Parsing APFS with Axiom before the thing from Lost eats you

During the latter part of 2017, Apple introduced their APFS file system which is being rolled out with their High Sierra macOS.

The following section was taken from an Apple support article:

When you install macOS High Sierra on the Mac volume of a solid-state drive (SSD) or other all-flash storage device, that volume is automatically converted to APFS. Fusion Drives, traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), and non-Mac volumes aren’t converted. You can’t opt out of the transition to APFS.

Although there are a couple of articles floating around which shows ways to ‘opt-out’ of APFS, it is still likely that 99% of High Sierra systems with Solid State Drives you’re going to come across will have APFS running.

Now, picture this scenario:

You are stuck on an island with a forensic image of an APFS volume and a toolbox full of your favorite commercial forensic tools. Contained in the APFS volume is a backup of an iPhone 6s which contains a WhatsApp message with the instructions on how to make one mean coconut Mojito. You need to access said message in order to make the Mojito before sunset. Should you fail,  you’ll be forced to do manual USB device history analysis for 26 Windows 7 internet café PCs, after which, you may or may not get eaten by that thing that was eating people in Lost.

So, your options:

  • Blackbag’s BlackLight — Yes, it works.
  • Autopsy — No support as of version 4.7.
  • AccessData FTK — No support as of version 6.4. Their online tech support noted that APFS support is planned for future releases, however no eta yet.
  • Magnet Forensics Axiom — No support as of version Jad Saliba mentioned at the Magnet User Summit in Las Vegas (May 2018) that they’re currently working on it, but no eta yet.
  • OpenText EnCase — Officially: Yes, Unofficially: Sort of. Although EnCase announced APFS support in version 8.07, I’ve dealt with two separate Macs where EnCase is refusing to parse the APFS volumes. I’ve put one of the images through a few tests. The image happily parses with Blackbag’s Blacklight and mounts with both Paragon‘s APFS mounter and Simon Gander’s APFS-Fuse library. OpenText Tech support is currently looking into this.
  • X-ways — No support in version 19.6, however, according to this tweet from Eric it should be coming soon:


Plan A: Blackbag

After your confidence grows while scrolling through the heaps of tweets about Blackbag being ‘the only end-to-end solution for APFS’, you realize that your 30 day trial license has just expired… As you were about to accept your fate and Google “sans usb profiling cheat sheet“, you find two articles from Mari Degrazia on mounting APFS images:

As the daylight starts to fade and you try and remember how many episodes of Lost you actually watched before losing interest, you devise a new plan:


Plan B: Quick and dirty way to process APFS with Axiom and friends.

I was specifically looking for a way to get my APFS image parsed with Axiom.

The following approaches did not work:

Experiment 1:

Mount E01 with Arsenal Image Mounter > Mount resulting APFS partition with Paragon’s ‘APFS for Windows’ > Add files & folders in Axiom.

Result: It processed, but for some files Axiom wasn’t properly linking back to the actual source files to display their content. Not sure who’s fault it is, but most likely something to do with the mounting of a mounted image.


Experiment 2:

Mount E01 with Arsenal Image Mounter > Mount APFS partition with Paragon’s ‘APFS for Windows’ > Create AD Image with FTK Imager > Process AD Image with Axiom.

Result: It processed, but again had issues with displaying actual content for some of the files processed. During the creation of the AD Image, FTK Imager encountered a large volume of files it claimed couldn’t be added to the logical image, again likely due to the various mountings.


Experiment 3:

Mount E01 in SIFT with ewfmount (libewf) > mount APFS partition with APFS-fuse > Create a tar of mounted data > Process tar with Axiom

Result: Again got a similar result where Axiom processed the data, but didn’t display actual content for some files.


At this stage most island-stricken forensicators would have given up and resigned themselves to a life of USBSTORs and Volume GUIDs. But luckily, you’re not most forensicators and you try one more way:

Experiment 4:

  1. Mount E01 in SIFT with ewfmount (libewf)
  2. Mount APFS partition with APFS-fuse
  3. Create an empty DD image, give it a volume and copy mounted APFS data to new DD image. For a step by step walk through of basically creating a DD image from files and folders, check out Andy Joyce’s 2009 post:
  4. Process DD image with Axiom.
  5. Success and Mojito’s.

Axiom was happy to process the DD, as well as the iPhone backup which was contained on the APFS volume in one go.

And yes, copying the mounted data to a DD container will update the creation dates of the files. If this makes you feel uneasy, remember, you also just used an ‘experimental’ driver to mount an APFS volume.

At least the thing from Lost didn’t eat you… #winning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *