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FOR518: Mac and iOS Forensic Analysis and Incident Response

Mon, July 20 - Sat, July 25, 2020

Digital forensic and incident response investigators have traditionally dealt with Windows machines, but what if they find themselves in front of a new Apple Mac or iDevice? The increasing popularity of Apple devices can be seen everywhere, from coffee shops to corporate boardrooms. Dealing with these devices as an investigator is no longer a niche skill - every analyst must have the core skills necessary to investigate the Apple devices they encounter.

The constantly updated FOR518: Mac and iOS Forensic Analysis and Incident Response course provides the techniques and skills necessary to take on any Mac or iOS case without hesitation. The intense hands-on forensic analysis and incident response skills taught in the course will enable analysts to broaden their capabilities and gain the confidence and knowledge to comfortably analyze any Mac or iOS device. In addition to traditional investigations, the course presents intrusion and incident response scenarios to help analysts learn ways to identify and hunt down attackers that have compromised Apple devices.

Forensicate Differently!

FOR518: Mac and iOS Forensic Analysis and Incident Response will teach you:

  1. Mac and iOS Fundamentals: How to analyze and parse the Apple File System (APFS+) by hand and recognize the specific domains of the logical file system and Mac-specific file types.
  2. User & Device Activity: How to understand, profile, and conduct advanced pattern-of-life on users and they devices through their data files and preference configurations.
  3. Advanced Intrusion Analysis and Correlation: How to determine how a system has been used or compromised by using the system and user data files in correlation with system log files.
  4. Apple Technologies: How to understand and analyze many Mac and iOS-specific technologies, including Time Machine, Spotlight, iCloud, Document Versions, FileVault, Continuity, and FaceTime.

FOR518: Mac and iOS Forensic Analysis and Incident Response aims to train a well-rounded investigator by diving deep into forensic and intrusion analysis of Mac and iOS. The course focuses on topics such as the APFS file system, Mac-specific data files, tracking of user activity, system configuration, analysis and correlation of Mac logs, Mac applications, and Mac-exclusive technologies. A computer forensic analyst who completes this course will have the skills needed to take on a Mac or iOS forensics case.


  • Parse the HFS+ file system by hand, using only a cheat sheet and a hex editor
  • Understand the APFS file system and its significance
  • Determine the importance of each file system domain
  • Conduct temporal analysis of a system by correlating data files and log analysis
  • Profile how individuals used the system, including how often they used the system, what applications they frequented, and their personal system preferences
  • Identify remote or local data backups, disk images, or other attached devices
  • Find encrypted containers and FileVault volumes, understand keychain data, and crack Mac passwords
  • Analyze and understand Mac metadata and their importance in the Spotlight database, Time Machine, and Extended Attributes
  • Develop a thorough knowledge of the Safari Web Browser and Apple Mail applications
  • Identify communication with other users and systems though iChat, Messages, FaceTime, Remote Login, Screen Sharing, and AirDrop
  • Conduct an intrusion analysis of a Mac for signs of compromise or malware infection
  • Acquire and analyze memory from Mac systems
  • Acquire iOS and analyze devices in-depth

  • In-Depth HFS+ File System Examination and an Introduction to APFS
  • File System Timeline Analysis
  • Advanced Computer Forensics Methodology
  • Mac-Specific Acquisition and Incident Response Collection
  • Mac Memory Acquisition and Analysis
  • File System Data Analysis
  • Metadata Analysis
  • Recovery of Key Mac Files
  • Volume and Disk Image Analysis
  • Analysis of Mac Technologies, including Time Machine, Spotlight, and FileVault
  • Advanced Log Analysis and Correlation
  • iDevice Analysis and iOS Artifacts



Please plan to arrive 30 minutes early on Day 1 for lab preparation and set-up.

Course Syllabus

Sarah Edwards
Mon Jul 20th, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


This section introduces the student to Mac and iOS essentials such as acquisition, timestamps, logical file system, and disk structure. Acquisition fundamentals are the same with Mac and iOS devices, but there are a few tips and tricks that can be used to successfully and easily collect Mac and iOS systems for analysis. Students comfortable with Windows forensic analysis can easily learn the slight differences on a Mac system - the data are the same, only the format differs.

