sleuth kit v4.12.1 released: open source forensic toolkit for analyzing Microsoft and UNIX file systems and disks

The Sleuth Kit is an open-source forensic toolkit for analyzing Microsoft and UNIX file systems and disks. The Sleuth Kit enables investigators to identify and recover evidence from images acquired during incident response or from live systems. The Sleuth Kit is an open source, which allows investigators to verify the actions of the tool or customize it to specific needs.

The Sleuth Kit uses code from the file system analysis tools of The Coroner’s Toolkit (TCT) by Wietse Venema and Dan Farmer. The TCT code was modified for platform independence. In addition, support was added for the NTFS (see docs/ntfs.README) and FAT (see docs/fat.README) file systems. Previously, The Sleuth Kit was called The @stake Sleuth Kit (TASK). The Sleuth Kit is now independent of any commercial or academic organization.

It is recommended that these command-line tools can be used with the Autopsy Forensic Browser. Autopsy, (, is a graphical interface to the tools of The Sleuth Kit and automates many of the procedures and provides features such as image searching and MD5 image integrity checks.

As with any investigation tool, any results found with The Sleuth Kit should be recreated with a second tool to verify the data.


The Sleuth Kit allows one to analyze a disk or file system image created by ‘dd’, or a similar application that creates a raw image. These tools are low-level and each performs a single task. When used together, they can perform a full analysis. For a more detailed description of these tools, refer to docs/filesystem.README. The tools are briefly described in a file system layered approach. Each tool name begins with a letter that is assigned to the layer.

File System Layer:

A disk contains one or more partitions (or slices). Each of these partitions contains a file system. Examples of file systems include the Berkeley Fast File System (FFS), Extended 2 File System (EXT2FS), File Allocation Table (FAT), and New Technologies File System (NTFS).

The fsstat tool displays file system details in an ASCII format. Examples of data in this display include volume name, last mounting time, and the details about each “group” in UNIX file systems.

Content Layer (block):

The content layer of a file system contains the actual file content or data. Data is stored in large chunks, with names such as blocks, fragments, and clusters. All tools in this layer begin with the letters ‘blk’.

The blkcat tool can be used to display the contents of a specific unit of the file system (similar to what ‘dd’ can do with a few arguments). The unit size is file system dependent. The ‘blkls’ tool displays the contents of all unallocated units of a file system, resulting in a stream of bytes of deleted content. The output can be searched for deleted file content. The ‘blkcalc’ program allows one to identify the unit location in the original image of a unit in the ‘blkls’ generated image.

A new feature of The Sleuth Kit from TCT is the ‘-l’ argument to ‘blkls’ (or ‘unrm’ in TCT). This argument lists the details for data units, similar to the ‘ils’ command. The ‘blkstat’ tool displays the statistics of a specific data unit (including allocation status and group number).

Metadata Layer (inode):

The metadata layer describes a file or directory. This layer contains descriptive data such as dates and size as well as the addresses of the data units. This layer describes the file in terms that the computer can process efficiently. The structures that the data is stored in have names such as inode and directory entry. All tools in this layer begin with an ‘i’.

The ‘ils’ program lists some values of the metadata structures. By default, it will only list the unallocated ones. The ‘istat’ displays metadata information in an ASCII format about a specific structure. New to The Sleuth Kit is that ‘istat’ will display the destination of symbolic links. The ‘icat’ function displays the contents of the data units allocated to the metadata structure (similar to the UNIX cat(1) command). The ‘ifind’ tool will identify which metadata structure has allocated a given content unit or file name.

Refer to the ntfs.README doc for information on addressing metadata attributes in NTFS.

Human Interface Layer (file):

The human interface layer allows one to interact with files in a manner that is more convenient than directly with the metadata layer. In some operating systems there are separate structures for the metadata and human interface layers while others combine them. All tools in this layer begin with the letter ‘f’.

The ‘fls’ program lists file and directory names. This tool will display the names of deleted files as well. The ‘ffind’ program will identify the name of the file that has allocated a given metadata structure. With some file systems, deleted files will be identified.

Time Line Generation

Time lines are useful to quickly get a picture of file activity. Using The Sleuth Kit a timeline of file MAC times can be easily made. The mactime (TCT) program takes as input the ‘body’ file that was generated by fls and ils. To get data on allocated and unallocated file names, use ‘fls -rm dir’ and for unallocated inodes use ‘ils -m’. Note that the behavior of these tools is different than in TCT. For more information, refer to docs/mac.README.

Hash Databases

Hash databases are used to quickly identify if a file is known. The MD5 or SHA-1 hash of a file is taken and a database is used to identify if it has been seen before. This allows identification to occur even if a file has been renamed.

The Sleuth Kit includes the ‘md5’ and ‘sha1’ tools to generate hashes of files and other data.

Also included is the ‘hfind’ tool. The ‘hfind’ tool allows one to create an index of a hash database and perform quick lookups using a binary search algorithm. The ‘hfind’ tool can perform lookups on the NIST National Software Reference Library (NSRL) ( and files created from the ‘md5’ or ‘md5sum’ command. Refer to the docs/hfind.README file for more details.

File Type Categories

Different types of files typically have different internal structure. The ‘file’ command comes with most versions of UNIX and a copy is also distributed with The Sleuth Kit. This is used to identify the type of file or other data regardless of its name and extension. It can even be used on a given data unit to help identify what file used that unit for storage. Note that the ‘file’ command typically uses data in the first bytes of a file so it may not be able to identify a file type based on the middle blocks or clusters.

The ‘sorter’ program in The Sleuth Kit will use other Sleuth Kit tools to sort the files in a file system image into categories. The categories are based on rule sets in configuration files. The ‘sorter’ tool will also use hash databases to flag known bad files and ignore known good files. Refer to the ‘docs/sorter.README’ file for more details.

Changelog v4.12.1


  • Bug fixes from Luis Nassif and Joachim Metz
  • Added check to stop for very large folders to prevent memory exhaustion


  • Added File Repository concept for files to be stored in another location
  • Schema updated to 9.4
  • Fixed OS Account merge bug and now fire events when accounts are merged



Copyright 2003-2017 Brian Carrier