FTK Imager and Custom Content Images

FTK Imager

FTK Imager is renowned the world over as the go-to forensic imaging tool. While working in law enforcement I was always obsessed with ensuring I had captured the ‘golden forensic image’ which for obvious reasons, is still ideal and gives you all that unallocated spacey goodness.


Modern day forensics and IR require answers. Quick!

As we all know, things have moved on quite rapidly from grabbing an image of a dead box and leaving it processing in your tool of choice over the weekend. This is mainly due to the issue that most units have; backlogs, lack of time and urgency to produce results. Whether it’s management in Law Enforcement looking for the silver bullet ‘Find Evidence’ button in Axiom (no digs at Magnet but please put that back in :)) or the large corporations incident responder needing to analyse hundreds of endpoints for one specific artefact.

Now, I’m not saying FTK Imager is about to answer either of those questions for you but there are some handy functions which I had never used until recently.

Custom content images in FTK Imager allow the analyst to add an evidence item and build a logical image (AD1… sorry XWF users) containing only files of their choosing.

This can be handy for a few reasons.

Perhaps time to capture evidence is limited.

  • This could involve accessing a users laptop remotely while it is only attached to the network for a short time. This may not be lawfully permitted in your country.
  • You could have been given a computer with no PSU and need to acquire evidence from it before the battery dies (as I once had to do in the back of a $380 taxi journey).
  • In the law enforcement world, there are any other numbers of reasons why you may be tight on time.

You have strict instructions on what to acquire.

  • You might only have legal permission to or have been asked to only extract specific files types.
  • You are capturing evidence from a shared computer and are only allowed to extract files specific to a user account due to legal privilege.

Here are some simple ways around some of these problems using FTK Imager, presuming you are working with Windows computers or existing images.

Custom Content Image by File Type

FTK Imager allows the use of Wild Cards to filter and find specific files stored on the file system. This is a great feature if you are looking for a file by name*, extension or batch of files with similar names.

* Noting that files by name may not meet all matching files in the way that hashing will.

Wild Card Syntax:

? = Replaces any single character in the file name and extension
* = Replaces any series of characters in a file name and extension
| = Separates directories and files

Wild Card Filters:

Users|*|Downloads|Evidence ?.pdf

1: Start by browsing to your custom content item.

2: Then right-click and select add to “Custom Content Image”.

Add to.png

3: You can manually add custom content by selecting “New” using the wildcard option or “Edit” existing custom content.

Evidence Tree

Wild Card

*As far as I’m aware, there is not an option to save your custom content as a template. 

(Please let me know if you do, as I currently just use a text file as a template for files of interest for varying investigation types)

Creating Content Image by User SID

As previously mentioned, your scope may be limited due to shared computer use and while this may not be of too much importance for law enforcement, files belonging to a user may be marked as privileged by civil court orders.

We can use FTK Imager to create an image of only files owned by a specific users SID, the process is just as we defined previously but upon creating the custom content image you need to select the tick box to “Filter by File Owner”.


Once you have selected this, you will be presented with the respective file owners and their SID’s on the system.


Collection for Incident Response

The last instance where these methods may be useful is if you have a handful of workstations where you need to collect some very specific files or artefacts from. I tend to use a text file as a template. Although this works, it is a bit clunky and slow.

There are a great many other commercial and open source tools which can already perform these tasks extremely well, such as f-response, X-Ways Forensic, GRR and so on. This option also doesn’t really work for incident response at scale but if you’re stuck without your commercial tools or have a very targeted approach for collections from a few computers, then this could work for you.

FTK Imager also comes in a lite flavour which doesn’t require any installation. 🙂






Hashing in X-Ways Forensics

A bit about hashing

In digital forensics, hashing is generally used as a method of verifying the integrity of a forensic image or file. The MD5 algorithm has become the accepted standard and used worldwide. Without getting into a long conversational piece about hash collisions and other more reliable and faster methods, MD5 for most purposes is still sufficient.

File hashing has had a long grounding in Law Enforcement cases to identify known good and known bad sets of image file hashes.

Known good hash sets allow an analyst to reduce their data set within their forensic evidence dramatically by removing any files/images related to software and operating systems. NIST has kept the NSRL hash sets updated for a number of years and these among others are widely used to perform this function.

Known bad hashes of images, particularly for indecent image cases are more controversial and have led to many a late-night discussion over how these should be used, managed and categorised.

The major benefit of generating known bad hash set(s) for indecent image cases, is that you are minimising the exposure of the material to the analyst. I believe having a centralised (accurate) hash database to be of utmost importance for the sanity of all those individuals who spend their time categorising images.

The other knock-on effect of using hash sets is that it decreases the analysts time to complete their work, which for overburdened Cybercrime units can only be a blessing.

File hashing can also be used to differentiate files across multiple sources, identifying specific files across evidence sources and assisting with identifying malware (although this is not a full proof approach for malware analysis).

Anyway, on to how we can utilise hashing in X-Ways Forensics.

Hashing in X-Ways Forensics

I’ll start off by making the assumption that you have a basic understanding of how to use X-Ways.

First, you will need to establish a storage location for your hash database(s). X-Ways comes with the option to configure two different databases, this can be useful if you have hashes using different algorithms such as MD5 or SHA1.

Another consideration when configuring the storage location is speed, configuring your databases on an internal SSD RAID would be optimal if you are going to run this locally.

To configure your hash database locations select the following in X-Ways

Tools > Hash Database


Once you have created the databases in your desired locations. You can start to import your hash sets.


You could also create your own hash sets from known good or bad sources, I tend to install fresh offline copies of Windows and create sets from these as I know I can thereafter speak to their integrity. You can also assign a category or hash set name during import, this can be extremely useful when performing differentials.

Please note that if you create any sets from your evidence after your initial hashing you will need to rehash the evidence in order for the new results from these sets to appear.

As you can see from the screenshot below we already have a couple of hash sets added to our database.


Once you have your database configured you can proceed and hash your evidence using the refine volume snapshot feature. This can be done across an entire volume or selected files only.

To perform this function select the following options:

Specialist > Refine Volume Snapshot > Compute Hash + Match against hash database


Once hashing has completed, files which have matched a set can be identified by the light green colour of the file icons.


You now need to configure the directory browser to see the hashes, sets and categories.

This can be done by selecting:

Options > Directory Browser

Directory Browser options

You will now need to set the directory column size, once this has been set you can adjust by dragging the columns wider or narrower to suit your needs.

After these views have been enabled through the directory browser we can start filtering within X-Ways. From the hash set column, we can enable or disable the ‘NOT’ function to exclude particular hash sets…


.. and from the category column, we can show or hide irrelevant, relevant, notable or uncategorised hash categories.



This approach combined with the other filtering functions in X-Ways allow the examiner to cut and dice their output quite extensively. Outputting the directory browser view including the hash sets and categories to csv can allow further review in Excel if that tends to be your tool of choice. This can then quite easily be delivered as a product in your casework.

That’s really it for how I tend to uses hashes in X-Ways.

Useful links and videos for further reference on hashing: