fsstat command in TSK would also tell us this:

# fsstat /dev/hda5
Group: 25:
   Inode Range: 408801 - 425152
   Block Range: 819200 - 851967

We next need to determine the blocks that are in the block group of the deleted file. We can see them in the previous fsstat output, but if we're using debugfs , we'll need to calculate the range. The stats command gives us the number of blocks in each group:

debugfs: stats
Blocks per group: 32768

Since we are looking at block group 25, then the block range is from 819,200 (25 * 32,768) to 851,967 (26 * 32,768 - 1). By focusing on only these blocks, we are looking at 128MB instead of the full file system. Although if we can't find the file in these blocks, we'll still need to search the full file system.

The next step to reduce the data we analyze is to extract the unallocated blocks from the file system because that is where our deleted file will be located. debugfs does not currently allow us to extract the unallocated space from only a specific block group, so we will need to use the dls tool from TSK.

# dls /dev/hda5 819200-851867 > /mnt/unalloc.dat

The above command will save the unallocated blocks in block group 25 to a file named /mnt/unalloc.dat. Make sure that this file is on a different file system because otherwise you may end up overwriting your deleted file.

Now we can run the foremost tool on the unallocated data. foremost can recover only file types for which it has been configured. If foremost doesn't have the header signature for the type of the deleted file, you'll need to examine some similar files and customize the configuration file. We can run it as follows:

# foremost -d -i /mnt/unalloc.dat -o /mnt/output/

The -d option will try to detect which blocks are indirect blocks and won't include them in the final output file. The /mnt/output/ directory will contain the files that could be recovered. If your file is not in there, you can expand your search to all unallocated blocks in the file system instead of only the blocks in the block group.

Journal-Based Recovery
The second method for trying to recover the files is to use the journal. We already saw that inode updates are first recorded in the journal, but the important concept here is that the entire block in which an inode is located is recorded in the journal. Therefore, when one inode is updated, the journal will contain copies of other inodes stored in the same block. The previous version of our deleted file's inode may exist in the journal because another file was updated before the deletion.

The easiest way to look for previous versions of the inode is by using the logdump -i command in debugfs:

debugfs: logdump -i <415926>
Inode 415926 is at group 25, block 819426, offset 2688
Journal starts at block 1, transaction 104588
  FS block 819426 logged at sequence 104940, journal block 2687
   (inode block for inode 415926):
   Inode: 415926 Type: regular Mode: 0664 Flags: 0x0
   User: 500 Group: 500 Size: 2048000
   Blocks: (0+12): 843274 (IND): 843286

In this case, we found a previous copy of the inode and the file content blocks are listed on the last line. The last line shows that the first block of the file is 843,274 and the next 12 blocks in the file system are the next 12 blocks in the file. The file is large and requires an indirect block, which is located in block 843,286. So far, all blocks are consecutive and there was no fragmentation. Block 843,286 contains the rest of the block addresses, so we should try to look at a previous version to learn where the rest of the file is located. We can see if there is a copy in the journal using logdump -b:

debugfs: logdump -b 843286 -c

Unfortunately, we don't find a copy of the block that contains the original list of block pointers so, if we want to recover the file, we need to assume that the remaining file content is stored in block 843,287 and onward. A more advanced approach would also consider which blocks are currently allocated and skip over those. The data can be extracted with tools such as dd or the Linux Disk Editor. The journal can also be searched using the jls and jcat tools from TSK.

File recovery with Ext3 is not a trivial matter, which reinforces the concept of making backups of important files. If the file was not fragmented, then searching for its header signature can be useful, but the tool needs to know to ignore the indirect blocks and where to stop copying (not all files have a standard footer signature). Restricting the search to the local block group can help save time. The journal could be useful if files near the deleted file were recently updated and a previous version of the inode existed, but this is not always guaranteed and the file's indirect block may not exist.

References and Bibliography

More Stories By Brian Carrier

Brian Carrier has authored several leading computer forensic tools, including The Sleuth Kit (formerly The @stake Sleuth Kit) and the Autopsy Forensic Browser. He has authored several peer-reviewed conference and journal papers and has created publicly available testing images for forensic tools. Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Digital Forensics at Purdue University, he is also a research assistant at the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security
(CERIAS) there. He formerly served as a research scientist at @stake and as the lead for the @stake Response Team and Digital Forensic Labs. Carrier has taught forensics, incident response, and file systems at SANS, FIRST, the @stake Academy, and SEARCH. He is the author of File System Forensic Analysis (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0321268172).

Comments (6) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
theusr 07/09/09 09:29:00 AM EDT

The figure 2 maybe misleading: the links between the address blocks and the file content are still there (though the address blocks are unallocated), that what's make the recovery possible.

Mike Kay 01/15/08 03:57:07 PM EST

Excellent article. Followed it step by step and successfully recovered a .XLS spreadsheet that had been deleted from the /tmp folder on Ubuntu Gutsy. It also found an associated .jpg that I wasn't looking for!

Saved me hours of retyping. Thanks a lot.

Jahangir 10/22/07 05:26:36 PM EDT

This was really the best article i could find inspite of 3 hrs of googling.

But what if you are trying to recover a 6GB VM.
Since VMware files are not recognized by foremost, how can we get the magic number to get the header for the VM files ??

ruintower 04/23/06 09:07:29 PM EDT

Trackback Added: ext3 undelete;   I “mis-deleted” a big file several days ago. So I umount the the partition immediately and searched the recovery method because I knew (but forgot) some methods to recovery file in Linux. However, the result is disappointed. Alt...

marco 03/13/06 08:04:20 AM EST

U have saved my life.
I had lost all my application files under tomcat with de deploy command... no backup ..gulp
now I have a 128MB ascii file with my lost files, it's great.

U are a GURU,

marco 03/13/06 08:04:04 AM EST

U have saved my life.
I had lost all my application files under tomcat with de deploy command... no backup ..gulp
now I have a 128MB ascii file with my lost files, it's great.

U are a GURU,

@ThingsExpo Stories
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound cha...
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...