Image acquisition and mounting

Image acquisition

The drive to be imaged should be extracted from the system and plugged on an acquisition station through a (ideally) hardware write blocker. Dedicated hardware, such as the TX1 Tableau Forensic Imager, can also be used to directly make a drive to drive or drive to file (such as a raw file) copy.

If the disk to image cannot be extracted from the system, a bootable USB drive can be used to boot into a temporary OS (if the BIOS boot order of the target system can be changed). A Linux distribution suitable for forensic imaging should be used, such as the CAINE distribution (based on Ubuntu) or Kali Linux in Forensics Mode. In such distributions all devices are blocked in read-only and auto-mounting is disabled, and a number of forensics tools are installed for acquisition.

From Windows

Windows should only be used as a acquisition platform if the drive to image can be connected through an hardware write-blocker, as Windows will automatically attempt to mount any recognized partitions, potentially altering the data.

The FTK Imager utility can be used to create a forensic image of a physical drive or logical drive / partition. FTK Imager can create images in raw, EnCase (E01), or Advanced Forensics Format (AFF) formats.

The procedure is as follows:

-> File -> Create Disk Image...
   -> Physical Drive -> Selection of the source drive / device
   -> Add image destination -> Selection of the image type (raw, E01, etc.)
   -> Evidence collection metadata
   -> Selection of the image destination folder and name

From Linux

Devices overview

Linux storage devices, such as hard disks or SSDs, are typically block devices represented as files under /dev. Block devices can be divided into one or more logical disks called partitions. This partitioning is recorded in the partition table, such as MBR or GPT, usually found in sector 0 of the disk.

Typeblock deviceEventual partition(s)

SATA drives

Each drive is represented as /dev/sdx. Example of two drives: /dev/sda /dev/sdc

Each partition is represented as /dev/sdxN. Example of two partitions on the same drive: /dev/sda1 /dev/sda2

NVMe drives

Each drive is represented as /dev/nvmeXn1. Examples: /dev/nvme0n1 /dev/nvme1n1

Each drive is partition as /dev/nvmeXpX. Examples: /dev/nvme0n1p1 /dev/nvme0n1p2

Optical medias (CD or DVD drives)

/dev/srx Example of two CD / DVD drives: /dev/sr0 /dev/sr1


The lsblk utility can be used to list the block devices present on a system and the fdisk or gdisk (for handling of GPT) utilities to retrieve more information on a specific device and its partitions.

# Lists the block devices present on the system.

# Retrieves information on the specific block device and its eventual partitions.
# <DEVICE> example: /dev/sda
fdisk -l <DEVICE>
gdisk -l <DEVICE>

Imaging using dd

dd is the standard copy utility that, while not forensic oriented, can be used to create image of a device / partition. dd presents the advantage of being available in most Linux distributions. A more forensics sound utility, such as dc3dd (presented below), should generally be used if possible.

# <DEVICE> example: /dev/sda
# <PARTITION> example: /dev/sda1

sha256sum <DEVICE | PARTITION> > /dest_media/SHA256_original

# The device / partition block size can be retrieved using the fdisk utility.
# The "conv=noerror,sync" option instructs dd to continue the copy if a bad sector is encountered (otherwise dd terminates).
dd if=<DEVICE | PARTITION> of=/dest_media/image.raw bs=<2k | 4k | BLOCK_SIZE> status=progress [conv=noerror,sync]

sha256sum /dest_media/image.raw  > /dest_media/SHA256_image

Imaging using dc3dd

dc3dd is a more forensic oriented utility, based on dd, to make disk or partition image. dc3dd automatically detects bad sectors, natively integrates hashing of the input and output bytes, and integrates logging functionalities, making it more suitable for forensic imaging.

# log option: output log files.
# hlog option: output file that will contains the image hash(es).

dc3dd if=<DEVICE | PARTITION> hof=/dest_media/image.raw log=<LOG_FILE> hash=sha256 hlog=<HASH_FILE>

Imaging using Guymager

Guymager is a GUI forensic imager, that can produce image files in raw, EWF, and AFF formats. Guymager is multi-threaded for faster collection and integrates hashing calculation.

Right click device -> Acquire image
  -> Format selection (raw, EWF, AFF)
  -> Evidence collection metadata
  -> Selection of the image destination folder and name
  -> Calculate SHA-256

Image mounting

Following the imaging of a system disk, the image taken must be mounted as a partition for analysis. Numerous tools can be used, from either the Windows or Linux operating systems, to do so. An important aspect of image mounting is the preservation of the artefacts integrity. The image should be mounted in read-only (or temporary write), with a few specificities to preserve timestamps and data integrity.

Some utilities, such as Autoruns, require writable partitions. To use such utilities, the image should be mounted using an utility supporting temporary writes.

