Updates - June 2014

A few updates to the website:

Resources Section:

The Resources section now contains the Synalyze It! grammars for HFS+ that I created. Just a reminder – these are work in progress; I will update them as needed.

Also in the Resources section is the most current version of my presentations. If you attended one of my presentations in the past and want that specific copy, please feel free to contact me.

  • Reverse Engineering Mac Malware – A basic walk though of static and dynamic reverse engineering of Mac malware on a Mac. Approximately 20% static, and 80% dynamic analysis. No assembly knowledge needed!
  • When Macs Get Hacked – Intrusion analysis on the Mac - where and what to look for to find Mac malware doing a dead-box forensic analysis.
  • Analysis and Correlation of Mac Logs – Mac systems log a ton of data! This presentation helps correlate this information with other system artifacts to give the analyst a better view of what happened on the system.

Training & Events:

I will be teaching my FOR518: Mac Forensic Analysis at the SANS DFIRCON East 2014 conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in early November. Visit here for more information.

Just a reminder, I will also be co-teaching FOR518: Mac Forensic Analysis with Hal Pomeranz at the following locations in the Fall:

On a budget? If you are looking to get into FOR518: Mac Forensic Analysis at HALF-PRICE(!), seats are still available in the second beta of the class in San Jose, CA in July. Sign up soon! Sign up here. I will be attending the class, while the great Unix god himself – Hal Pomeranz teaches. I assure you he will drop some serious command line kung fu upon us. 


The HFS+ file system is an often forgotten part of Mac OS X analysis. Everyone always talks about being able to parse the FAT or NTFS file system files, but I almost never hear about someone needing or wanting to parse the HFS+ special files.

In my new SANS FOR518 - Mac Forensic Analysis class I have the students parse by hand certain aspects of an HFS+ file system. Perhaps I enjoy a good case of schadenfreude, but I believe learning how a file system stores data is one of the fundamentals in this industry that everyone should understand.

I’m not asking everyone to parse their file system files by hand in every case, but you should have the background knowledge and ability to do it if the need arises. Perhaps you need to validate a tools output or analyze data that is corrupted and not able to be parsed by a tool. Let me tell you, parsing HFS+ will give you a whole new appreciation for the simplicity that is NTFS or FAT!

HFS+ is comprised of the volume header and five “special files”. Three of these files use balanced trees (or B-trees) to organize its file and folder data.

  • Volume Header – Contains data about the volume (surprise?), timestamps, allocated blocks, location of “special” files, etc.
  • Catalog File – Contains a B-tree with data about each file and folder and its hierarchy. Timestamps, CNID, owner information, file extents, etc. (Think $MFT on NTFS)
  • Attributes File – Contains a B-tree with additional attributes for files and folders usually in the form of extended attributes. My favorite extended attribute is!
  • Allocation File – Contains a bitmap of how the volume is allocated.
  • Extents Overflow File – Contains a B-tree overflow from the Catalog file of where files are allocated.
  • Startup File – Used for booting other systems – I have personally not seen this implemented on newer systems.

While creating the HFS+ section for my course, I created a HFS+ Reference Sheet and Synalyze It! Grammar files. My hope is to help folks understand and parse (by hand) the HFS+ file system structures.

Note: The following reference sheet and grammar files are still a work in progress – comments and suggestions are welcome!

FOR518 Reference and HFS+ Reference Sheet

Synalyze It! Grammar Files:

Synalyze It! is a very powerful hex editor that a user can create or use grammars to view certain data structures. An example of the Volume Header grammar is show below.

For those that want to learn more about HFS+, I highly recommend the following references: