Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Forensics Quickie: Merging VMDKs & Delta/Snapshot Files (2 Solutions)

FORENSICS QUICKIES! These posts will consist of small tidbits of useful information that can be explained very succinctly.

I had a VM that was suspended. I needed to see the most recent version of the filesystem. Upon mounting the base .vmdk file, I was presented with the filesystem that existed before the snapshot was taken.

Solution #1
(turns out I ran into a similar problem before...see my post on Mounting Split VMDKs).

The issue lies within the fact that when you create a VM snapshot, "all writes to the original -flat.vmdk are halted and it becomes read-only; changes to the virtual disk are then written to these -delta files instead"[2]. So basically, when I was mounting the base .vmdk file (the "someVM-flat.vmdk"), I wasn't seeing anything that was written to the disk after the snapshot was created. I needed a way to merge the delta files into the -flat file.

To further explain what I was working with, I had three .vmdk files:
  1. Win7.vmdk (1KB in size; disk descriptor file; simply pointed to the -flat.vmdk)
  2. Win7-flat.vmdk (large file size; the base .vmdk file)
  3. Win7-000001.vmdk (delta/snapshot file; every write after the snapshot is stored here)
*Note that this image was not split. If it was, I would just use the method detailed in my other post

As mentioned, I needed to merge these all into one to be able to mount the .vmdk and see the most recent version of the filesystem. VMware includes a CLI tool for this. It is stored in the "Program Files\VMware" folder. Run this command.

vmware-vdiskmanager.exe –r Win7-000001.vmdk –t 0 singleFileResult.vmdk

Note that the .vmdk file being used as input should be the .vmdk for the latest snapshot. You can confirm which .vmdk file this is by checking the VM's settings.

You can also define what kind of disk you want to output, as well. I have never found it necessary to use anything other than 0.

You can now mount the new .vmdk to see the most recent version of the file system. I *imagine* you could do this for previous snapshots if you define the proper .vmdk. But I have not tested that.

Solution #2
The other solution, which I wound up using after finding out how to do it correctly, is to import the .vmdk files in order within X-Ways. If you try to import a delta file before the base .vmdk, X-Ways will throw an error saying:

"In order to read a differencing VMDK/VHD image, the corresponding parent must be (and stay) opened first. They should be opened in order of their last modified dates - oldest first, skipping none."

So, I did as it said; I imported Win7.vmdk, then Win7-000001.vmdk. It's that easy.

Though this method may become cumbersome with many snapshots/delta files, you would be able to incrementally see what writes had been made to each snapshot. Just be careful when adding delta files for snapshots that depend on previous snapshots (see below).

VMware's Snapshot Manager showing snapshot dependencies.

Thanks to Eric Zimmerman, Jimmy Weg, and Tom Yarrish for helping with the X-Ways method.


1. Consolidating snapshots in VMware Fusion
2. Understanding the files that make up a VMware virtual machine


kesys said...
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kesys said...

Thank you very much for your work.
Can you write a bit more about software which you used in scenario #2? Maybe a little how to? Please Help. I have recovered flat files (ok - I can mount this) and all delta files and I need to get newest versions of files. Files are very big - 230GB :-(.

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