From Windows

The Arsenal Image Mounter is a powerful graphical utility that can be used to mount multiple image types. It supports temporary write using a diff file that will store the modifications. Arsenal Image Mounter will automatically mount the different partitions of a given image and implements decryption of BitLocker protected partition.

Arsenal Image Mounter supports the following disk image format:

  • raw / DD

  • Multi-parts raw

  • EnCase Evidence File (E01)

  • Advanced Forensics Format (AFF)

  • VDI / VMDK / VHD

Other utilities such as FTK Imager or OSF Mount may be used as well.

From Linux

Virtual Machine disks

The guestmount utility can be used to mount a virtual machine disk (vmdk, vhdx, qcow / qcow2, vdi, etc.) directly:

# Attempts to automatically find the device(s) to mount.
guestmount --ro -i -a <VM_DISK_FILE> </mnt/mounted | MOUNT_POINT>

# Requires knowledge of the device to mount.
guestmount -a <VM_DISK_FILE> -m </dev/sda1 | DEVICE> --ro </mnt/mounted_vmdk | MOUNT_POINT>

# Unmounts the mounted device.
guestunmount <MOUNT_POINT>

Alternatively, the qemu-img utility can be used to convert a virtual machine disk to a raw image:

qemu-img convert -O raw <VM_DISK_FILE> <OUTPUT_IMAGE>

Expert Witness/EnCase (EWF) image

The following procedure can be following to mount disk images in the Expert Witness/EnCase (EWF) format:

# Mount the raw EWF image. Following the ewfmount, an "ewf1" file should be present in the <RAW_EWF_DIR_PATH> directory.
# The ewfmount utility is part of the "ewf-tools" package on Debian / Kali Linux.
mkdir <RAW_EWF_DIR>

# Mount the image as a loop device.
# show_sys_files and streams_interace=windows are options for Windows NTFS partitions.
mount <RAW_EWF_DIR_PATH>/ewf1 <MOUNTPOINT_PATH> -o ro,loop,noatime,noexec,noload,norecovery[,show_sys_files,streams_interace=windows]

Logical Volume Manager image

Logical Volume Manager (LVM) is a device mapper framework that provides logical volume management (for the Linux kernel) to provide a system of partitions independent of underlying disk layout.

The LVM feature is composed of the following building blocks:

  • Physical volume (PV): Unix block device node, such as a hard disk, an MBR or GPT partition, usable for (physical) storage.

  • Volume group (VG): group of physical volume(s) that serves as a container for logical volume(s).

  • Logical volume (LV): virtual/logical partition that resides in a volume group and is composed of physical extents. LV can be directly formatted with a file system.

  • Physical extent (PE): smallest contiguous extent in a physical volume that can be assigned to a logical volume.


  • Physical disks: /dev/sda1 and /dev/sdb1.

  • Volume Group: /dev/MyVolGroup/ = /dev/sda1 + /dev/sdb1

  • Logical volumes: /dev/MyVolGroup/rootvol, /dev/MyVolGroup/homevol, /dev/MyVolGroup/mediavol

The following commands can be used to mount a LVM disk image:

# Mappings for the LVM's volumes.
kpartx -av <IMAGE_PATH>

# Checks the LVM's PV(s) available.

# Checks the LVM's VG(s) and LV(s) available.

# If the LV does not appear, the associated VG may need to be activated.
vgchange -ay <VG_NAME>

# Mounts the specified LV.
# LV path example: /dev/<VG_NAME>/<root | LV_NAME>
mount -o ro,noatime,noexec,noload,norecovery <LV_PATH> <MOUNT_POINT>

Generic / other image types

The image partitions can be first determined using the TSK's mmls or fdisk utilities. The utilities will retrieve the image sector size and the partition(s) offsets, both required to mount the partition.

mmls [ -o offset ] <IMAGE_FILE>
fdisk -l <IMAGE_FILE>

# Units are in <SECTOR_SIZE>-byte sectors
# Slot      Start             End   Length  Description
# [...]
# 02: 00:00 <PARTITION_START> XXX   YYY     NTFS
# mount options:
# ro : read-only.
# noatime : preserve the atime (last access time) timestamps.
# noexec : files from the mounted partition cannot be executed.
# norecovery/noload : prevent replaying of the partition journal to preserve integrity.
# loop : explicitly tells mount to use a loop device (optional on newer version of mount).
# show_sys_files and streams_interace=windows are options for Windows NTFS partitions.


sudo mount -o ro,loop,noload,noatime,noexec,[show_sys_files,streams_interace=windows,]offset=<OFFSET | $((<SECTOR_SIZE> * <PARTITION_START>))> <IMAGE_FILE> </mnt/ | MOUNT_POINT>


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