An Introduction to Forensics Data Acquisition From Android Mobile Devices

The role of a Digital Forensics Investigator (DFI) is rife with non-stop mastering possibilities, especially as the era expands and proliferates into each nook of communications, entertainment, and enterprise. As a DFI, we address an everyday onslaught of recent gadgets. Like the cellular phone or tablet, many devices use commonplace working structures that we need to be familiar with. Certainly, the Android OS is most important within the tablet and mobile phone enterprise. Given the predominance of the Android OS in the cellular device marketplace, DFIs will run into Android devices within many investigations. While numerous fashions advocate strategies for obtaining information from Android gadgets, this article introduces four viable methods that the DFI must consider when proof gathering from Android gadgets.

Android Mobile Devices

A Bit of History of the Android OS

Android’s first commercial release was in September 2008 with model 1.0. Android is the open supply and ‘loose to use’ running device for cellular devices advanced using Google. Importantly, early on, Google and other hardware businesses fashioned the “Open Handset Alliance” (OHA) in 2007 to foster and help the Android market boom. The OHA now consists of 84 hardware groups, including giants like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola (to call some). This alliance became established to compete with organizations’ market services, including competitive devices provided via Apple, Microsoft (Windows Phone 10 – now reportedly useless to the marketplace), and Blackberry (which has ceased making hardware). Whether an OS is defunct or not, the DFI must know about the various versions of multiple running system structures, mainly if their forensics attention is in a particular realm, including cellular devices.

Linux and Android

The modern-day iteration of the Android OS is primarily based on Linux. Remember that “based totally on Linux” no longer implies that the same old Linux apps will continually run on Android phones, and, conversely, the Android apps that you would possibly revel in (or are familiar with) will no longer necessarily run on your Linux desktop. But Linux isn’t always Android. To clarify the factor, please notice that Google decided on the Linux kernel, the essential part of the Linux working gadget, to manipulate the hardware chipset processing. Google’s developers wouldn’t be worried about the specifics of how processing happens on a given set of hardware. This permits their builders to pay attention to the broader operating device layer and the consumer interface features of the Android OS.

A Large Market Share

The Android OS has a big market proportion of the cellular device marketplace, mainly because of its open-supply nature. Over 328 million Android phones were shipped as of the 1/3 zone 2016. In line with, the Android operating system had the bulk of installations in 2017 — nearly sixty-seven percent as of this writing.

As a DFI, we can anticipate encountering Android-primarily based hardware in the route of regular research. Due to the open supply nature of the Android OS and the numerous hardware structures from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, etc., the style of mixtures among hardware kind and OS implementation offers an extra task. Consider that Android is currently at version 7.1.1. Still, every cell phone producer and mobile tool supplier will typically alter the OS for the particular hardware and service services, giving the DFI an extra layer of complexity. The technique for data acquisition may also range.

Before we dig deeper into extra attributes of the Android OS that complicate the data acquisition technique, let’s look at the concept of a ROM model to be carried out to an Android tool. As an overview, a ROM (Only Memory) program is low-degree programming near the kernel degree, and the unique ROM application is often known as firmware. Suppose you observe in terms of a tablet in comparison to a cellular smartphone. In that case, the pill can have one-of-a-kind ROM programming as contrasted to a cell smartphone, considering that hardware capabilities between the tablet and cell phone could be one of a kind, even if each hardware device is from an identical hardware manufacturer. Complicating the want for greater specifics inside the ROM program, upload in the precise necessities of cellular provider vendors (Verizon, AT&T, etc.).

While there are commonalities in obtaining facts from a cell smartphone, not all Android tablets are equal, mainly in light that there are fourteen principal Android OS releases available on the market (from variations 1. Zero to 7.1.1), a couple of vendors with version-precise ROMs, and further limitless custom consumer-complied editions (consumer ROMs). The ‘customer compiled variants’ are also model-specific ROMs. In trendy, the ROM-stage updates carried out to each WWiFiF device will include operating and machine simple packages that work for a particular hardware tool for a given vendor (for instance, your Samsung S7 from Verizon) and a selected implementation.

Even though there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to investigating any Android device, the forensics jobs investigation of an Android tool ought to comply with the equally well-known process for the gathering of proof, requiring a dependent manner and technique that cope with the research, seizure, isolation, acquisition, examination, and analysis, and reporting for any virtual proof. When a request to examine a tool is obtained, the DFI begins with making plans and education to include the needful technique of receiving devices, the necessary office work to help and record the chain of custody, the development of a purpose announcement for the exam, the detailing of the tool version (and other precise attributes of the acquired hardware), and a list or description of the information the requestor is searching for to collect.

Unique Challenges of Acquisition

Mobile gadgets, such as cell telephones, drugs, etc., face particular challenges in proof of seizure. Since battery lifestyles are limited on cellular devices, and it is not commonly recommended that a charger is inserted right into a device, the isolation stage of proof collecting can be critical in acquiring the device. Confounding proper acquisition, the mobile records, WiFi connectivity, and Bluetooth connectivity must also be blanketed within the investigator’s awareness throughout the addition. Android phones have many safety features built into the phone. The lock-screen function may be set as PIN, password, drawing a pattern, facial popularity, area popularity, depending on on-device popularity, and biometrics, including fingerprints. A predicted 70% of users use some security protection on their telephones. Critically, there’s to be had the software program that the user may have downloaded, which could supply them the potential to wipe the smartphone remotely, complicating acquisition.

It is not going throughout the seizure of the mobile device that the display may be unlocked. If the tool is not locked, the DFI’s examination can be easier because the DFI can directly alternate the smartphone settings. If access is allowed to the mobile phone, turn off the lock screen and change the display timeout to its most cost (which may be as much as a half-hour for a few devices). Keep in thoughts that of key importance is to isolate the phone from any Internet connections to prevent far-flung wiping of the tool. Place the telephone in Airplane mode. Attach an outside power delivery to the phone after being located in a static-loose bag designed to block radio-frequency signals. Once at ease, you must later enable USB debugging, a good way to permit the Android Debug Bridge (ADB), which could offer the right facts to seize. While studying RAM artifacts on a cellular tool can be important, that is unlikely to occur.

Acquiring the Android Data

Copying a tough power from a desktop or computer in a forensically sound way is trivial compared to the fact extraction strategies wanted for cellular device records acquisition. Generally, DFIs have prepared bodily to get admission to a hard power without obstacles, allowing for a hardware replica or software program bitstream picture to be created. Mobile devices have their facts saved inside of the smartphone in tough-to-attain locations. Extraction of records through the USB port can be a task. However, Android devices may perform it with care and good fortune.

After the Android device has been seized and is comfy, it’s time to look at the smartphone. There are numerous records acquisition strategies to be had for Android, and they fluctuate substantially. This article introduces and discusses 4 of the number one ways to method facts acquisition. These five methods are stated and summarized below:

1. Send the tool to the producer: You can send the tool to the producer for statistics extraction, which allows you to spend more money and time; however, it can be necessary if you do not have the specific talent set for a given device nor the time to research. As cited earlier, Android has many OS versions primarily based on the manufacturer and ROM version, including the complexity of acquisition. Manufacturers normally do this service to authorities, businesses, and law enforcement for maximum home gadgets, so if you’re an unbiased contractor, you’ll need to check with the producer or benefits support from the employer you are running with. Also, the manufacturer investigation option may not be available for several global fashions (just like the many no-call Chinese phones that increase the market – consider the ‘disposable cell phone’).

2. Direct physical acquisition of the statistics. One of the policies of DFI research is never to alter the statistics. The physical acquisition of data from a Samsung mobile cell phone should not forget the same strict procedures of verifying and documenting that the bodily method will no longer modify any statistics on the tool. Further, strolling hash totals are vital as soon as the device is attached. The physical acquisition lets the DFI gain a complete picture of the device using a USB twine and forensic software (at this point, you ought to think of writing blocks to save you any changing of the data). Connecting to a cellular telephone and grabbing an image isn’t always as smooth and clear as pulling statistics from tough pressure on a desktop computer. The hassle is that depending on your chosen forensic acquisition device, the unique make and version of the cell phone, the carrier, the Android OS model, the consumer’s settings on the telephone, the basic reputation of the device, the lock popularity, if the PIN code is known, and if the USB debugging option is enabled at the device, you can no longer be capable of accumulating the data from the device underneath investigation. Physical acquisition finally ends up inside the realm of ‘just trying it’ to see what you get. It may seem to the court (or opposing side) as an unstructured manner to gather facts, which could increase the information acquisition chance.

