Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Sematext Blog, Pat Romanski, Greg O'Connor

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.

Conclusion
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,
thanx

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,
thanx

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management solutions, helping companies worldwide activate their data to drive more value and business insight and to transform moder...
Personalization has long been the holy grail of marketing. Simply stated, communicate the most relevant offer to the right person and you will increase sales. To achieve this, you must understand the individual. Consequently, digital marketers developed many ways to gather and leverage customer information to deliver targeted experiences. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lou Casal, Founder and Principal Consultant at Practicala, discussed how the Internet of Things (IoT) has accelerated our abil...
SYS-CON Events has announced today that Roger Strukhoff has been named conference chair of Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 19th Cloud Expo and 6th @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. "The Internet of Things brings trillions of dollars of opportunity to developers and enterprise IT, no matter how you measure it," stated Roger Strukhoff. "More importantly, it leverages the power of devices and the Interne...
Digital innovation is the next big wave of business transformation based on digital technologies of which IoT and Big Data are key components, For example: Business boundary innovation is a challenge to excavate third-party business value using IoT and BigData, like Nest Business structure innovation may propose re-building business structure from scratch, as Uber does in the taxicab industry The social model innovation is also a big challenge to the new social architecture with the design fr...
So, you bought into the current machine learning craze and went on to collect millions/billions of records from this promising new data source. Now, what do you do with them? Too often, the abundance of data quickly turns into an abundance of problems. How do you extract that "magic essence" from your data without falling into the common pitfalls? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Natalia Ponomareva, Software Engineer at Google, provided tips on how to be successful in large scale machine learning...
If you had a chance to enter on the ground level of the largest e-commerce market in the world – would you? China is the world’s most populated country with the second largest economy and the world’s fastest growing market. It is estimated that by 2018 the Chinese market will be reaching over $30 billion in gaming revenue alone. Admittedly for a foreign company, doing business in China can be challenging. Often changing laws, administrative regulations and the often inscrutable Chinese Interne...
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kausik Sridharabalan, founder and CTO of Pulzze Systems, Inc., will focus on key challenges in building an Internet of Things solution infrastructure. He will shed light on efficient ways of defining interactions within IoT solutions, leading to cost and time reduction. He will also introduce ways to handle data and how one can develop IoT solutions that are lean, flexible and configurable, thus making IoT infrastructure agile and scalable.
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at EMC, will introduce a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organizati...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Bsquare has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For more than two decades, Bsquare has helped its customers extract business value from a broad array of physical assets by making them intelligent, connecting them, and using the data they generate to optimize business processes.
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 6thInternet of @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
Video experiences should be unique and exciting! But that doesn’t mean you need to patch all the pieces yourself. Users demand rich and engaging experiences and new ways to connect with you. But creating robust video applications at scale can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Zohar Babin, Vice President of Platform, Ecosystem and Community at Kaltura, will discuss how VPaaS enables you to move fast, creating scalable video experiences that reach your...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life sett...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM Company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, provides cloud infrastructure as a service from a growing number of data centers and network points of presence around the world. SoftLayer’s customers range from Web startups to global enterprises.
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
SYS-CON Events announced today the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp, being held November 1-2, 2016, in conjunction with 19th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Enterprise IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but with hands-on demos and detailed walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of real world use cases prototyped using Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark, and Intel Edison. Y...
Businesses are struggling to manage the information flow and interactions between all of these new devices and things jumping on their network, and the apps and IT systems they control. The data businesses gather is only helpful if they can do something with it. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Witeck, Principal Technology Strategist at Citrix, will discuss how different the impact of IoT will be for large businesses, expanding how IoT will allow large organizations to make their legacy ap...