CHAPTER 20 Digital Evidence On Mobile Devices

CHAPTER 20 Digital Evidence On Mobile Devices
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Eoghan Casey and Benjamin Turnbull
Mobile devices such as cell phones and smart phones have become an integral
part of peoples’ daily lives, and as such, they are prone to facilitating criminal
activity or otherwise being involved when crimes occur. No other computing
device is as personal as the mobile phone, effectively providing a computer in
a pocket. Whereas computers, laptops, servers, and game machines might have
many users, in the vast majority of cases, mobile devices generally belong to
an individual.
Although compact, these handheld devices can contain personal information including call history, text messages, e-mails, digital photographs, videos,
calendar items, memos, address books, passwords, and credit card numbers.
These devices can be used to communicate, exchange photographs, connect to
social networks, blog, take notes, record and consume video and audio, sketch,
access the Internet, and much more. As the technology develops, higher data
transmission rates are allowing individuals to transfer more data (e.g., digital
video), and the computing power in these devices enables us to use them in
much the same way as we used laptop systems over the past decade. Because
these devices fit in a pocket or bag, they are often carried wherever a person
goes and can be used to determine a person’s whereabouts at a particular time.
This rapid development of mobile computing and communication technology
creates opportunities for criminals and investigators alike.
The information stored on and associated with mobile devices can help address
the crucial questions in an investigation, revealing whom an individual has
been in contact with, what they have been communicating about, and where
they have been. Sexual predators can use a mobile device to make initial contact with victims, exchange photographs or videos, and groom victims, creating
a vivid cybertrail for digital investigators to follow. Mobile devices have been
instrumental in solving homicides, are used by terrorists for reconnaissance
and coordination, can be used to smuggle contraband across borders, and
are frequently found in prisons despite being prohibited. Members of major
criminal organizations and gangs use mobile devices to coordinate activities
Digital Evidence and Computer Crime, Third Edition
© 2011 Eoghan Casey. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Mobile Device
Forensics .....................2
Types of Evidence
on Mobile Devices ......6
Handling Mobile
Devices as Sources
of Evidence ................16
Preservation of
Mobile Devices..........19
Forensic Examination
and Analysis of
Mobile Devices..........29
Forensic Acquisition
and Examination
of SIM Cards ..............38
Using Mobile
Devices ......................40
Future Trends ...........42
Summary ...................43
References .................44
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
and share information, even when they are in prison, and digital investigators
can gain significant insights into these groups using information from their
mobile devices. Information on mobile devices can also be of use in serious
crimes when a person of interest may not realize that they are carrying a mobile
device or not thinking of it as a source of incriminating digital evidence.
Ronald Williams killed his wife Mariama, apparently in a fit
of rage after learning that she had an affair. Unbeknownst
to Williams, his cell phone pocket-dialed his wife’s cell
phone during the crime and the call went to voicemail.
The recording on his wife’s voicemail captured him stating
that he was going to kill her, followed by her screams and
their 2-year-old daughter pleading with Williams to stop
(Krueger, 2011).
The increasing computational power of mobile devices has afforded even
greater uses, and with that, greater potential for misuse. For instance, some
mobile devices are optimized for data acquisition such as credit card scanning
and scientific measurements (e.g., voltage, temperature, acceleration). This
flexibility has ramifications beyond the manufacturer’s intentions, and mobile
devices have been used to steal credit cards and trigger bombs (van der Knijff,
2009; Wilson, 2006).
This chapter demonstrates how mobile devices can be useful as sources of
digital evidence, describes the basic operation of mobile devices, and presents
tools and techniques for acquiring and examining digital evidence on these
devices. Notably, mobile devices are just one type of embedded system and
there are advanced approaches to extracting information from such devices,
including JTAG access and chip-off extraction. A more in-depth treatment
of embedded systems, including GSM mobile telephones, is provided in the
Handbook of Digital Forensics and Investigation (Van der Knijff, 2009) and the
cmdLabs Web site (
Mobile devices are dynamic systems that present challenges from a forensic
perspective. Additionally, new models of phones are being developed globally,
with some experts postulating that five new phone models are released every
week (Jones, 2008). The growing number and variety of mobile devices makes
it difficult to develop a single process or tool to address all eventualities. In
addition to a growing variety of smart phones and platforms including Android
systems, Blackberry, Apple iPhone, and Windows Mobile, there are a massive
number of low-end phones using legacy OS systems.
Furthermore, there are some unique considerations when preserving mobile
devices as a source of evidence. Most mobile devices are networked devices,
20.1 Mobile Device Forensics
sending and receiving data through telecommunication systems, WiFi access
points, and Bluetooth piconets. Digital evidence in mobile devices can be
lost completely as it is susceptible to being overwritten by new data or remote
destruction commands it receives over wireless networks. Additionally, in order
to extract information, it is necessary to interact with the device, often altering
the system’s state. As with any computer, interacting with a mobile device can
destroy or alter existing evidence. Fortunately, by following the processes outlined in Chapters 3 and 6, it is possible to obtain usable digital evidence from
mobile devices in a forensically sound manner acceptable to a court of law.
Mobile devices are challenging from a data recovery and analysis standpoint
as well. With their increasing functionality and growing data stores, mobile
devices are becoming analogous to computers with specific functions (mainly
as a conduit for communications and Internet access). Keeping up with all of
the various file systems, data formats, and data sources on mobile devices is an
ongoing challenge.
However, a major advantage of mobile devices from a forensic perspective is that
they can contain deleted information even after an individual has attempted to
render it unrecoverable. The underlying reason for this persistence of deleted
data on mobile devices is in the use of Flash memory chips to store data. Flash
memory is physically durable against impact, high temperature, and pressure,
making it more difficult to destroy. In addition, Flash memory has a limited
number of writes and can only be erased block-by-block, and mobile devices
generally wait until a block is full before erasing data. Furthermore, mobile
devices use proprietary wear leveling algorithms to spread write/erase across
Flash memory blocks, which can result in deleted data remaining for some
time while new data are written to less used portions of memory. In order to
access and recover older/deleted copies of data, it is necessary to acquire a full
copy of physical memory as covered later in this chapter.
For all the collection, extraction, and analysis issues mobile devices present,
they are an excellent source of digital evidence and can provide insight unavailable from other devices. Additionally, the personal nature of the device makes it
easy to establish the last mile evidence required to tie a device to an individual.
20.1.1 Fundamentals of Mobile Device Technology
Mobile devices are simple computers with a CPU, memory, batteries, input
interfaces such as a keypad or mouthpiece, and output interfaces such as a
screen or earpiece. Data in memory are generally the focus of a forensic
examination, but some understanding of the input and output components is
needed to access these data. In some instances, it may be sufficient manually
to operate a device and read information from the display. However, to recover
deleted data or perform more advanced examination, specially designed tools
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
are needed to interface with the device. In some situations, it is sufficient to
acquire specific information of interest from a mobile device via a cable connected to the data port, but in other circumstances it is necessary to attach a
specialized connector directly to the circuit board in order to acquire all of
the information needed in a case. Knowledge of how data are manipulated
and stored on handheld devices is sometimes needed to acquire all available
digital evidence from handheld devices without altering it and translate it into
a human readable form. For instance, placing a mobile device on a cradle and
synchronizing it with a computer to obtain information from the device will
not copy all data and may even destroy digital evidence.
Mobile devices use radio waves to communicate over networks with various
frequencies and standard communication protocols. Two of the most common
mobile communication protocols are GSM and CDMA. Another common
technology used in the United States and some other countries is iDEN.
As shown in Figure 20.1, mobile devices can have several identifiers, depending
on the manufacturer, region, and technology. GSM devices are assigned a unique
A Nokia device with various
identifiers, including its IMEI
and part number. The bottom right shows a SIM card
with the ICC-ID.
20.1 Mobile Device Forensics
number called the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), which
includes a serial number for the device. On CDMA phones, the (ESN) is an 11-digit
number with the first three digits designating the manufacturer and the remainder unique to the device. The ESN is being replaced with the MEID, which is the
CDMA equivalent of the IMEI. There are tools available online that can be used to
interpret many of these numbers (e.g., In addition,
some manufacturers assign their own unique serial numbers to mobile devices
they make, and Bluetooth-enabled devices also have a unique hardware (MAC)
address. Some mobile devices also have an FCC-ID which can be used to search
the Web site of the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (http://www.fcc
.gov/oet/ea/fccid/) for details about the device, including user manual and
20.1.2 SIM Cards
GSM devices use SIM cards to authenticate with the network and store various information, including some user-generated activities. SIM cards follow
a standard for what information is stored where on the card. However, SIM
cards come in slightly different shapes and sizes as shown in Figure 20.2. As a
result, a SIM card reader may not be able to accommodate or read data from
all SIM cards.
SIM cards of various sizes.
SIM cards are comprised of a microprocessor, ROM, and RAM, and are assigned
a unique Integrated Circuit Card Identifier (ICC-ID). The ICC-ID contains the
mobile country code (MCC), mobile network code (MNC), and a serial number
of the card. These smart cards are used to authenticate users on GSM and UMTS
networks. The SIM card contains information relating to the network and user,
including an authentication key (called Ki) needed to establish a connection
with the network, the subscriber’s personal identification number (PIN) for
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
restricting use of the SIM, and the subscriber’s phone number, which is called
the Mobile Subscriber ISDN (MSISDN).
The SIM also contains an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) that
is uniquely associated with the subscriber and is comprised of a country code,
a mobile network code, and subscriber identification number. A SIM card may
also contain a Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity (TMSI) and Location
Area Identity (LAI). The TMSI is often used over the radio link to avoid revealing the IMSI number to others who may be eavesdropping with radio-related
interception equipment. The TMSI and LAI generally change each time a device
moves to a new location area within the mobile network.
Not all of the information stored on a SIM card is known or easily accessible by
the subscriber. Notice also the separation between the mobile device and the
SIM card: a SIM card can easily be transferred to another mobile device.
The forensic benefit of mobile devices in an investigation varies, depending
on the criminal acts being investigated, the capability of the mobile device,
and how it has been used. Data associated with mobile phones is found in a
number of locations; embedded memory, attached removable memory, and
the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card. Not all of these components will
be available or necessary for all investigations, but in some cases there may be
multiple SIM cards, removable media, or even more than one mobile device.
Concealment Behavior of Mobile Criminals
Some criminals are aware of the risks associated with their use of mobile devices. To avoid
apprehension, members of certain organized criminal operations will use multiple SIM cards
or prepaid mobile devices that are difficult to trace and inexpensive enough to be effectively
disposal (a.k.a. burners). After a SIM card or mobile device has been used for a prolonged period,
criminals may attempt to destroy them to thwart data recovery. However, useful information
may be recoverable from damaged mobile devices or SIM cards. In addition, these people are not
immune to technology trends and may also carry high-end personal mobile devices that may
provide digital investigators with some insights into the criminals’ activities.
Not all phones are created equal, and what is extractable from a device is
dependent on its capabilities. Table 20.1 provides a breakdown of phone functionality. The baseline phone information is common across the vast majority of consumer mobile phones, whereas the smart phone evidentiary value
extends this basic functionality and associated information.
20.2 Types of Evidence on Mobile Devices
Table 20.1 Potential Evidence Related to Mobile Devices
Baseline phone
User-created information
Smart phone
Phone-created information
User-created information
Internet-related information
Installed third-party applications
Local workstation
Transferred information
Tracking information
Usage information
SIM card
SIM card
Usage information
Handset date and time;
International Mobile Equipment
Identity (IMEI)
Address book; SMS; calendar,
memos; to-do lists
Call register (received, sent, missed)
Photographs (including EXIF
data); video/audio; maps, MMS;
GPS waypoints; stored voicemail;
files stored on system; connected
Online accounts; purchased media
(often discoverable in embedded
metadata); e-mail; Internet usage;
social networking information
Alternate messaging and
communication systems; additional
capabilities; malware applications;
penetration testing; other
applications—anything can help
provide alibi or tie to an individual
Tethered mobile devices; backedup phone data; backed-up
third-party applications; store
accounts; purchased media
Connected cell towers over time;
location at different times; current
location (inaccurate)
Billing information; call register
over time; Internet/data usage;
messages not delivered (after radio
isolation); be warned—SIM cloning
does occur and information is not
to be taken at face value
Subscriber identifier (IMSI); SIM
card identifier (ICC-ID)
SMS; abbreviated dial names/
numbers; last dialed numbers;
location areas
Given the wide range of potential functionality, when dealing with a particular
mobile device in a case, it is advisable to determine its full functionality to get
a better sense of what types of digital evidence it may contain. Manufacturer
documentation can provide this information, and there are Web sites that
catalog the capabilities of many mobile devices such as or as shown in Figure 20.3.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Details from GSMarena for iPhone 4.
At a minimum, mobile phones can be expected to contain address books, call
registers, and Short Messaging Service (SMS) messages, also called text messages, as shown in Figure 20.4.
Text messages have the benefit of providing full transcripts, unlike call records,
and date-time stamps of received SMS messages are usually accurate because
they are inserted by systems operated by the network service provider rather
than by the mobile device itself. However, there are investigative disadvantages
20.2 Types of Evidence on Mobile Devices
SMS messages and other items from a Motorola V3 Razr acquired using BitPim.
with messages; there is no record of when messages were first read (only if they
have been accessed), and messages may be incomplete if they have been erased
from the handset. Some acquisition methods may recover deleted messages, but
this is dependent on the extraction method as discussed later in this chapter.
Smart phones have baseline phone functionality but are vastly more powerful
and extendable, and hence have greater evidentiary value. Figure 20.5 shows digital photographs and other information acquired from a Windows Mobile device.
Photographs acquired from a Windows Mobile device using XRY showing EXIF header information.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Photographs, audio, and video can provide some of the most compelling digital
evidence in a case. Recall the case of Gaumer described in Chapter 10 involving
an accidental voicemail that apparently captured the sounds of the victim being
physically assaulted. In some cases accomplices use mobile devices to record a
crime, as occurred in the UK when a 15-year-old girl who was found guilty of
aiding and abetting manslaughter after she recorded the fatal beating of a man
(Borland, 2008). In other cases, perpetrators themselves have filmed their crime.
Investigation into the death of 15-month-old Charlie Hunt
revealed that he had been beaten by his mother’s boyfriend,
Darren Newton, over several months (Williams, 2010). Incriminating evidence was found in the form of videos that Newton
had taken using his mobile device of himself assaulting the
child. The videos, apparently taken over a period of months,
showed Newton repeatedly slapping the child on the head
for extended periods. On November 19, the final time that
Newton assaulted Charlie Hunt, the child died. Newton was
sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Smart phones have Internet capability rivalling that on many computers. A
more advanced smart phone will additionally store an Internet history, Internet
cache, Internet bookmarks, MMS, e-mail, photographs, videos, and installed
third-party applications and may be used for transferring computer files. Email
and Internet browser history and bookmarks can provide great forensic insight,
and phones provide another source of this data. There is also a wealth of information in third-party installed applications. Although online application marketplaces have existed for several years, they are now playing an increasing part
of the user experience in mobile devices and greatly augment the capability of
individual mobile phones.