  • Lab Setup
  • BlackLight and Image Mounting
  • Exploring iOS Acquisitions
  • Disks and Partitions

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

  • Apple Essentials
    • Mac and iOS Systems
    • Mac Analysis in a Windows World
    • Apple Fundamentals
  • Mac Essentials and Acquisition
    • Mac File System Domains
    • Mac Directory Structures
    • Containers and Sandboxes
    • Acquisition Pitfalls and Considerations
    • Hard Drive, Network, and Memory Acquisition Tools
    • Image Mounting Using Open-Source Utilities
  • iOS Essentials and Acquisition
    • Differences between iOS and macOS
    • Security and Encryption
    • Jailbreaks
    • Acquisition Types and Differences
    • Local and iCloud Backups
    • Tools for Acquisition and Analysis
    • Passcode Bypass and Cracking
  • Disks and Partitions
    • Disk Layout
    • Partition Schemes
    • GPT
    • FileVault
    • Disk Images
    • CoreStorage
    • APFS Containers
    • Bootcamp
    • Fusion Drives

Sarah Edwards
Tue Jul 21st, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


The building blocks of Mac and iOS forensics start with a thorough understanding of the HFS+. Utilizing a hex editor, students will learn the basic principles of the primary file system implemented on MacOS systems. Students will then use that information to look at a variety of great artifacts that use the file system and that are different from other operating systems students have seen in the past. Rounding out the day, students will review Mac and iOS triage data.

  • HFS+
  • File System Fun!
  • Mac and iOS Triage

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

  • File Systems
    • Overview of HFS+ & APFS
    • Data Structures
    • Manual Parsing
    • APFS Clones
    • APFS Snapshots
    • APFS Benefits and Caveats
    • Tool Output and Caveats
  • Extended Attributes
    • Contents
    • Analysis
    • Tool Support
    • Interesting Attributes
  • File System Events Store Database
    • Usage
    • Parsing with Tools
    • Practical Analysis
  • Spotlight
    • Analysis Methods and Tools
    • Practical Queries
    • Portable Artifacts
    • Artifacts Left Behind by Macs
    • Differences from Various File Systems
  • Mac and iOS Triage
    • OS Version
    • Device Identifying Data
    • System Installation
    • Network Settings
    • Time Zone and Location Services
    • User Accounts
    • Managed Devices
    • Mail and Internet Account Settings
  • Most Recently Used (MRUs)
    • Recent iOS Apps
    • Recent Folders
    • Recent Applications
    • Recent Documents
    • Recent Servers
    • Recent Files
    • Parsing Methods and Tools
    • Alias and Bookmark BLOBs
    • NSKeyed Archiver Plist File Manual Parsing

Sarah Edwards
Wed Jul 22nd, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


This section contains a wide array of information that can be used to profile and understand how individuals use their computers. The logical Mac file system is made up of four domains: User, Local, System, and Network. The User Domain contains most of the user-related items of forensic interest. This domain consists of user preferences and configurations.

The Local and System Domains contain system-specific information such as application installation, system settings and preferences, and system logs. This section details basic system information, GUI preferences, and system application data. A basic analysis of system logs can provide a good understanding of how a system was used or abused. The Network domain is more ethereal and we can find this in many places throughout the course as well as in the logs.

Timeline analysis tells the story of how the system was used. Each entry in a log file has a specific meaning and may be able to tell how the user interacted with the computer. The log entries can be correlated with other data found on the system to create an in-depth timeline that can be used to solve cases quickly and efficiently. Analysis tools and techniques will be used to correlate the data and help the student put the story back together in a coherent and meaningful way.

