Tag Archives: Digital Forensics

Detailed View of a Memory Chip

SYTECH Assisted Case – Password Protected BlackBerry Chip-Off – “31-member drug gang that controlled illegal supplies across the north east are jailed following three-year investigation”

OCG (Organised Crime Group) Investigation

James Kelly and Paul Gill were 2 of the a 31 member drug gang. Police Operation Cobweb saw that all 31 members of the OCG “drug gang” were jailed in total to 231 years.

The Court case for Operation Cobweb started in 2012 and finished in 2015. Kelly is now currently serving a 10 year sentence and Gill serving a four year sentence.

SYTECH were asked to carry out an advanced digital forensic examination of a PIN / Password Locked BlackBerry Mobile Phone Handset which is attributed to this on-going investigation.


“31-member drug gang that controlled illegal supplies across the north east are jailed following three-year investigation”


The final two defendants of a 31-member drug gang that supplied class A drugs across the north east have been jailed following one of the biggest drug operations ever.

Craig Ferguson, 38, and Dawn Gorman, 43, were jailed at Teesside Crown Court for their part in the cross-country drug dealing network.

They were the final two members of the 31-strong gang to be sentenced, after a three-year police investigation – dubbed ‘Operation Cobweb’ – brought the drugs ring to an end.

The investigation, the biggest drugs operation ever to be run by Cleveland Police, has now seen a total of 31 people put behind bars for a total of 231 years.

The final defendants were linked to a conspiracy to deal Class A drugs on an industrial scale, which allowed its kingpins to lead the high life.

Ferguson was jailed for five years and three months at the court hearing on Monday after the judges heard how he collected drugs for a local dealer on four occasions from January 2012 to August 2012.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, said Ferguson transported large quantities of drugs from the north west to Teesside.

He said: ‘It was, as you know, a professional and skilled conspiracy.

‘You are towards the very bottom of this conspiracy.’

Also in the dock yesterday was Gorman, the wife of one of the conspiracy’s top bosses, who was jailed for 18 months.

The former air hostess’s husband Jeffrey Hanks, 52, is currently serving a 22-year jail term – the longest sentence given to any of the conspirators.

The couple, from Bury, splashed out on motorbikes, holidays, private education, a lavishly-furnished home, Jimmy Choo shoes and a Porsche Cayenne, the court heard previously.

Gorman was not involved in the drugs plot itself, but a jury convicted her of money laundering.

She had denied offences of concealing and converting criminal property.

The judge said she knew her husband Hanks – branded ‘a thoroughly manipulative, dishonest individual’ – was a drug dealer.

He told her: ‘It beggars’ belief that you did not know what was going on.

‘You were happily spending money that was part of a considerable and sizeable drug conspiracy.

‘You were willingly and enthusiastically spending the money on what, on any view, could be deemed an extravagant lifestyle.

‘Without that money from the drug dealing, you could not have in any way dreamt of leading such a life.’

He said the amount of money involved was ‘well in excess of £100,000’.

Barristers for the pair, who had few previous convictions, asked the judge to consider passing suspended sentences.

They stressed the ‘devastating’ impact of a prison term on the defendants’ children.

The judge told Gorman that she and her husband bore the responsibility for their children’s suffering, as they carried on their criminal activity knowing the possible consequences if they got caught.

‘You did it essentially because you were driven by greed,’ the judge added.

Duncan McReddie, defending Ferguson, said he had responsibility for seven children and he was a good and caring father who had tried to lead a productive, law-abiding life since his arrest.

He said Ferguson got involved out of a desire to help his cousin, fellow runner David Cuthbert.

Cuthbert, 38, was jailed for five years in May last year, along with 22 other members of the gang who were locked up for a total 177 years.

David Toal, representing Gorman, said she might have ‘turned a blind eye’ to the money and played a lesser role.

He said her health had also been affected and she stood to lose her home and possessions.

It has taken almost three years for the catalogue of court cases linked to Operation Cobweb to reach their conclusion.

They began with two cases in 2012 – one following a high-speed police chase where 2kg of heroin worth £90,000 was hurled from a moving car.

They finished with jail terms given yesterday to Ferguson and Gorman, who enjoyed the fruits of the network which flooded Teesside with Class A drugs.

In between, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC jailed 22 people – from couriers to warehousemen, right-hand men, lieutenants and ringleaders – to a total of 177 years in May last year.

He said of the drugs conspiracy: ‘It was carried out in a determined and ruthless fashion. It was conceived and put into effect by professional and experienced criminals who were aiming to achieve a high financial reward.’

The second-longest sentence of 16 years was given to Robert Hickman, 29 – the leader of the Teesside operation.

He unsuccessfully appealed his prison term, and arranged for drugs to be smuggled into prison, for which he received a concurrent six-year sentence.

Then in December, one of the gang’s north west ‘controllers in chief’ Jeffrey Hanks was jailed for 22 years.

Operation Cobweb was Cleveland Police’s largest-ever drugs investigation and has now put 31 people behind bars for a total of 231 years.

The three-year investigation smashed a well-organised drugs ring, which was driven by dedicated criminals trafficking heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine using ‘dirty phones’.

The drugs were transported from the Greater Manchester area to Teesside regularly, with payment in tens of thousands of pounds heading the other way.

More than 100 trips were made between Teesside and Manchester transporting vast amounts of drugs and ‘dirty money’.

Officers seized almost 6.9kg in heroin, 2.26kg of cocaine, 437.5g of crack cocaine and more than 22kg in cutting agents.

The recovered drugs were worth £824,686, and £127,966 cash was seized, but prosecutors said this was the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Police and prosecutors pieced together evidence including telephone communications analysis, observations, drug and cash seizures, vehicle sightings and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera data.

Detective Sergeant Colin Helyer, from Cleveland Police’s organised crime unit, said Operation Cobweb was a protracted and complex covert investigation and one of the unit’s largest-ever inquiries.

Speaking after the final two defendants were sentenced yesterday, Detective Constable John Findlay, who also works with Cleveland Police’s organised crime unit, said: ‘This has been one of Cleveland Police’s longest-running, most complex and involved investigations.

‘I would like to pay tribute to all our officers who have worked tirelessly over several years to bring these people before the courts.

‘I would also like to thank those members of the public who provided vital information to help our inquiries.

‘I would reiterate that police will always act on information on drug dealing and other crime which is provided to us.

‘You may not see anything happen immediately but rest assured, there will be a good deal of work going on in the background.

‘With assistance from our colleagues at Greater Manchester Police, we have succeeded in bringing to justice a large group of people who were involved in drug dealing across the North and North-east, and who were often profiting handsomely from their involvement.

‘Those jailed will have time to reflect on their actions, and the sentences should act as a deterrent to anyone tempted to deal illegal drugs.’

With further expansion of SYTECH’s Second High Tech Lab – We’re happy to welcome some new members to our Team

After an exciting first Calendar Quarter and the expansion of our second top of the range High Tech – Digital Forensic Laboratory we are happy to announce further Digital Forensic Analysts joining our Team.


Jon Hutton  EnCE         –   Digital Forensic Analyst

Matthew Parkinson    –   Digital Forensic Analyst



Current Staff

As before, they have hit the ground running and are all already proving to be invaluable assets to the SYTECH team.



We are still recruiting, please see below for further details:


SYTECH - Gavel

The value of SYTECH Cell-Site & Mobile Phone Evidence – Commendation from an OCG Investigation Team

“The Cell-Site and Mobile Phone interrogation work you did for us with regards to redacted was a complete success.

You may have not been aware but this operation was quite possibly one of the longest run in redacted Police history spanning between April 2011 and February 2013 and has resulted in nearly 70 convictions for drug supply offences in the redacted area of redacted.

The evidence presented was so overwhelming and complex (words of the defence) that both defendants pleaded guilty on two counts of conspiracy to supply class A drugs.

The work you did for us effectively proved our case, that these individuals were leading an organised crime gang who were in the business of supplying class A drugs. The convictions and sentence they got in my opinion was more staggering as we had very minimal/weak drugs possession evidence on both individuals and it was phone work, in particularly cell site evidence that ultimately convicted them. All the physical drug possession evidence was linked (very heavily I may add) to the street dealers who were also convicted for their part in the conspiracy.

I would like to say a big thank you for your assistance in this case and very much hope to be working with you again in the future.”

PlayStation 4 - Digital Forensics

Forensic analysis of a Sony PlayStation 4: A first look – Matthew Davies – Digital Forensic Analyst – SYTECH


The primary function of a games console is that of an entertainment system. However the latest iteration of these consoles has added a number of new interactive features that may prove of value to the digital investigator. This paper highlights the value of these consoles, in particular Sony’s latest version of their PlayStation. This console provides a number of features including web browsing, downloading of material and chat functionality; all communication features that will be of interest to forensic investigators. In this paper we undertake an initial investigation of the PlayStation 4 games console. This paper identifies potential information sources of forensic value with the PlayStation 4 and provides a method for acquiring information in a forensically sound manner. In particular issues with the online and offline investigative process are also identified.


  • PlayStation 4;
  • Games console;
  • Online investigation;
  • Small scale digital device;
  • Embedded system


Gone are the days of games consoles being regarded as mere entertainment systems. Games console technologies are advancing at a far greater rate than that of game console forensics. This is evident from devices like the PlayStation 3, relatively little is known of this console in terms of forensic analysis, yet the PlayStation 4 has been released. It has been identified by several authors including, (Xynos et al., 2010), (Conrad et al., 2009), and (Turnbull, 2008) that the distinction between games consoles and personal computers is becoming increasingly blurred. Modern gaming consoles possess far greater functionality and processing speed, and connectivity features similar to standard PCs. Game console forensics will continue to become a specialist area, with its own bespoke challenges to the digital investigator.

Currently there are over 10 million Sony PlayStation 4 games consoles in worldwide circulation (Peckham, 2014). At present there is little information available offering forensic investigators an insight into what information of interest is stored on this device, or how to acquire data in a forensically sound fashion. This paper seeks to provide a greater insight into the PlayStation 4 in relation to a digital investigation, and to present a methodology that can provide guidance to investigators working with such a system.

The rest of this paper is arranged as follows. Section 2 highlights literature that has helped shape our investigation, Section 3 presents the forensic challenges an analyst may encounter, Section 4 describes the empirical experiment methodology we undertook to discover what data is of importance, Section 5describes the forensic analysis of the PlayStation 4, Section 6 presents our methodology for extracting useful information, Section 7 and Section 8 highlight conclusions and future considerations.

Literature review

Games platforms present a number of challenges in terms of accessing and interpreting data, as each system is a proprietary platform with a unique operating system. While there has been work on the forensic analysis and acquisition of data from other game platforms, there has been little work to date on the Sony PlayStation 4. However we can learn of the types of challenges we are likely to face with such a device by reviewing recent work in similar embedded systems.

Microsoft Xbox One

Previous work (Moore et al., 2014) has provided a preliminary analysis of an Xbox One, using initial exploratory methods such as file carving, keyword searches, network forensics and file system analysis. The greatest challenge faced by Moore et al. (2014) appears to be the encrypted and/or compressed nature of the files and game network traffic, thus making extraction and analysis somewhat difficult. However, an analysis of the NTFS filesystem did allow for file timestamps to be recovered, and some encrypted network traffic could be related back to which game was played.

Sony PlayStation 3

The analysis conducted by Conrad et al. (2009) was of particular interest as we were presented with similar challenges to those posed by the Sony PlayStation 4. A series of experiments was conducted by Conrad et al. (2009) on the PlayStation 3 and established that, due to the console’s utilisation of AES encryption (Ridgewell, 2011); a native analysis method was required. The write blocker experiment conducted byConrad et al. (2009) concluded that it is not possible to prevent evidence being altered during the analysis of the Sony PlayStation 3. However the methodology produced by Conrad et al. (2009) remains valid, as the analysis undertaken by investigators is repeatable.

According to Ridgewell (2011) the PlayStation 3 adopts an AES 128 encryption format, exploitable through the various processes of retrieving the cryptographic keys used by Sony, identified by hacking group fail0verflow. They also utilised various network forensic techniques and software tools in order to evaluate the console’s security vulnerabilities, observing that the PlayStation 3 TCP & UDP communications are unencrypted.

Microsoft Xbox 360

The work undertaken by Xynos et al. (2010) expands upon the research of Vaughan, 2004 and Burke and Craiger, 2007 and Dementiev (2006), establishing that is possible to recover remnants of information relating to online gameplay from the consoles hard drive; such as time and date stamps and the online gamer ID’s of all players that had participated. As highlighted in Read et al. (2013) there is a need to keep up to date with the modding community, as some developments may have far reaching consequences, which could even include hiding entire partitions from forensics tools.

Identified forensic challenges

The greatest challenge presented to digital investigators in relation to the PlayStation 4 is the non-standard file system; unlike the Xbox One that at least allows NTFS metadata retrieval (Moore et al., 2014). The hard drive contained in the system appears encrypted and this presents a significant barrier. The hard drive can be imaged via a write blocker, however its encrypted nature means it would be difficult to provide an in depth analysis that includes operating system artifacts. For this reason the most useful route is via the user interface, as with other embedded and smart devices (Sutherland et al., 2014), whilst using appropriate write blocking technology to prevent changes to the data.

A further challenge is the user’s ability to alter the information stored within the PlayStation Network (PSN). A user accessing a PSN account via an alternative console, PS4 Companion APP (Sony, 2014a) or PlayStation Vita (Sony, 2014b) possesses the ability to modify or remove potential evidence.

As with many other eighth generation games consoles, the sharing of user-generated content via social media is prevalent on the PlayStation 4. The very nature of sharing hi-scores, game achievements and recorded videos with others requires the device to be connected to the Internet and use of Sony’s cloud services. From a forensic investigator’s perspective, this may mean the hard drive is not the most important data source as it has been in previous generations of games systems. It is possible that user generated content will not even appear on the hard drive at all; online investigations may be required to obtain evidence.

Analytical procedure

In the production of any guidance or methodology for information extraction, which may be relied upon in courtroom proceedings, standard best practice must be adhered to. In the UK the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Good Practice Guide for Digital Evidence version 5 (Association of Chief Police Officers (2012)) provides current best practice for evidence acquisition. All tests performed on the PlayStation 4 have been carried out with respect to ACPO guidance.

Preliminary analysis

We performed an initial study of available literature and an empirical investigation of the PlayStation 4 to identify the areas that a digital forensic investigation may wish to examine. In particular, the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) posted by Shuman on the official PlayStation blog (Shuman, 2013) proved to be insightful when trying to identify which areas to analyse. The empirical investigation comprised of powering on the PlayStation 4, navigating through the various in-game menus and noting areas that may provide evidence of usage and/or communication during an investigation. We primarily concentrated on finding areas that may help identify the who, what, when and where aspects of an investigation. The “who” focused on identifying which user generated the evidence (The PlayStation 4 can hold up to 16 user profiles (Sony Computer Entertainment America and LLC, 2014)), “what” content can be created with the new features of the device, timestamp information to indicate “when” the information was generated, “where” the information could be stored (hard drive, external media, Internet/cloud). After exhausting the features on the device, a number of areas were revealed that could help answer these questions. The features found to be of interest are detailed in Table 1.

Table 1.Features of interest to investigators.
Features Reason
PlayStation Network (PSN) The vast majority of features available to Sony PlayStation 4 users are reliant upon a PSN membership.
Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) Viewing SEN content through a PC web browser, will reveal the user’s real name, address, credit or debit card information, transaction history, linked devices and sub account information.
Internet Browser The Internet browser does not support PDF or office documents. Thumbnails are stored in the browser history provide an indication of user’s most recent activity. Google search terms, Google map searches, 100 web pages visited, 100 Bookmarks (Sony Entertainment Inc, 2014) and 8 most recently visited webpages are available.
ShareFactory The ShareFactory enables players to share, via USB/social media, content recorded via the PlayStation camera or recent game footage. In addition, users possess the ability to edit footage and to record voiceovers or video commentary.
System Storage Management Provides system storage information such as D disk usage, application saved data, video & screen captures and available disk space.
Error History A log of various errors encountered by the system, including time/date values, error codes and the nature of the error.
What’s New Recent user activity and those on their friends list including recent gameplay, recent achievements and new additions to their friends list.
Trophies Relate to specific gaming titles and provide time/date values of when achievements were awarded.
Profile Personal data/unique user handles and other content generated by a user.
Friends A user’s friends in their Friends list can be linked to Facebook. Is it possible to find communications between the user of the system and others. Real name requests can be sent, meaning that a user’s real name will be displayed in all communications. Up to 2000 friends.
Party Messages The Party feature allows up to 8 users to enter a group conversation.
Messages Messages between individuals and multiple users.

Experiment methodology

An experimental methodology was devised by empirically exploring the areas identified in Table 1 and noting locations that may be of interest to an investigator, an overview of the process we undertook is presented in Fig. 1. The methodology was created to assess if it was possible to retrieve data from each location. This involved deliberately introducing data into those different areas and observing if it could be retrieved later. During the course of the experiment, firmware updates became available for the PlayStation 4. Each revision was noted, installed, and the experiment methodology was run again to assess if there were any negative impacts to the evidence acquisition process described in Section 6. The following selection of firmware was used: 1.01, 1.50, 1.51, 1.52, 1.60, 1.61, 1.62, 1.70, 1.72, 1.75 and 1.76 (the latest at the time of writing). Unfortunately we were unable to test all revisions, as the console would only allow us to update to the latest, skipping incremental versions.

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Fig. 1.

Empirical exploration of the PlayStation 4.

The experiment was carried out (for each firmware version) as follows.

Activate video capture device, record time.

Ensure that all of our actions on the system are recorded for future reference.

Activate PlayStation 4. Record time as set on console. Observe any offset between real time and time on console. Offset must be applied to any data retrieved to ensure correct time is recorded.

Introduce sample dataset, record time and data introduced. The sample data (detailed in Section 4.3) is designed to deliberately cause the console to store information in relevant areas from Table 1. Through meticulous recording, we can later identify if our actions are retrievable from the PlayStation 4.

Turn off PlayStation 4. Deactivate video capture device, record time. The video capture provides evidence of our introduced changes to the system during this iteration of the experiment.

Forensically image PlayStation 4 hard drive. Though the files are inaccessible, we keep an image of the hard drive as best evidence such that if our empirical investigation alters evidential data, we can restore the hard drive from the image file and reassess. We used FTK Imager v.3.1.5 to create the forensic images, and the EnCase E01 format to compress files, as the uncompressed RAW images are large.

Turn on PlayStation 4; investigate areas in Table 1 to identify user actions introduced during this experiment iteration.

Compare the data retrieved in relation to the data introduced. Note information, timestamps and any other items indicating use of the PlayStation 4.

After a new firmware update was applied, the hard drive was forensically wiped and then reinitialised in the PlayStation 4 to ensure any recovered data was from the current iteration of the experiment and not from a prior run. The purpose of running the experiment after a change in firmware is to determine if these changes will help or impede our ability to obtain data.

Test data

The PlayStation 4 can store information on the local hard drive and online. Different accounts had to be created in order to assess the features in Table 1. Local (offline) user accounts comprised of three users, User1, User2 and User3. Two further online accounts, the free PSN (PlayStation Network) account and the subscription-based PlayStation Plus account was also created to ensure all features would be available. The PlayStation Plus account was used to download a free title, “War Thunder”, and participate in online gameplay to check for usage later.

To assess the messages functions, contacts were added to the Friends List and both individual and group messages were sent to selected users. A Facebook account was created to enable both the social media aspect of The ShareFactory and the Share button feature on the DualShock 4 controller. A number of other Facebook users were linked to this account to determine if they appeared elsewhere on the console.

The Trophies feature worked with both offline and online game play. Two software titles available to us, “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and “Need For Speed Most Wanted” were used in both modes to assess if usage patterns could be determined by in-game trophy awards.

To assess the Error History, we observed that interacting with Internet dependent features offline would result in error messages being added to the log. We would remove the Internet connection, note the time and the function accessed, and then determine if the information was generated. This knowledge allowed us to deliberately create known system errors to assess the Error History feature.

The Internet browser is known to store 100 visited websites in its history and bookmarks, and 8 most recently used webpages. To assess this, we accessed 103 websites and stored 103 bookmarks, consisting of direct links to images, web pages, websites and duplicate entries.

A number of features allow the user to store data to a FAT32 formatted USB memory stick. We stored ShareFactory projects and pictures obtained from the Internet web browser to a flash drive for later analysis.

Forensic analysis of a PlayStation 4

As presented in Fig. 1, a number of different tests were conducted to assess the ability of a forensic investigator to identify usage of a PlayStation 4. The test data in Section 4.3 was introduced to successive firmware updates (see Section 4.2), and any notable changes between revisions are discussed below.

Initial findings

An initial triage of a PlayStation 4 hard disk, using FTK Imager v3.1.1.8, revealed that the disk structure consists of an unknown filesystem split into 15 partitions as can be seen in Fig. 2. Our analysis of the PlayStation 4 will concentrate on using the native user interface to locate information.

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Fig. 2.

Sony PlayStation 4 partitions viewed from FTK Imager on a 400GB drive.

Data carving test

We employed the data carving utility of AccessData’s Forensic ToolKit (FTK) v3.2 in an attempt to retrieve additional files from a forensic image taken of the PlayStation 4. FTK v3.2 was unable to detect the presence of any files. This strongly suggests either encryption or a bespoke container format.

Web browser, bookmarks history and recent items

Several experiments were conducted upon the PlayStation 4 Internet web browser. The first of which aimed to determine whether the browser stores only unique websites visited, as seen in the PlayStation 3 (Conrad et al., 2009). The experiment involved visiting 103 websites and selecting various web links. It was noted during the experiment that in addition to all web links selected, Google search terms also appear in the PlayStation 4 web browser history. Furthermore, an analysis of the web browser history, bookmarks and most frequently used pages concluded that the time & date upon which events occurred, is not obtainable via the native interface.

Further experiments involved utilising the Internet web browser to store pictures upon the console’s hard drive. It was established that there are only two means by which to successfully complete this task. The first is by storing web images as bookmarks, the second is to store screenshots captured via the share button on the DualShock 4 controller.

Time & date test

We conducted a system wide analysis of the Sony PlayStation 4, focussing upon the retrieval of date and time stamp information. It was discovered that the majority of features, such as Trophies, What’s New etc., provided such information. In contrast, applications such as the Internet web browser did not present any form of date and time information, whilst the Party and Messages features presented only the dates upon which messages were sent and received.

Drive backup and restoration

After performing an analysis of the PlayStation 4 via the user interface, we tried restoring the hard drive back to the acquired image taken before turning on the console. The purpose of this was to determine if the system would accept a previously stored system, which a forensic examiner could use to verify their findings. We converted our image to RAW before transferring onto the drive with the UNIX tool dd. FTK Imager (v3.1.5) was used to verify the restored drive that confirmed it was identical to the image file. The console booted the restored version without any issues.

Offline write blocker test

Inspired by Conrad et al. (2009) we used a Tableau T35is write blocker as a man-in-the-middle given it has SATA ingress and egress connections (Fig. 3). We kept the system offline to examine what could be obtained from the hard drive alone. Unlike Conrad’s experiment on the PlayStation 3, we were able to successfully boot the PlayStation 4 and view data via the in-game menus. However, any functions attempting to write to the hard drive (such as System Storage Management calculating storage space) caused the system to become unstable and stop responding. A hard reset was required to boot the system again.

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Fig. 3.

Tableau T32is used as a man-in-the-middle between the PlayStation 4 and its hard drive.

An offline analysis of the PlayStation 4 utilising the T35is concluded that it is possible to retrieve the key information outlined in Table 1 with the exception of the ShareFactory, System Storage Management and What’s New. It was noted during the analysis that any interaction with some PSN dependent features would result in the generation of system errors due to the system being offline. The T35is prevented the errors from being written to the log and the system became unstable.

These results were obtainable for all firmware revisions up to and including 1.62. After we conducted the experiment during the firmware 1.70 iteration, we found that all the PSN areas of the console were now inaccessible offline, and required logging into the PSN network.

During the firmware 1.72 iteration experiment, it was only possible to recover data relating to the Internet web browser and system setting information.

Furthermore on firmware 1.75 the system would boot successfully with the write blocker but any attempt made to open the Applications pane would result in system instability. From 1.75 onwards we had to use a Voom Shadow 3 (see Section 5.8 below) to let the PlayStation 4 write changes to a buffer whilst maintaining forensic integrity of the original drive.

Online write blocker test

This experiment compliments that in Section 5.6; by using a T35is write blocker (up to firmware 1.72) or a Voom Shadow 3 (firmware 1.72 and later) and enabling the Internet connection to allow access to online content, whilst disabling the ability to make changes to the local hard drive. We felt it was necessary to assess whether such a method would also prevent the modification of PSN dependent content. The experiment consisted of sending multiple messages to a specific user, whilst utilising the write blocker as a pass-through.

Upon restarting the console it was noted that the message sent was not visible. In order to validate the results the experiment was repeated. The second iteration revealed that the content of both messages were now visible. The results indicate that, investigators must be wary of messages previously sent via the PSN can be cached locally and remotely potentially leading to differences between an online and offline investigation.

Shadow drive test

The changes implemented in firmware version 1.75 prevented us from conducting an analysis of the Sony PlayStation 4 whilst utilizing the Tableau T35is write blocker. Accessing any of the menus in the same fashion as on earlier firmware resulted in system instability. As such a suitable alternative method of maintaining evidential integrity was sought.

The Voom Shadow 3 (Fig. 4) was identified as a potential alternative. In order to assess the device’s suitability, we connected the Voom Shadow 3 as a bridge between the PlayStation 4 and its hard drive. The console successfully booted and we were able to fully navigate the system without the stability issues experienced with the Tableau.

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Fig. 4.

: A PlayStation 4 hard drive connected via the Voom Shadow 3.

Shadow drive offline analysis test

An offline analysis of the Sony PlayStation 4 ensued, focussing upon the recovery of data relating to the key features identified in Table 1. It was established that, in contrast to the analysis conducted upon Firmware version 1.72 with the Tableau (see Section 5.6), data associated with the features below were now obtainable offline with the Voom Shadow 3:

Internet web browser

System Storage Management

System time & date

Error History

Capture Gallery

Basic profile information

Party Messages



Shadow drive online web browser analysis

We used the Voom Shadow 3 to conduct an online analysis of the PlayStation 4 Internet web browser. The console was provided a LAN Internet connection and powered on. We selected the user and proceeded to sign out of the PlayStation Network (PSN). The console’s web browser was then launched; nine selections were made from the web browser history and the respective websites visited. The browser history was documented and the console restarted. The history, bookmarks and most frequently used pages were consulted and revealed that the alterations made during the analysis had not been stored.

Shadow drive validation procedure

The PlayStation 4 hard drive was removed and imaged using FTK Imager v3.1.1. It was reconnected and the online Internet web browser analysis performed. We then removed the drive and verified its integrity. Both the generated MD5 & SHA1 hash values were a match.

Local account passcode login

A local account used throughout the experiments was selected, and the passcode was set equal to ‘0000’ in Settings/Users/Login Settings/Passcode Management. The console was rebooted ensuring the Voom Shadow 3 was in write protect mode. We were subsequently prompted to enter the login passcode. We selected options/forgotten passcode and were then prompted to login to PSN. We then selected a new passcode, 9999 and access to the system was granted. The console was rebooted, prompting the login passcode. We entered 0000 and access to the system was granted. This allows an investigator to unlock a PlayStation 4 to look at local content without making changes to the system.

The PlayStation network

Up to firmware version 1.70 the PSN dependent content, such as Profile and Trophies could be accessed while the console was offline. From 1.70 onwards we had to connect the console to the Internet to access such information. This could be conducted with specialist hardware like the Voom Shadow 3 drive used in earlier experiments, but we explored the possibility of using the login data on a separate PlayStation 4 unit. Starting with a forensically zeroed hard drive on an identical specification PlayStation 4, a local account User1 was created and the menus were navigated to ensure the absence of data. We connected the system to the Internet and logged into the PSN with our account credentials. The following information was now available, even though this system had not been used to generate any content:



Party Messages



What’s New

USB upload test

Various file formats were copied from a desktop workstation onto a FAT32 formatted flash drive. The files were stored in a folder labelled PS4 and consisted of 4 jpeg, 1 png, 2 pdf and a variety of Microsoft Office formats. The USB flash drive was then inserted into the PlayStation 4 and several attempts were made to upload the files. We found it was not possible to upload such files onto the PlayStation 4.

USB download test

We investigated what type of content a user may download onto a memory stick. The ShareFactory was used to create videos of gameplay and the Internet web browser was used to perform Google searches for pictures of vehicles. Each picture was enlarged to full screen, by pressing square on the DualShock 4 controller, and a screen capture acquired. We used the Capture Gallery to publish duplicates of the content to the USB flash drive.

Using an Exif viewer allowed us to view the metadata from the fullscreen captures (Fig. 5). The image description field relates directly to the file name present upon the Sony PlayStation 4. The file name is provided by default and users are unable to make alterations to it from the console. In addition, the metadata also presents the firmware version installed upon the console when the image was acquired. Furthermore, we see that the PlayStation 4 is also identified as the camera model.

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Fig. 5.

: End of file marker for MP4 files generated by ShareFactory.

An analysis of the USB storage device was then conducted using the hex viewer in FTK Imager. It was observed that the MP4 generated via the ShareFactory contain the Application code (CUSA 0057) and the file name, which is the date and time upon which the file was created on the PlayStation 4 (Fig. 6).

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Fig. 6.

Exif data from a PlayStation 4 generated image.

Proposed best practice methodology for the forensic analysis of the Sony PlayStation 4

To obtain the information described in Table 1 a forensic investigator should carry out the following steps:


Remove and forensically image the PlayStation 4 hard drive. Disable Internet connectivity. As discussed in Section 5.5, the image could be used to restore from at a later date to verify results.


Reconnect hard drive with a SATA write blocker that has a buffer feature (in Section 5.8 we described usage of a VOOM Shadow 3) as a man-in-the-middle between drive and console.


Activate video capture device, record time. Switch on PlayStation 4 and synchronize the DualShock controller.


Record time and date as presented on PlayStation 4 and take note of any difference with actual time. This offset will need to be applied to any timestamps (see Section 5.4) retrieved from the system.


Navigate to and record the data presented in the various functions as follows:


Error History – The Error History should be viewed first as errors may be introduced by the analyst during the investigation.


Internet Web Browser – Record history, bookmarks, and most recently opened.


System Storage Management


Capture Gallery – A USB drive may be used to download all content from the Capture Gallery (screenshots and videos, see Section 5.15).


Basic Profile Information


Party Messages






Error History – Record the errors generated during the course of the investigation.


Power off PlayStation 4, video capture device, record time.

If the PSN network login credentials are available, further information as detailed in 5.13 may be obtained on another PlayStation 4 console. If unavailable, a decision will need to be made by the investigator whether to take the original system online. Even with a write blocker, the danger using the original system is that cached content may be pushed online and update/overwrite existing information.


The proposed best practice methodology would allow digital investigators to perform an analysis of a write protected Sony PlayStation 4. The alteration of data is prevented and thus evidential integrity is maintained.

The amount of information retrievable however is directly dependent upon the firmware version installed on the console. Table 2 demonstrates that, during an offline analysis, it is possible to recover all user profile information from a console with up to firmware version 1.62 with a standard write blocker. Version 1.70 had limitations when viewing PSN content offline whilst 1.75 required the use of an advanced write blocker to view anything of substance. Similarly, Table 3 identifies what is retrievable during an online investigation for comparison.

Table 2.Information obtainable during an offline investigation.
Firmware version 1.62 1.72 1.75/1.76
Capture Gallery
System Storage Management
Error History
What’s New
Profile P
Notifications P P
System Settings
✓ = Fully Retrievable.✗ = Not Retrievable.

P = Partially Retrievable.

Table 3.Information obtainable during an online investigation.
Firmware version 1.62 1.72 1.75/1.76
Capture Gallery
System Storage Management
Error History
What’s New
System Settings
✓ = Fully Retrievable.✗ = Not Retrievable.

As the Sony PlayStation 4 will not readily allow users to downgrade firmware, it is not possible to restore to previous revisions that allow greater offline access. As such, investigators will continue to be challenged by future firmware updates.

Further challenges are faced by the growing array of content only available online. Although evidence of usage is available on the console, many of the artifacts are only available when the PSN network is connected. Investigators may inadvertently alter data stored online by not disabling the network connectivity, and malicious users may use other devices to deliberately alter or remove incriminating content.

Future considerations

There are a growing number of accessories and interactivity options for the PlayStation 4 that may require investigation in their own right. The PlayStation camera enables users to utilize enhanced security features such as facial recognition to login. This could be used to secure the console, but could also be used to prove account ownership on a multi-user system if an individual was able to unlock a specific account. Future research should consider the implications of the PlayStation 4 connection capabilities with the Sony Vita and the PlayStation Companion App on smartphones and tablets. Any evidence of ownership data transfer and communications will be of interest to investigators.


    • Burke and Craiger, 2007
    • P. Burke, P. Craiger
    • Xbox forensics. Journal of digital forensics practice
    • Taylor & Francis, New York (2007), pp. 275–282
    • Dementiev, 2006
    • D. Dementiev
    • Defeating Xbox (utilizing DOS and Windows tools)
    • (2006) [Unpublished]
    • Read et al., 2013
    • H. Read, K. Xynos, I. Sutherland, G. Davies, T. Houiellebecq, F. Roarson, et al.
    • Manipulation of hard drive firmware to conceal entire partitions
    • Digit Investig, 10 (4) (2013), pp. 281–286
    • Sutherland et al., 2014
    • Iain Sutherland, Konstantinos Xynos, Huw Read, Andy Jones, Tom Drange
    • A forensic overview of the LG Smart TV
    • presented at the 12th Australian Digital Forensics Conference 2014 SRI Security Congress, “Security on the Move” 1-3 December, 2014, Perth, Western Australia  (2014)
    • Turnbull, 2008
    • B. Turnbull
    • Forensic investigation of the Nintendo Wii: a first glance
    • Small Scale Digital Forensics J, (2)1 (2008), pp. 1–7



  • Matthew Davies – SYTECH – Digital Forensic Analyst
  • Huw Read – University of South Wales
  • Konstantinos Xynos –  University of South Wales
  • Iain Sutherland – Noroff University College

Forensic analysis of a Sony PlayStation 4 – A first look – PDF Download




Detailed View of a Memory Chip

Advanced Forensic Chip-Off Examinations – BlackBerry 9900, 9320, Samsung Galaxy, Moto G, BlackBerry Models & Android and many more – Examined on a daily basis to extract hidden and protected evidential case data

Data from some phones cannot be extracted by ‘regular’ means such as PIN/Password protected BlackBerry’s, Pattern protected Android devices, broken & damaged or smashed mobile phones.

Chip-off is a process we have perfected over the years which uses a number of tools and techniques to access and decode the data that is essential to a lot of criminal cases.

This is particularly useful when it comes to recovering case evidence from pin-locked or password protected BlackBerry devices (including the 9320 and 9900 models to recover deleted data) and damaged SSD (Solid State Hard-Drives) & USB Flash drives.

Android eMMC Chip-Off

Android Chip-Off




SYTECH is one of the longest serving providers performing Forensic Chip-Off for numerous Police Forces across the Country on a regular basis with an extremely high ongoing success rate.


As mobile devices continue to bring new challenges Chip Off examination warrants close attention, as it offers deeper data access, the ability to bypass lock codes, and a way to recover data from damaged devices.


The process involves the removal of the memory chip from the handsets circuit board, data is then extracted using specialist equipment.


From the memory chip data, both the live and deleted contents are carved out and extracted, including but not limited to:


Contacts, call data, SMS, MMS, BBM (BlackBerry Messaging) conversations, IM (Instant Messaging) Chat, multimedia (images, videos & audio), emails, web history,  applications (all data), locational data and associated SIM data.




If you have any queries or require further assistance please give SYTECH a call on – 01782 286 300 or email enquiries@sytech-consultants.com for FREE advice.