20.2.1 Location Information
The ability to determine the location of mobile devices during a period of interest is a powerful investigative capability. Some mobile devices record the location of cellular towers they contacted, potentially providing a historical record
of the user’s whereabouts over a given period. For instance, iPhones store the
locations of recently used cellular towers in a file as shown in Figure 20.6.
GPS-enabled devices may also contain remnants of past locations and maps
that can be useful in an investigation. Additionally, EXIF data embedded in
digital photographs can add additional evidentiary value, providing the date
and time the photograph was created, the device type used to create it, and
potentially the GPS coordinates of where the photograph was taken as shown
in Figure 20.7. Onboard GPS may also provide the user with mapping functionality, and hence provide forensic investigators with waypoints, plotted destinations, and routes taken.
20.2 Types of Evidence on Mobile Devices
A file from an iPhone
containing longitude
and latitude of cellular
tower locations used by the
An EXIF header from a
digital photograph showing
the GPS coordinates of the
originating device at the
time the photograph was
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
20.2.2 Malicious Code on Mobile Devices
As mobile devices are being used more to conduct online banking and
shopping, they are becoming prime targets for computer criminals to steal
money or valuable information. For instance, a fake banking application
for Android devices was disseminated to unsuspecting users and sent information to a third party without their consent (2010, Rogue phishing app
smuggled onto Android marketplace, John Leyden, http://www.theregister More sophisticated malware
allows criminals to intercept SMS messages associated with online banking
transactions, enabling them to steal money directly from a victim’s bank
A malicious Trojan program called ZeuS was designed to
monitor activities of the users on a computer and steal their
online banking information. A variant of this program tricked
computer users to provide information about their mobile
device. This information was then used to intercept SMS
messages associated with online banking, and to capture
mobile transaction authentication numbers used to approve
unauthorized bank transactions.
In addition, programs are available to monitor activities on mobile devices,
including Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and iPhone. These programs are sometimes called spouseware, effectively eavesdropping on the user of the device.
Details about text messages, calls, Internet browsing, and GPS coordinates are
recorded and can be viewed via a Web site by a person with the associated
credentials. For instance, Figure 20.8 list text messages on a Windows Mobile
device running MobileSpy. This information is only viewable by someone
with a username and password associated with that specific installation of
MobileSpy. These programs leave traces on mobile devices that can be found
through forensic examination.
As people and organizations become more reliant on mobile devices, computer criminals will devote more attention to exploiting these devices to victimize individuals and break into corporate networks.
Mobile devices can also be used as a platform to launch attacks against other
systems. Several computer and network security tools have been ported to
mobile devices. Port scanners, wireless network security analyzers, and penetration testing frameworks such as Metasploit have all been ported or developed
for Apple iPhone and Android devices. Although not official, these application
types do exist and may be used for crime. The presence of such applications is
of interest in computer misuse investigations (Moore, 2007).
20.2 Types of Evidence on Mobile Devices
MobileSpy used to intercept text messages on a mobile device and post them to a Web server.
20.2.3 Thinking Outside of the Device
Digital investigators must always keep in mind that mobile devices can connect to various networks via cellular towers, WiFi access points, and Bluetooth.
The networked nature of mobile devices creates opportunities and dangers
from a forensic standpoint. Connected networks can contain investigatively
useful information related to mobile devices, but can also enable offenders
to obliterate incriminating evidence remotely. For instance, Apple provides a
Web-based service to remotely wipe a lost or stolen iPhone, and organizations
that centrally manage Blackberry devices can remotely wipe a specific device
from Blackberry Enterprise Server.
Network service providers may provide information for consistency with the
data extracted from the phone, or may be additional to what can be recovered from the device. Billing records are maintained by network service providers for many subscribers. Customers that have a monthly usage plan will
receive an itemized bill showing the calls, messages, and data activities associated with their mobile device. Once subscriber information is retrieved by
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
digital investigators, a carrier may provide additional historical call records,
unretrieved SMS messages, billing information, and cell towers the device has
connected to over time, the latter providing an inexact method of physically
determining where a phone has been. These records can provide useful historical details that are no longer recoverable from the mobile device itself. For
example, the numbers dialed may connect a suspect with a victim. In addition,
network service providers generally maintain call detail records that can provide specific details about each call and message pertaining to a mobile device.
For more in-depth coverage of the types of information that are available
from network service providers that can be useful in an investigation, see the
“Wireless Networks” in Digital Forensics and Investigation (Dario Forte, 2009).
Data relating to a handheld device can often be found on associated desktop
computers. For example, when a mobile device is synchronized with a desktop
computer, data are stored in backup files indefinitely. Items that have been
erased from the device may still exist on the desktop including e-mail messages
and private data. These files may be stored in a proprietary format and it may
be necessary to obtain specialized tools to interpret these backup files on the
desktop. For instance, Blackberry backup files are stored in an IPD format that
can be viewed using Amber ABC Converter as shown in Figure 20.9.
Amber ABC Converter used to view a Blackberry IPD file.
Digital investigators can obtain information about online accounts that have
been used on mobile devices to connect with cloud-based services such as
Gmail. For instance, the following user account information was extracted from
a keychain database on an iPhone, including accounts on Yahoo, Hotmail, and
Windows Live.
20.2 Types of Evidence on Mobile Devices
F:\tools>sqlite3.exe “iPhone2\Keychains\keychain-2.db”
SQLite version 3.6.16
Enter “.help” for instructions
Enter SQL statements terminated with a “;”
sqlite> select labl,acct,svce from genp;
Communications, documents, and multimedia created using a mobile device
may be transferred to cloud-based services for long-term storage. Mobile
devices that are capable of accessing the Internet can provide further linkage
to online social networks such as Facebook, which can provide digital investigators with further information about who an individual is associated with.
Therefore, digital investigators may find a treasure trove of data on these servers
that is no longer available on the mobile device itself.
Digital investigators can also use information from mobile devices to learn
more about the user’s social network. Even a basic mobile phone can provide digital investigators with a wealth of information about the user’s social
network—analysis of contacts and address books provides an indication of
an individual’s social, work, and family networks. The ability to reconstruct
social networks using information from mobile devices is a powerful tool for
investigating any criminal organizations including drug dealers, gangs, human
traffickers, and terrorists (Koschade, 2006).
Although drug dealers were using cheap, disposable mobile
devices to conduct their criminal enterprise, digital investigators were able to use information from these devices
to apprehend over 20 drug dealers in Medford, Oregon. In
addition to linking drug dealers based on call history recovered from mobile devices, digital investigators recovered
photographs of individuals doing or selling drugs (Conrad,
For a single mobile device it is often useful to know whom someone knows, but
there is additional benefit for large investigations. Where multiple devices are
involved, analysis of overlapping networks can provide leads on common friends
or acquaintances and how communication occurs between otherwise unrelated
groups. Analysis of the call register will add greater insight into the strength of the
connections between individuals and can provide a timeline of communication.
Both the call register and address book on a mobile device can also be used as a
way of corroborating or refuting testimony from the phone’s primary user.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
In general, the same forensic principles that apply to any computing device
also apply to mobile devices in order to enable others to authenticate acquired
digital evidence. Recall that the purpose of a forensically sound process is to
document that the evidence is what you claim and has not been altered or
substituted since collection. At a minimum, all steps taken to extract data
should be recorded to support transparency and repeatability, enabling others
to assess and repeat your work. In addition, the MD5 hash of acquired data
should be calculated and documented, allowing others to verify that nothing
has been altered since the data were acquired. Any issues encountered during
the acquisition process should also be noted, even when they are embarrassing
or the cause is unknown. Documentation must also show continuous possession and control throughout its lifetime. Therefore, it is necessary not only to
record details about the collection process, but also every time it is transported
or transferred and who was responsible.
Keep in mind that some devices can receive data through wireless networks
that might bring new evidence but might overwrite existing data. Therefore,
an investigator must make a calculated decision to either prevent or allow the
device to receive new data over wireless networks as depicted in Figure 20.10.
Removing the battery from a mobile device will prevent it from communicating but may also activate security measures such as lock codes and encryption
that could prevent further access to data on the device. In addition, when using
acquisition methods that require the mobile device to be powered on, it is
necessary to isolate the mobile device from networks.
FIGURE 20.10
Flowchart of handling mobile devices.
20.3 Handling Mobile Devices as Sources of Evidence
Network isolation ensures that the contents of a phone reflect the time at which
it was seized, disallowing changes that may occur to it after it has been seized.
Actions over the network that can alter content include receiving phone calls,
messages, network polling activity, and the use of remote erasure systems; the
latter being an enterprise feature designed for corporate smart phones. Such
network activities can alter the contents of a mobile device, potentially adding
new data, overwriting existing data or unallocated space, or erasing the phone
contents remotely.
Some devices can be reconfigured to prevent communication with the network.
Devices that do not have such a feature can be isolated from radio waves by
placing them in Faraday isolation, such as radio-frequency shielded evidence
containers, which block network communications. Signal jamming systems
provide another means for preventing mobile devices from communicating
with a network but this type of equipment is illegal in some jurisdictions.
Network isolation practices must be maintained during forensic analysis, and
this is achieved with shielded mobile phone examination rooms or extraction
cases. To protect the device against damage or accidental activation, package it
in an envelope or bag.
Mobile Device Triage
Given the dynamic and rapidly evolving nature of mobile device forensics, it is sometimes necessary to acquire data the moment it is observed and available. In some situations, such as military operations or bomb threats, there is neither the time nor resources to isolate the device from
the network prior to extracting information. Furthermore, any delays could allow timed security
locks to activate or provide a window for remote wiping. Effective on-scene triage processes
and tools may preserve evidence that would otherwise be lost, and can make the difference
between life and death in certain situations (Mislan, Casey, & Kessler 2010).
After taking precautions to protect data on the device, examine it for physical damage or suspicious modifications. In most cases, a cursory examination of the exterior of the device will suffice. However, when dealing with
a very technically savvy or dangerous offender, some investigative agencies use X-ray or high-resolution microscopes to detect physical damage or
With the decreasing size of memory modules, they can be easily overlooked,
hidden, destroyed, or swallowed. The microSD card in Figure 20.11 can store
256 MB of data, and much larger capacity cards are emerging. These storage
modules can contain multimedia files, SMS/MMS messages, as well as backups
of data from the mobile device.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
FIGURE 20.11
A 1-GB removable storage media card in a G1 mobile device that has a small enough form factor to be
overlooked but large enough storage capacity to contain useful digital evidence.
Even experienced forensic practitioners sometimes overlook these small-scale
storage modules. The slot for these storage modules is very difficult to find on
some mobile devices like the G1. If, while assessing the capabilities of a mobile
device, you find that the device supports a removable storage card check for
the presence of such a card in the evidentiary device right away. When you
find a removable storage module in a mobile device, remove it immediately to
preserve the information that it contains.
These storage media are generally FAT formatted and can be handled in a forensic manner in the same way as other storage media. Specifically, document the
serial number and any other identifying details, examine the media for damage, activate write protection switches if present, and then create a forensic
duplicate of the contents via a suitable adapter. The resulting forensic duplicate
can be examined using your forensic software of choice, enabling exploration
of the file system and recovery of deleted files.
Evidence Contamination
When certain mobile devices are powered on without their SIM card, they instruct the user to
insert a SIM card. Do not insert your personal SIM card since data transfer or data loss may
occur. For example, Windows Mobile devices automatically import the contents of an inserted
SIM card. So, if you were to insert your own SIM card, the device will be contaminated with your
personal data from the SIM card.
20.4 Forensic Preservation of Mobile Devices
In addition to collecting a mobile device itself, it is important to look for
associated items that might contain data or help extract data from the device.
Removable memory and SIM cards can contain more data than the device itself
and interface cables and cradles may be needed to connect the device to an
evidence collection system. As with any other computer, document the types of
hardware and their serial numbers, taking photographs and notes as appropriate. If a device is on when it is found, leave it on if possible because turning it
off may activate password protection, making it more difficult to extract data
from the device later. Also, document any information visible on the display
including the date and time of the system clock.
Given the variety of mobile devices, it should come as no surprise that there is
no single, standardized method of accessing all of them to extract data using
software or hardware. This is one of the first major hurdles of mobile device
forensics, because without any means of accessing the data on a device, you
are left with only one option: manual examination. When acquiring data from
mobile devices, there are a variety of options and the specifics of a case and the
mobile device will dictate which approach is most suitable. A corollary of this
fact is that no single tool will cover all mobile devices nor will a single tool
cover all situations. The current available methods for extracting data from
mobile devices are summarized in Table 20.2.
Table 20.2 Methods of Extracting Information from Mobile Devices
Manual operation via user interface
Examiner manually accesses the phone
through the user interface. To ensure that
all details are documented and the chain
of custody is preserved, this process is
normally photographed or videotaped.
Only data accessible through the operating
system is retrievable. The most basic
Logical acquisition via communication port
Logical acquisition methods interact with
mobile devices using protocols such as AT
commands and OBEX (OBject Exchange),
and only extracts data that is accessible
through the operating system.
Physical acquisition via communication port Extracts the memory contents in their
or proprietary interface (e.g., Nokia FBUS)
entirety through the communications
port. Interpreting the extracted binary is
dependent on understanding how the
phone stores data in memory structures.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Table 20.2 Methods of Extracting Information from Mobile Devices
Physical acquisition via JTAG
Physical acquisition via direct memory chip
Uses the JTAG interface to extract the
memory contents of the device. Allows the
extraction of full binaries. Acquiring digital
evidence via the JTAG is less intrusive than
relying on the device operating system, but
interpreting the extracted binary requires
in-depth knowledge of the device.
The most low-level and potentially complex
acquisition method for mobile devices.
Involves extracting memory chips from the
device and reading the memory structures.
Can provide access to all device content,
but requires knowledge of interpreting the
raw structures. This technique should not
be used for cases when the original device
must remain operable.
It is generally advisable to acquire data from a mobile device using two or
more of the methods in Table 20.2 in order to compare the results to ensure
the information that you are basing your work on is correct.
A manual examination is sometimes sufficient if investigators only need a
particular piece of information from the device. Before performing a manual
examination of a device, it is advisable to become familiar with its operation
using an identical test device. For this reason, and to enable tool testing and
tool development, forensic laboratories that specialize in this type of examination maintain an extensive collection of mobile devices. When performing a
manual examination, it is important to record all actions taken with device to
enable others to assess whether the examination was performed satisfactorily.
Overlooking Evidence
During a manual examination of a mobile device, it is easy to overlook areas of digital evidence
because they are new, novel, or simply unfamiliar. For instance, a digital investigator might not
realize the significance of an application such as Tigertext ( that is designed
to exchange secret messages via mobile devices. As a result, the digital investigator might not
open the application and review its contents, thus missing digital evidence that could be crucial
to the case. To reduce the risk of overlooking evidence on a mobile device, it is important to
explore each screen and application methodically and to document the results carefully.
20.4 Forensic Preservation of Mobile Devices
The most common automated method of accessing devices is using a data
cable, followed by a wireless means such as Bluetooth. Once you have such
access to the device, the next major hurdle is determining the most effective
means of extracting data from the device. Some mobile devices support standard AT command access, but this usually only provides access to a limited
selection of data. Many mobile devices have proprietary protocols and require
manufacturer/developer tools to execute. Logical acquisition provides context
for items such as date-time stamps and location within the file system on a
mobile device. In some instances, the information retrievable from a data
cable is different from the information extractable via Bluetooth, so it may be
beneficial to perform logical extraction in different ways to ensure all possible
content has been extracted.
The main benefit of acquiring physical memory is that a more complete capture of data is obtained, including deleted items. In addition, physical acquisition methods can work with damaged mobile devices and generally make fewer
alterations to the original device while data are being acquired. There are several
approaches to acquiring a forensic duplicate of mobile devices at a physical level.
Some forensic tools transfer and run an executable commonly called a software
agent on the mobile device. Alternately, the boot process of some mobile devices
can be interrupted, giving access to the system before the main operating system
loads and enabling you to interact with the device at a low level via a boot loader.
More advanced methods of acquiring physical memory involve accessing mobile
devices at a hardware level, either through the JTAG interface or by reading the
Flash memory chips directly. However, extracting a full dump of physical memory does not provide the logical structure of the file system, making it necessary to
either extract unstructured data or interpret file system information in a raw form.
Best practice guidelines from the 2000 International Organization on
Computer Evidence conference (IOCE, 2000) state that phones and other electronic devices should be examined with “methods that minimise loss/change
of data.” However, acquisition of mobile devices may require some interaction, depending on the type of extraction method used. Manual and logical
acquisition methods require some degree of interaction, and physical acquisition methods require either interaction or physical deconstruction. JTAG access
may be the best middle ground but requires knowledge of the integrated circuit, which is generally only known to manufacturers. There is no single best
method to forensically acquire data from mobile phones.
While logical and physical acquisition methods require the least interaction
with the target device, it is often not practical to obtain an exact memory image
of a device, both for logistical and technical reasons. Therefore, the phone’s
(and SIM card’s) operating system must be trusted not to alter the memory
when read commands are executed. If, in the course of an examination an
analyst finds that an acquisition technique has altered data, this must be noted.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Ideally, it would be possible to first acquire the full contents of physical memory from a mobile device. This gives access to deleted data, including SMS
data, earlier call logs, and IMSI numbers from SIM cards that were previously
inserted in the mobile device. In addition, if the user sets a customized lock
code for a mobile device, this information can be extracted from a full memory
dump and then used to acquire the device logically. Unfortunately, current
forensic tools are not able to acquire physical memory from every type of
mobile device, and hardware access methods require specialized knowledge
and equipment that are not available in many cases. Fortunately, the unlock
code for some mobile devices can be obtained or bypassed using forensic tools
that acquire logical data from mobile devices. The benefit of acquiring a device
logically is that it provides you with additional context of data (i.e., which
filename it was associated with) and associated metadata (e.g., when the data
were created). For some devices, only the manufacturer’s backup utility is currently capable of extracting certain items. For instance, Figure 20.12 shows the
Motorola backup utility of iDEN phones obtaining files from a mobile device
that could not be acquired using any forensic tools.
FIGURE 20.12
iDEN backup.
20.4 Forensic Preservation of Mobile Devices
Dealing with Password Protection
Many mobile devices permit users to set a password to restrict access to the device. For certain
devices, it is possible to bypass or recover such protection. It is generally inadvisable to guess a
lock code or passphrase because some mobile devices will wipe their contents after too many
failed attempts. Some jurisdictions also provide legislative recourse to acquire passphrases and
lock codes from suspects when technical methods are not effective or feasible. Such recourse
often requires a court order or warrant.
Be aware that a blank or broken display may simply indicate that the screen is
damaged and it may still be possible to extract evidence via cable as shown in
Figure 20.13.
FIGURE 20.13
Physical acquisition of
broken mobile device using
20.4.1 Mobile Device Forensics Tools
Forensic tools are in constant development to provide a convenient means
of extracting specific data from various mobile devices, typically logically via
cable, infrared, and Bluetooth or physically via cable or JTAG. All of these
tools function in a similar way, sending commands to the phone and recording responses that contain information stored in the phone’s memory. The
information that can be extracted using these methods depends on both the
connection mechanism and model of the phone.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Logical mobile phone acquisition systems interact with the phone operating
system to extract data, much in the same way the vendor synchronization
systems do. As such, there are limitations to the information retrievable,
and only information relevant to the Operating System is available. As
such, information potentially relevant in a forensic investigation might not
be acquired; information such as deleted items won’t be extracted. Mobile
phones generally have a baseline of extractable data from such tools; phone
address book, call register, SMS and photographs, but additional information
is not guaranteed.
The limitation to these forms of applications is that it relies on the assumption that the desktop application and the investigator are assuming that the
phone’s logic is not making any changes to other areas of the phone’s memory.
However, this assumption cannot be verified without the source code and circuit schematics of the phone’s software and hardware, which are rarely, if ever,
publicly available.
There are several commercial forensic tools specifically designed to acquire
data from mobile phones. This section introduces some of the more popular
commercial tools.
MicroSystemation XRY ( is one of the market leaders in mobile device acquisition. MicroSystemation sell products to capture
mobile phones and other small-scale devices logically via USB, infrared, and
Bluetooth. XRY also has an additional component, XACT, that expands capability by performing physical acquisition via the JTAG interface. XACT also allows
for the acquisition of specific models of GPS receiver. Figure 20.14 shows the
XRY acquisition interface.
Cellebrite Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) (http://www is a self-contained, portable mobile phone logical acquisition device. The system is self-powered and copies data to a USB disk or to a
second phone. Cellebrite UFED was designed in Israel. The Cellebrite UFED
is shown in Figure 20.15. Cellebrite also have an additional component,
UFED Physical Pro, that allows physical acquisition of mobile phones and
other small-scale devices. UFED systems are also available in a field-ready
ruggedized form.
Logicube CellDEK ( is a system designed to
acquire data from mobile phones and other small-scale devices such as GPS
receivers. CellDEK conducts logical extraction of data via USB, infrared, and
MOBILedit! Forensic ( is another logical data acquisition tool. MOBILedit! Forensic can be purchased as a software-only tool or as
part of a kit including cables and infrared reader.
20.4 Forensic Preservation of Mobile Devices
FIGURE 20.14
XRY Interface showing data
acquired from a mobile
FIGURE 20.15
Cellebrite UFED device.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
iXAM ( is a forensic acquisition system
specifically for the Apple iPhone and Apple iPod Touch. iXAM acquires
data via the USB interface, but has full physical extraction of data. iXAM
is a niche system, only providing acquisition of a small number of devices
from a single manufacturer. Figure 20.16 shows iXAM acquiring an Apple
FIGURE 20.16
Acquisition of iPhone using IXam.
20.4.2 Software Agents
Some forensic tools transfer and run an executable commonly called a software agent on the mobile device in order to acquire data from the device.
Using a software agent has advantages from a forensic perspective because
it provides a degree of trust and control over the process. However, if the
software agent associated with a forensic tool cannot run on the evidential
device, no data will be acquired. If specific files on a mobile device are inaccessible through the operating system, some important information will
not be acquired. Finally, running a software agent on the device necessarily alters the device, potentially overwriting some data. However, in certain
20.4 Forensic Preservation of Mobile Devices
cases, the only available option may be to run a software agent in order
to acquire data from a specific mobile device. Digital investigators must
weigh these issues against the benefits of acquiring some information from
a device. In addition, it may be necessary to explain that the acquired digital
evidence is trustworthy despite any concerns raised by the use of a software
agent on the device.
20.4.3 Bootloaders
When a mobile device is powered on, the first code it executes is called a boot
loader. This code has very basic functionality and is comparable to the BIOS
on Intel computers. During normal use of a mobile device, the boot loader
simply launches the operating system to enable the user to interact with the
device. However, the boot loader can be interrupted during the startup process
to prevent the operating system from launching and can then be instructed to
execute custom operations. In this way, forensic tools can use the boot loader
to gain access to memory on a mobile device.
20.4.4 Flasher Boxes
Flasher boxes are devices originally designed to customize the appearance and
operation of the operating system on mobile devices. However, by design, Flasher
boxes can also dump the contents of physical memory from mobile devices.
The Twister Flasher box shown in Figure 20.17 can read the physical memory
from a variety of mobile devices, including many Nokia models. The Twister box
interfaces with many Nokia devices via gold-colored contacts on the circuit board,
shown above left. Once the correct data cable is connected between the mobile
device and Twister box, the Sarasoft software program shown in part above is
used to read data from memory using the proprietary Nokia F-Bus protocol.
FIGURE 20.17
Twister Flasher box can
connect to FBUS interface
on Nokia device to acquire
data using the Sarasoft
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
20.4.5 JTAG
JTAG (Joint Action Test Group) refers to the IEEE 1149.1 standard (http:// The JTAG standard specifies an interface
for standardized approaches to test integrated circuits, interconnections
between components, and a means of observing and modifying circuit
activity during a component’s operation (Breeuwsma, 2006). It is a standard feature found in many mobile phones, as it provides manufacturers
a low-level interface to the device that is not dependent on the operating
system. However, the JTAG specifications for individual phones are not available outside the manufacturer. JTAG is of interest to forensic investigators
and analysts, as it can theoretically provide direct access to a mobile phone’s
memory without any chance of altering it. However, the time and knowledge
required to achieve this is substantial—not only requiring an understanding
of JTAG for the specific model of phone, but also to reconstruct the resulting
binary comprised of the device’s memory structures. Despite the limitations
in using JTAG as a forensic extraction mechanism, it provides the most common method of physical extraction. JTAG is common across multiple device
manufacturers and there are multiple devices that extract memory structures
through JTAG.
20.4.6 Chip off Extraction
Extracting the memory chips from a phone and reading them directly is by
far the most exacting extraction method, but has the advantage of interfacing
data in the most direct method. Chip extraction is the most low-level physical
extraction method (Breeuwsma et al., 2007).
The output from chip extraction is forensically the cleanest, relying on no
intermediate communications systems or on the device in any way. Reading
the chip directly returns the memory structures for analysis. However, this
approach suffers from the same issues as JTAG extraction, and will return
only raw memory structures. Additionally, this is the most complex extraction
method and has a failure rate associated. This approach is considered impractical in many situations where evidence may be returned, in cases where there is
no guilt established or when prosecution does not occur.
Once extracted, extracted flash chips must be read to extract data. Device programmers are designed to write data to memory chips but can be used to extract
data from the chips for forensic purposes. This acquisition method requires the
mobile device to be dismantled and chip to be removed and is sometimes
referred to as chip off processing. It is generally necessary to obtain a socket
designed to connect a particular make of chip to the device programmer. There
are several commercial device programmers available: Data I/O FlashPAK II
(, Xeltek SuperPro 5000 (, and BPM
Microsystems (
20.5 Forensic Examination and Analysis of Mobile Devices
The purpose of performing a forensic examination is to find and extract information related to an investigation, including deleted data. Whether data from
a mobile device was acquired logically or physically, the general examination
approach is the same as outlined in Chapter 6.
Survey the available items to become familiar with the main sources of
information on the mobile device.
Recover any deleted items including files, SMS messages, call logs, and
Harvest metadata from active and recovered items such as date-time
stamps, file names, and whether messages were read and calls were
incoming, outgoing, or missed.
Conduct a search and methodical inspection of the evidence, including
keyword searches for any specific, known details related to the
Perform temporal and relational analysis of information extracted from
memory, including a timeline of events and link chart.
Validate important results because even forensic tools have bugs.
When dealing with active data on a baseline mobile device, it may be possible to examine all of the acquired messages, call logs, calendar entries, and
other items stored on the device. However, when the complete file system or
a full physical memory dump was acquired from a mobile device, it is generally infeasible to examine every file or data fragment stored on the device. In
such cases, digital investigators must develop a strategy to find relevant digital
evidence. Surveying the acquired data by looking through folders and viewing
the contents of files on a mobile device can lead to some useful items and may
help with the development of a strategy, but this process is not a substitute
for a methodical forensic examination. A strong forensic examination strategy should take into account what is known about the crime and the types of
information that are being sought. For example, when there is a specific time
period of interest in a case, examining all activities on the mobile device and
reconstructing a timeline of events may be an effective strategy. As another
example, when digital photographs are of interest in a case, an effective strategy
to findings all relevant items on a mobile device may be to employ a combination of file system examination, keyword searching, and file carving.
20.5.1 File System Examination on Mobile Devices
All mobile devices have some form of file system, ranging from simple, proprietary one to more complex, standard ones. For instance, some Motorola
and LG devices run the BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless)
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
operating system developed by Qualcomm, which has its own file system.
The file system on many CDMA devices can be viewed using BitPim as shown
in Figure 20.18. However, using BitPim it may not be possible to view datetime stamps associated with files or acquire the entire file system for later
examination using other tools. Commercial forensic tools such as Cellebrite
can acquire the full logical file system from many mobile devices, including
metadata such as date-time stamps.
FIGURE 20.18
BitPim used to browse the
file system on a Motorola
CDMA device.
Some mobile devices use the FAT file system to arrange data in memory,
others use Linux ext2/ext3 file systems, and iPhones use HFSX which is
unique to Apple computer systems. As a result, it is often possible to perform a forensic analysis of a physical forensic duplicate of mobile devices
using file system forensic tools such as those covered in Chapters 17, 18,
and 19. Figure 20.19 shows a forensic duplicate of an iPhone being examined using FTK.
20.5 Forensic Examination and Analysis of Mobile Devices
FIGURE 20.19
Examination of iPhone physical forensic duplicate using FTK.
Even when a full copy of physical memory is not possible, for many devices the
complete logical file system can be acquired. Although this generally does not
include deleted items, it can still provide access to substantial digital evidence
including MMS messages, IM fragments, and Web browsing history that are
not displayed automatically by forensic tools. In such situations, the forensic examiners must locate the desired information within the file system and
interpret it themselves. This is one of the main reasons why it is important for
practitioners to have an understanding of the underlying technology and not
be overly reliant on automated tools.
As an example, Figure 20.20 shows a file named “MMS937483931.PDU” that
was extracted from the file system of an LG mobile device. This file contains an
MMS message with a video that can be recovered even after the original video
file was deleted from the device. These MMS files start with an SMIL header that
includes the name of the attached file, followed by the actual content of the
attachment (Casey, 2009).
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
FIGURE 20.20
File from an LG mobile device containing an MMS message with a video attachment that can be recovered even after the original video has been deleted from the file system.
20.5.2 Data Recovery on Mobile Devices
When common file systems are used such as FAT, HFS, and ext2/3, it may be
possible to recover deleted files using file system forensic tools as discussed in
Chapters 17, 18, and 19. For instance, Figure 20.21 shows EnCase being used to
recover deleted photographs from a FAT file system on a Samsung mobile device.
FIGURE 20.21
Deleted photographs recovered from the reconstructed FAT file system in a physical memory dump of a Samsung mobile device.
20.5 Forensic Examination and Analysis of Mobile Devices
In addition, items such as MMS messages that have been deleted may be
recoverable as shown in Figure 20.22 using Cellebrite Physical. The deleted
file containing an MMS message is marked with an “X” in the bottom left of
the screen, and the contents of these files can be viewed as shown on the right
of the screen. As seen in the previous section, these MMS files start with an
SMIL header that includes the name of the attached file, followed by the actual
content of the attachment.
FIGURE 20.22
Deleted MMS message being recovered from a physical memory dump of a Samsung device using Cellebrite Physical.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
As another example of how deleted files can be useful in a forensic context,
when files are opened on some Motorola mobile devices a temporary artifact
is created and subsequently deleted. If such items can be recovered as shown in
Figure 20.23, they can contain information that is no longer present elsewhere
on the mobile device and they can provide evidence that particular information was viewed on the device.
FIGURE 20.23
Deleted file being recovered from a Motorola device using XACT.
The abstraction layers and wear-leveling associated with Flash memory can
make data recovery from mobile devices more difficult, but advances are being
made in both commercial and open source forensic tools. For instance, the
winning submission for the DFRWS2010 Forensic Challenge provides a technical analysis of data structures found in memory dump from a Sony Ericsson
K800i mobile device ( The Digital Forensic Framework plug-in
that was developed in this submission to recover wear-leveling tables enables
a forensic analyst to reconstruct the most recent flash abstraction layer, as well
as past states of the device if they still exist in memory. Once the desired state
of memory has been reconstructed, the DFF tool can be used to view various
states of the file system, including metadata associated with files, folders, and
deleted items as shown in Figure 20.24.
20.5 Forensic Examination and Analysis of Mobile Devices
FIGURE 20.24
File system, including deleted items, reconstructed from a physical memory dump of a Sony Ericsson mobile device using DFF.
Tool Validation
Given the complexity of recovering deleted items from Flash memory of mobile devices, it is
generally advisable to validate important results. There are various approaches to validating
results, including performing a manual examination and comparing the results of logical and
physical acquisitions.
Many smart phones use SQLite databases to store information, including
iPhone, Android, and Palm. Figure 20.25 shows the contents of a SQLite
database from a Palm device running webOS. Even after items have been
deleted from a smart phone, the contents may still exist in the SQLite database file. Although the deleted entry may not be visible using a SQLite
browser, it can be recovered by examining the database file in a hexadecimal viewer (Reference Casey E, Cheval A, Lee JY, Oxley D, Song YJ (2011),
“Forensic Acquisition and Analysis of Palm webOS on Mobile Devices,”
Digital Investigation (in press)).
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Records in a SQLite database viewed with browser.
Raw record data in SQLite database viewed using a hex viewer.
Some mobile devices use proprietary file formats to store information, and
these may contain deleted data similar to that described in SQLite databases.
For instance, Windows Mobile devices store communications in a Microsoft
proprietary embedded database named cemail.vol, which can retain deleted
items (Casey, Bann, & Doyle, 2009).
20.5.3 Data Formats on Mobile Devices
Mobile devices store data in a variety of formats. In order to interpret data
on mobile devices and verify important results at a low level, digital forensic investigators require some understanding of these formats. In addition to
understanding binary and hexadecimal numbers, practitioners must be intimately familiar with how these numbers correspond with ASCII and Unicode
characters as discussed in Chapter 15.
A peculiarity of mobile devices is that they store SMS messages not in ASCII
but using a 7-bit alphabet. For instance, Figure 20.26 shows the results of a keyword search for a specific deleted SMS message in physical memory acquired
from a Motorola Z3 device. The SMS message contained the text “We are down
one” and multiple copies were found in the memory dump, as shown in the
20.5 Forensic Examination and Analysis of Mobile Devices
bottom panel of the above screenshot. Observe that the keyword search had
to be performed using 7-bit encoding and that the text of the message is not
visible in readable form when viewed using a hex viewer (see highlighted data
in top right corner of Figure 20.26).
FIGURE 20.26
Deleted SMS messages recovered from physical memory dump of Motorola Z3 device by keyword searching for a 7-bit encoded string.
Certain data on mobile devices, particularly phone numbers, are stored in
nibble reversed format. This means that each byte in the number is stored in
reverse order. For instance, the phone number 12036452774 is 2130462577F4
in nibble reversed format (where the F is padding).
To complicate matters, some mobile devices (e.g., Motorola) store some data in
big-endian format, with the most significant bit first. This basically means that the
entire data structure is stored in the opposite order than on a little-endian system.
For instance, a little-endian UNIX date-time stamp C7 BE FE 49, which equates to
May 4, 2009, at 10:09:11 AM, would be stored as 49 FE BE C7 on a Motorola device.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
In addition to these various data formats, mobile devices use specific data
structures to represent call logs and other information. Researchers and tool
developers are delving into such data structures to help digital investigators
extract more useful data and correctly interpret the information they obtain
correctly. For instance, as noted in the previous section, Windows Mobile
devices store communications in Microsoft proprietary embedded databases.
The structure of these embedded databases has been explored by several digital
forensic researchers and tools have been developed to extract information from
these database files (Casey, Bann, & Doyle, 2009; Klaver, 2009; Rehault, 2010).
For more instruction on forensic examination and analysis of mobile devices,
see the cmdLabs Web site (
When conducting forensic examinations of GSM/UMTS mobile devices, it is
also important to inspect the contents of associated SIM cards. In some cases,
there might be multiple SIM cards that an individual uses in different countries or for different purposes. Some devices function with dual SIM cards.
In addition, the storage capacity and utilization of USIM cards is increasing
and may contain substantial amounts of relevant information. Furthermore,
when a user deletes items from a SIM card, some devices will leave remnants
of deleted data on the card like SMS messages.
The hierarchical storage structure of a SIM card is relatively straightforward,
and the content of each file is defined in the GSM Technical Specification
(GSM 11.11). There is one master file that contains references to all other files
on the SIM card. Each file is addressed using a unique two-byte hexadecimal
value, with the first byte indicating whether it is a master file, dedicated file, or
elementary file:
3F = Master file (MF)
7F = Dedicated file (DF)
2F = Elementary file under the master file
6F = Elementary file under a dedicated file
The technical specification designates some files with common names. For
instance, the 3F00:7F10 directory is named DFTELECOM, and contains
service-related information, including user-created data like SMS messages and
last numbers dialed. The 3F00:7F20 directory is named DFGSM, and contains
network-related information for GSM 900 MHz band operation (DFDCS1800
contains information for 1800 MHz band operation). Similarly, some Elementary
Files have common names. For example, 3F00:2FE2 is named EFICCID (stores
the ICC-ID) and 3F00:7F20:6F07 is named EFIMSI (stores the IMSI).
20.6 Forensic Acquisition and Examination of SIM Cards
There are many tools for extracting data from SIM cards, including TULP2G (http://, developed by the Netherlands Forensic Institute and made
freely available. Although, the tool is generally limited to second-generation technologies, it has been updated to extract information from third-generation SIM cards.
To use TULP2G to acquire data from a SIM card, first open the SIM Investigation profile, select the Investigation tab, and Run the SIM plug-in to extract data from card.
The types of information that may be available on a SIM card are listed in
Table 20.3. This includes the location area identifier (LAI), which is stored in
EFLOCI (7F20:6F7E), providing the country, network, and location area identifier. Each time a mobile device moves to a new area, the LAI information is
updated on the SIM card. Location information may also be available when
the GPRS mobile data service is used. The EFLOCIGPRS (7F20:6F53) contains
GPRS Routing Area Information similar to the LAI information as shown in
Figure 20.27 using Paraben’s Device Seizure software.
Table 20.3 Selection of Information that can be Stored on SIM Cards
Last Dialed Numbers (LDN)
Abbreviated Dial Numbers (ADN)
FIGURE 20.27
Information extracted from a SIM card using Paraben Device Seizure.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
20.6.1 SIM Security
As with mobile devices, security codes can be a barrier to acquiring data from
SIM cards. Therefore, it is important to understand how such security protection can be overcome. Users can set a personal identification number (PIN) to
restrict access to their SIM card. Brute force attacks against the PIN are generally
ineffective unless the manufacturer default was never reset by the user, because
three failed PIN attempts will result in the SIM being locked. Fortunately, some
phones have a PIN unblocking key (PUK) in their documentation as shown in
Figure 20.28, and many network service providers (NSP) can provide the PUK
to get around the PIN or to access a locked SIM card.
FIGURE 20.28
Original documentation
associated with SIM card
contains PUK.
With the proper legal authorization and NSP contact, forensic investigators
may be able to obtain a PUK in a matter of minutes. However, not all NSPs
retain the PUK for the SIM cards they sell, and in some situations it may not be
feasible to involve the NSP.
Given the variety of information that mobile devices contain about peoples’
communications, movements, and online activities, these sources of digital evidence can be instrumental in helping digital investigators reconstruct events
surrounding a crime. The primary methods covered in Chapter 6 for performing
investigative reconstruction are presented here in the context of mobile devices.
20.7.1 Temporal Analysis
One of the most common forms of temporal analysis is creating a timeline of
events to gain a greater understanding of what occurred around the time of a
crime and to help investigators identify patterns and gaps, potentially leading
to other sources of evidence. Given the variety and potentially large quantity
20.7 Investigative Reconstruction Using Mobile Devices
of temporal information on mobile devices, it is a good practice to maintain a
timeline as events are uncovered to ensure that nothing is overlooked and that
important events become apparent promptly. There are other approaches to
analyzing temporal data, such as plotting them in a histogram to find repeated
events or periods of highest activity.
When multiple sources of information are being correlated, temporal analysis may
tie events together based on coincidental timing of their occurrence. For instance,
location-based evidence may place the suspect at the scene of a crime at the exact
time the offense occurred. As such, combining details from the various forms of
analysis can lead to detailed reconstruction of who did what, when, and where.
20.7.2 Relational Analysis
A full relational analysis can include the geographic location of mobile devices
and the associated users, as well as any communication/transaction that
occurred between them. In a major crime investigation involving a large group
of people and devices, creating a detailed relational analysis—where each party
was located and how they interacted—can reveal a crucial relationship.
GPS-enabled mobile devices and SatNav systems may store waypoints and
other GPS coordinates in a file format that can be imported into mapping
tools as shown in Figure 20.29. Google Earth has a feature to import location
information, and a standalone tool for plotting various GPS coordinate files
on a map is PoiEdit (
FIGURE 20.29
Waypoints extracted from
a Garmin SatNav device
plotted on a map using
flags as markers.
Digital Evidence on Mobile Devices
Another form of relational analysis is determining how one item of evidence
relates to another. This form of analysis is often called evaluation of source, and
may reveal the location origin of an item of evidence, the mobile device used
to create the evidentiary item, or that the evidentiary item was once part of a
particular mobile device. For example, relational questions in a child exploitation case might include: Was a particular mobile device used to take evidential
digital photographs? Where were the photos taken? Was the suspect’s SIM card
ever placed in the mobile device?
20.7.3 Functional Analysis
Forensic examiners perform a functional analysis to determine how a particular function or program on a mobile device works and how the device was
configured at the time of the crime. This type of analysis can be performed
using emulation software or a physical test device (Murphy, 2009).
The aim of this type of analysis is to gain a better understanding of a crime or
a piece of digital evidence. Malware forensics is another example of functional
analysis that may be necessary when a mobile device has been misused.
Digital Forensics is a reactive field, and as such future trends in mobile phone
analysis are largely dependent on trends in the mobile phone industry. Phones
are becoming much more capable, and while there remains a market for
phones with only basic functionality, phones with greater functionality are
the expanding market. The term smart phone is ceasing to be relevant as it
becomes the standard. For forensic investigators and analysts, this is positive
for two reasons: phones will have greater capability and hence will contain
more potential evidence, and the industry is stabilizing to a smaller number of
core operating system platforms.
The proliferation of high-end smart phones in both the consumer and commercial sectors will ultimately have an impact on forensic investigation. The
increased capacity of phones will require greater analysis on a per-device
basis but can provide greater insight. Mobile phones are a data store largely
abstracted away from individual users and are less likely to be altered or
tampered with.
The number of mobile phone and device operating systems is consolidating
to a discrete group, largely independent of the hardware. This will aid data
extraction and analysis in reduced learning curves for different devices as well
as a greater understanding of what can be extracted for each platform. The need
to reverse-engineer the idiosyncrasies found in custom operating systems or
individual implementations will decrease over time.
The future of mobile phone and device forensic analysis will, to a greater
degree, involve the reverse-engineering of third party applications. Such applications are platform-dependent, written either with native SDKs or through
third-party tool sets, and have differing access to the underlying operating system. Understanding the capability and intent of third-party applications may
be vital to forensic analysts in certain circumstances, as they may be malicious
in nature, indirectly facilitate crime, provide communication mechanisms
outside of standard on-phone systems, or store data of forensic value (either
locally or on externally hosted servers). Third-party applications are also likely
gateways to cloud services, which are increasingly catering to mobile devices.
The forensic implications of cloud computing are beyond the scope of this
work, but you must be aware of both their existence and the idea that evidence
exists beyond the device itself.
Low-end phones with basic functionality will continue to exist in significant numbers. From a digital forensic perspective, these phones are cheap and disposable,
and it is difficult to attribute ownership. Such analysis needs greater scalability in
analysis, for situations where an individual may control multiple phones, multiple groups control a single phone, and for large-scale social network analysis.
Current links between workstations and notebook computers and phones
almost exclusively view the phone as a satellite device. Improved connectivity
between phones and other data sources may alter this and provide greater links
between connected systems.
By far the most obvious trend is that mobile devices will continue to be important
in forensic analysis and have a large role in both civil and criminal investigations.
There are a growing number of mobile devices for personal organization and
communication, many with access to the Internet. These devices can be a source
of digital evidence in any crime, containing personal information about an individual, including photographs, passwords, and other useful data, or showing
where individuals were at a specific time and with whom they were communicating. The information they contain can also be an instrumentality of a crime
when they are used to steal intellectual property or create and disseminate child
pornography. These devices can be an instrumentality of a crime when used
to eavesdrop on wireless network traffic. In recent years, it has become routine
for investigators to collect mobile devices as evidence. Embedded systems are a
challenging source of evidence because the data on them is volatile and different
tools are needed to process different devices. Currently tools and training in this
area are limited but, given the rapid increase in their use, this is likely to become
one of the largest growth areas in the field of digital evidence examination.
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