  • User Data and System Configuration
  • Log Parsing and Analysis
  • Timeline Analysis and Data Correlation

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

  • User Data and System Configuration
    • Bash History
    • Keychains
    • Printing
    • Firewall Settings
    • Sharing Settings
    • Bluetooth
    • Autoruns
    • Application Bundles
    • Software Updates
    • GUI Settings
  • Log Parsing and Analysis
    • Log Basics
    • Log Formats
    • Log Recovery
    • Log Types (Unix, BSM Audit, Apple System Logs (ASL) and Unified)
    • Log Configuration
    • Analysis Methods and Parsing Tools
  • Timeline Analysis and Data Correlation
    • Temporal Context and Timestamps
    • Volume Analysis
    • Temporal Changes
    • System Information and State
    • Network Analysis
    • User Access
    • Privilege Escalation
    • Account Creation/Deletion
    • Software Installation
    • Backup Activity
    • Locational Data

Sarah Edwards
Thu Jul 23rd, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


In addition to all the configuration and preference information found in the User Domain, the user can interact with a variety of native Apple applications, including the Internet, email, communication, photos, locational data, and others. These data can provide analysts with the who, what, where, why, and how for any investigation.

This section will explore the various databases and other files where data are being stored. The student will be able to parse this information by hand without the help of a commercial tool parser.

  • Safari and Mail
  • Applications - Part I
  • Applications - Part II

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

  • Application Permissions
    • Privacy Settings
    • Location Services
  • Native Application Fundamentals
    • Locations
    • Snapshots
  • Safari Browser
    • History
    • Cache
    • Syncing
    • Private Mode
    • Data Retention
  • Apple Mail
    • Locations and Data Access
    • Mail Accounts and Configuration
    • Attachments
    • Metadata
  • Communication
    • iChat/Messages
    • FaceTime
    • SMS
    • iMessage
    • Call History
    • Voicemail
  • Calendar and Reminders
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
  • Contacts
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
  • Notes
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
    • Version Differences
    • Media Analysis
  • Apple Pay, Wallet, Passes
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
  • Photos
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
    • iCloud Syncing
  • Maps
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
    • Caveats
  • Location Data
    • Routine, WiFi, Cellular Locations
    • Files
    • Database Analysis
    • Tools and Parsing
  • Apple Watch
    • Files
    • Capabilities
    • Synced Data
  • Third-Party Apps
    • Locations
    • Analysis Caveats
    • Data Structure
    • Analysis Tools

Sarah Edwards
Fri Jul 24th, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


Mac systems implement some technologies that are available only to those with Mac and iOS devices. These include data backup with Time Machine, Document Versions, and iCloud, as well as disk encryption with FileVault. Other advanced topics include data hidden in encrypted containers, live response, Mac intrusion and malware analysis, and Mac memory analysis.

  • Time Machine and Document Versions
  • Malware and Live Response
  • Memory Analysis, Password Cracking, and Encrypted Containers

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

  • Time Machine
    • Backup Settings
    • Backup Volumes
    • Snapshot Analysis
    • Local Snapshots
    • Encrypted Backups
    • Mounting and Analysis
  • Document Versions
    • Versions Metadata
    • Versions Database
    • Generations
    • Chunk Storage
  • iCloud
    • Synced Accounts
    • Mobile Documents
    • Synced Preferences
  • Malware and Intrusion Analysis
    • Intrusion Analysis
    • Java Cache and IDX Files
    • File Quarantine
    • XProtect
    • Gatekeeper
  • Live Response
    • Live Triage Techniques
    • Volatile Data Collection
  • Memory Acquisitions and Analysis
    • Acquisition Tools
    • Analysis Tools
  • Password Cracking and Encrypted Containers
    • Password Shadow Files
    • Cracking Software
    • Keychains
    • FileVault
    • Encrypted Volumes and Disk Images

Sarah Edwards
Sat Jul 25th, 2020
9:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET
1:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET


In this final course section, students will put their new Mac forensic skills to the test by running through a real-life scenario with team members.


  • In-Depth File System Examination
  • File System Timeline Analysis
  • Advanced Computer Forensics Methodology
  • Mac Memory Analysis
  • File System Data Analysis
  • Metadata Analysis
  • Recovering Key Mac Files
  • Volume and Disk Image Analysis
  • Analysis of Mac Technologies including Time Machine, Spotlight, and FileVault
  • Advanced Log Analysis and Correlation
  • iDevice Analysis and iOS Artifacts

CPE/CMU Credits: 6

Additional Information


It is critical that you follow the pre-class Mac System Setup Guide for your Mac. The guide is available at http://sans.org/security-resources/FOR518-laptop-setup-guide-v2.pdf. It is crucial that you read and follow the instructions in this pre-class Mac system setup guide before attending class the first day. The guide is a detailed step-by-step walk-through of a variety of downloads and configuration steps needed to prep your system for an in-depth and exciting week of Mac and iOS forensics. Please follow all of the steps correctly, otherwise your enjoyment of the class could be impacted. We recommend setting up your system at home, as hotel Internet might not be adequate to finalize the setup before class. Please do not wait until the night before class to go through the setup guide.

A properly configured Mac system is required for each student participating in this course. Before coming to class, carefully read and follow these instructions exactly.


  • Apple Mac laptop with the following minimum configuration:
  • MacOS 10.13 (or newer)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5/i7 Series (a high-end Intel 2.8Ghz+ Core 2 Duo may also suffice)
  • Wireless 802.11 capability
  • 8GB RAM or more is recommended
  • At least 250 gigabytes of free space on your system hard drive or on an external hard drive.
  • USB 2.0 port(s) or higher (Please bring your USB-C to USB-A adapters for the new Macs!)
  • Students should have the capability to have Local Administrator Access within their host operating system. Some monitoring and AV software may interfere with some exercises, so please be able to turn these off when needed.

If you have additional questions about the laptop specifications, please contact laptop_prep@sans.org.

  • Experienced Digital Forensic Analysts who want to consolidate and expand their understanding of file system forensics and advanced Mac analysis.
  • Law Enforcement Officers, Federal Agents, and Detectives who want to master advanced computer forensics and expand their investigative skill set.
  • Media Exploitation Analysts who need to know where to find the critical data they need from a Mac system.
  • Incident Response Team Members who are responding to complex security incidents/intrusions from sophisticated adversaries and need to know what to do when examining a compromised system.
  • Information Security Professionals who want to become knowledgeable about MacOS and iOS system internals.
  • SANS FOR500, FOR508, FOR526, FOR610, and FOR585 Alumni looking to round out their forensic skills.

Working knowledge of forensics and the Unix command line is very useful! You can familiarize yourself with the Unix command line with these tutorials:


  • 90-Day trial for BlackBag Technologies BlackLight Forensic Analysis Software
  • Course Downloadable package loaded with case examples, tools, and documentation
  • MP3 audio files of the complete course lecture

"Really excellent course. Fantastic resource in the classroom material. Forensic challenge the last day was very fun" - Anonymous

"Best Mac class anywhere." - Eric Koebelen, Incident Response US

"It was very interesting to learn that certain 'forensic' tools could report data as being encrypted even though one could still get other data." - Gary Titus, Stroz Friedberg LLC

"Best course I know about on Mac Forensic. Like the use of mostly 'ghetto' tools." - Anonymous

"Solid background for investigations new to Mac." - Eric Mak, Google

"Best of any course I've ever taken. I love the idea of being able to bring home and review." - Eric Koebelen, Incident Response US

"The depth of time exercise was outstanding. One can tell the amount of work that went into it." - Gary Titus, Stroz Friedberg LLC

"Wow. Sarah is awesome." - Anonymous

"With so much focus on Windows forensics, the Mac class is really necessary." - Paul Sieberth, Tulane University

"I have not encountered a Mac class this in-depth that covers the file structure so well." - Craig Goldsmith, OCSD

"This is the most in-depth Mac class I have attended." - Craig Goldsmith OCSD

Author Statement

"This course is designed to enable an analyst comfortable in Windows-based forensics to perform just as well on a Mac. The Mac and iOS market share is ever-increasing, and the Apple is now a popular platform for many companies and government entities. I believe a well-rounded forensic analyst is an extremely well-prepared and employable individual in a Windows forensics world. Windows analysis is the base education in the competitive field of digital forensics, but any additional skills you can acquire can set you apart from the crowd, whether it is Mac, mobile, memory, or malware analysis.

Mac and iOS forensics is truly a passion of mine that I genuinely want to share with the forensics community. While you may not work on a Mac or iOS investigation every day, the tools and techniques you learn in this course will help you with other investigations including Windows, Linux, and mobile." - Sarah Edwards