Three. JTAG forensics (a version of bodily acquisition referred to above). As a definition, JTAG (Joint Test Action Group) forensics is a superior information acquisition method. It is essentially a bodily approach that includes cabling and connecting to Test Access Ports (TAPs) on the device and processing instructions to invoke a switch of the uncooked facts stored in memory. Raw statistics are pulled directly from the related device using a special JTAG cable. This is considered a low-degree statistics acquisition because there may be no conversion or interpretation, and it is similar to a chunk replica. This is achieved while acquiring evidence from a laptop or computer laptop hard force. JTAG acquisition can often be completed for locked, broken, and inaccessible (locked) devices since it is a low-level copy if the tool was encrypted (whether or not by way of the person or using a unique manufacturer, such as Samsung and some Nexus gadgets), the acquired records will nonetheless want to be decrypted. But on account, Google decided to eliminate entire-device encryption with the Android OS five. Zero launches, the complete-tool encryption drawback is a piece narrowed unless the user has chosen to encrypt their tool. After JTAG information is obtained from an Android tool, the records can be similarly inspected and analyzed with 3zx (hyperlink: ) or Belkasoft (hyperlink: https://belkasoft.Com/ ). JTAG tools will routinely extract key virtual forensic artifacts with name logs, contacts, region records, browsing records, and more.

4. Chip-off acquisition. This acquisition approach calls for the removal of memory chips from the device. Produces uncooked binary dumps. Again, this is considered a sophisticated, low-degree acquisition and could require de-soldering of reminiscence chips using surprisingly specialized tools to cast off the chips and different technical gadgets to read the chips. As the JTAG forensics jobs noted above, the DFI risks that the chip contents are encrypted. But if the information isn’t always encrypted, a piece replica can be extracted as a raw image. The DFI will want to deal with block address remapping, fragmentation, and, if a gift, encryption. Numerous Android tool manufacturers, like Samsung, enforce encryption, which can’t be bypassed during or after the chip-off acquisition, even though the suitable passcode is understood. Due to access troubles with encrypted gadgets, chip-off is restrained to unencrypted devices.

5. Over-the-air Data Acquisition. We are each conscious that Google has mastered statistics collection. Google is thought tto maintain huge quantities of Android mobile phones, pills, laptops, computers, and other devices from diverse operating devices. If the user has a Google account, the DFI can access, download, and examine all the given facts underneath their Google user account with proper permission from Google. This entails downloading records from the user’s Google Account. Currently, there are not any complete cloud backups available to Android customers. Data that may be examined include Gmail, contact facts, Google Drive information (which can be very revealing), synced Chrome tabs, browser bookmarks, passwords, a listing of registered Android devices (wherein vicinity records for every device may be reviewed), and more.

The five techniques mentioned above aren’t a complete list. An often-repeated be aware surfaces about information acquisition – while running on a cellular tool, proper and correct documentation is vital. Further, documentation of the methods and techniques used and adhering to the chain of custody techniques you’ve installed will ensure that the evidence gathered may be ‘forensically sound.’


As mentioned in this article, cellular tool forensics, specifically the Android OS, isn’t the same as the conventional virtual forensic approaches used for computer and laptop computers. While the private laptop is easily secured, the garage can be conveniently copied. The device may be stored, secure acquisition of cellular devices, and regularly is tricky. An established method for acquiring the cellular tool and a deliberate process for statistics acquisition is essential. As mentioned above, the five strategies delivered will permit the DFI to benefit from entry to the device. However, there are numerous additional strategies not discussed in this article. Further research and tool use via the DFI could be vital.

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