Ponder The Bits

Musings and confusings. All things DFIR.

Category: Command Line

Mac Dumpster Diving – Identifying Deleted File References in the Trash (.DS_Store) Files – Part 1

If you have ever plugged a USB drive into a Mac, done some things, then plugged it into a Windows system, you have no doubt seen (if you have viewing of hidden files enabled) various “.DS_Store” files (among others) strewn throughout the folders on the drive. Though essentially useless to a Windows system, they do in fact serve a particular purpose on an HFS+ file system.

While I won’t re-invent the wheel on describing “What is a .DS_Store File?” (here as well), I would like to highlight its possible use for DFIR in containing/referencing artifacts that may be useful to investigations – traces of deleted files, with filenames and sometimes paths!

In a nutshell, the .DS_Store file stores metadata used by Finder for folder-specific display options such as window placement, layout, custom icons, background, etc. Thus, these .DS_Store files are (theoretically) created in every folder that Finder accesses, even remote network shares and external devices. Are those annoying .DS_Store files you see in Windows on your FAT32-formatted thumb drive making more sense now?

A part of this metadata is the filename, which got me to thinking… I wonder whether or not any traces get left behind when a file is moved or deleted.

For this post/research, I focused solely on the deletion aspect of when a user deletes a file through Finder.

In testing on my systems (OS X 10.10.5 and macOS Sierra 10.12.2), when a file gets “deleted” through Finder (not via “rm” on the command line, that’s a very different story), it first gets moved to the user’s ~/.Trash/ folder. If at least one file already exists within the user’s Trash, an entry for the yet-to-be-deleted file is added to the existing ~/.Trash/.DS_Store file denoting the full path on disk where the file resided before being moved to the Trash. This entry is part of how the “Put Back” feature works. If no files currently exist in the Trash (due to the user previously emptying the trash), I assumed (more on this in a bit) a new .DS_Store file would be created (“new” meaning a clear/empty file) to again begin storing entries for “Put Back”. Upon emptying the trash (via either the “Empty Trash” or “Secure Empty Trash” option in Finder for pre-Sierra systems), the files are deleted (according to the deletion method associated with each action) from the ~/.Trash/ folder and the ~/.Trash/.DS_Store file is also “deleted” (stay tuned for why I put this in quotes). Here is a great little writeup on the HFS+ volume structure and what happens “When Mac deletes it!”.

At this point, since all of the Trash source files are deleted upon emptying the Trash, we would assume that the .DS_Store file and all of its entries would be deleted as well. But, is this the case?

Answer: Not Quite!

In my testing, while the source data files within the ~/.Trash/ folder appear to be reliably deleted (short of carving the disk), various file and path entries within the ~/.Trash/.DS_Store file do not appear to be deleted! In fact, when you move another file to the trash, the ~/.Trash/.DS_Store file is re-created and historical entries* are re-populated into the file! Even if you “Put Back” the file(s), the associated .DS_Store file and entries remain. WIN!

*Note: These appeared to only be files I’ve deleted since the last reboot of my machine. Rebooting the machine seems to finally remove all historical entries. Various hypotheses of why/how this happens and where these entries come from will be tested later in this post.

We now have the opportunity to identify references to historical file deletions (sometimes with full path)! This doesn’t just apply to the Trash’s .DS_Store files, either. This applies to any given directory’s .DS_Store file that may contain (or have contained) references to files that existed within it.

Pretty AWESOME, right? How many of you are already putting together the “find” command to identify all the .DS_Store files on your systems?

*Hint: # find / -name .DS_Store

But, we kinda started this whole story at the end, well after I had finished muddling my way through researching and experimenting to find out how to actually parse these .DS_Store files. So, let’s rewind a bit

Upon first look at a .DS_Store file, they aren’t exactly straight forward, and they can’t apparently be opened with any native system tool or application. There is no native “ds_store_viewer” utility that simply parses the file information from the command line. So, how would we be even go about trying to figure out how to parse this thing? After all, the information it contains does us no good if we can’t parse and extract it!

Your initial thought may be “strings!” That’s a solid idea to start, let’s see what that yields…

[jp@jp-mba (:) ~]$ strings -a ~/.Trash/.DS_Store

Well, that was less than useful. Oh, wait… maybe they’re Unicode strings instead of ASCII. Let’s see what the option is for Unix strings to search for Unicode strings instead of ASCII:

[jp@jp-mba (:) ~]$ man strings

At this point you may already know what I’m about to say – the BSD strings utility does NOT have the capability to search for Unicode strings. Fail.

So, you can go a few different ways here:

  1. Stick with native utilities
  2. Install/use a third-party utility that can identify Unicode strings (particularly big-endian Unicode)
  3. Install/use a third-party utility that can directly read .DS_Store format files

Native Utilities

So, what else might exist that we can use to view strings?

When in doubt, Hex it out!

I typically use of two native hex viewers – hexdump and xxd. They are both useful in different ways, but we’ll start with hexdump.

Using hexdump, you can dump hex+ASCII by doing the following:

$ hexdump -C

[jp@jp-mba (:) ~]$ hexdump -C ~/.Trash/.DS_Store
00000000 00 00 00 01 42 75 64 31 00 00 38 00 00 00 08 00 |....Bud1..8.....|
00000010 00 00 38 00 00 00 10 0c 00 00 02 09 00 00 20 0c |..8........... .|
00000020 00 00 30 0b 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 08 00 |..0.............|
00000030 00 00 08 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 |................|
00000040 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 03 00 00 00 01 00 00 00 4e |...............N|
00000050 00 00 00 04 00 00 10 00 00 65 00 61 00 73 00 65 |.........e.a.s.e|
00000060 00 5f 00 44 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 |._.D............|
00000070 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 |................|
00000200 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 02 00 00 00 02 00 00 00 04 |................|
00000210 00 00 00 30 00 50 00 6c 00 65 00 61 00 73 00 65 |...0.P.l.e.a.s.e|
00000220 00 5f 00 44 00 6f 00 63 00 75 00 53 00 69 00 67 |._.D.o.c.u.S.i.g|
00000230 00 6e 00 5f 00 74 00 68 00 69 00 73 00 5f 00 64 |.n._.t.h.i.s._.d|

Here we see the notable “Bud1” header followed by readable text. Score! But, how do we extract JUST the readable text in some effective way? You can mess around with hexdump to try to make sense of the output formats, or you could do like I did and get so overwhelmed at one point that you just use xxd to create this incredibly unpretty, certainly less than efficient, convoluted, but “working” one-liner:

$ xxd -p <path/to/.DS_Store> | sed 's/00//g' | tr -d '\n' | sed 's/\([0-9A-F]\{2\}\)/0x\1 /g' | xxd -r -p | strings | sed 's/ptb[LN]ustr//g'

Voilà. Strings output from Unicode strings only using the built-in utilities. It is very ugly and it is certainly separating at points/lines where it should not, but hey… you get what you get. At least you can more legibly make out filenames and paths that could get you somewhere.

This is an ugly hack. I do not recommend it, but sometimes ugly is better than nothing. YMMV.

Note: I would be very interested if someone who is WAY more versed in hexdump output formatting would create a much simpler way of doing the above solely using the hexdump utility.

Third-Party Utilities

GNU Strings

Believe it or not, you can actually install various GNU utilities on your Mac via a handy little thing called Homebrew. Just takes a command line one-liner to install and opens your Mac to world a new and useful utilities called “formulas”. Note that Xcode is a pre-req for installing Homebrew.

For our purposes, we want to install strings, which is a part of the GNU coreutils package. With homebrew installed, all it takes is a “brew install coreutils” and we’re up and running. Do note that various GNU utilities will be prepended with “g” due to naming conflicts. For example, the GNU strings utility must be called/run as “gstrings” (yeah, I laugh a little each time I see that).

Once installed, we now have full GNU strings capabilities, namely for searching big-endian Unicode text, a la the following:

$ gstrings -a -eb

You don’t necessarily need the “-a” option that tells strings “I don’t care whether or not you think it’s a searchable file, do it anyway”, but I add it out of habit of searching files that the system likes to gripe about.

Using FDB


  1. Enter CPAN shell
    1. $ perl -MCPAN -e shell
  2. Install DSStore
    1. $ cpan[1] > install Mac::Finder:DSStore
  3. Install Switch
    1. $ cpan[1] > install Switch
  4. Run FDB
    1. $ ./fdb.pl --type ds --filename /Users//.Trash/.DS_Store --base_url /Users//

Using ds_store Go Parser


  1. Download and Install Go
    1. Download OS X Package from here: https://golang.org/dl/
  2. Set Go Path in shell
    1. One-time (I set mine as the following but it’s up to you)
      1. $ export GOPATH=~/Projects/Go
    2. Permanent
      1. Place above line in /etc/bashrc
      2. Reload shell “source /etc/bashrc” or close and relaunch terminal
  3. Download ds_store go files
    1. $ go get github.com/gehaxelt/ds_store
  4. Change to the directory of the go project
    1. $ cd $GOPATH/src/github.com/gehaxelt/ds_store
  5. Make a directory for the new project/files (I opted to name mine “dsdump”, but feel free to alter yours) and cd to it
    1. $ mkdir -p bin/dsdump && cd "$_"
  6. (If not already done) Create a .go file (I named mine dsdump.go) and copy/paste the Example Code from https://github.com/gehaxelt/ds_store
    1. $ nano dsdump.go
    2. Copy/paste the Example Code into this file and save it
  7. Build the Go binary
    1. $ go build
  8. Run dsump
    1. $ ./dsump -i <path/to/.DS_Store>

**Note: One of the awesome things about Go is its ability to build static binaries (no additional files needed) for a variety of operating systems. For example, if you wanted to build a binary for a Windows x64 system, you would simply run “GOOS=windows GOARCH=amd64 go build -o dsdump.exe”. Then, just copy that to whatever Windows x64 system and run it. Pretty sweet, huh?

(Shout out to Slavik at Demisto for quickly getting me up and running with Go before I spent any time looking at documentation.)

Comparing the .DS_Store Parsing Solutions

At this point in my testing, I don’t think I would stick with only one solution, as each provides its own merits. A hex viewer is an invaluable tool for so many reasons, namely for assisting in identifying unknown structures, artifacts, or items within a given file. Gstrings offers an easy way to search for the appropriate strings with an easily installable pseudo-native utility. Fdb allows the option to specify the “base_url” to prepend its results with the appropriate path, based on the given .DS_Store file’s location. The ds_store Go parser does the job as well and it can be compiled to be portable to any major OS, which can be very handy in a Mac Forensics go-kit of sorts.

Regardless of why/how it occurs (which we’ll address in Part 2 of this post) and what option(s) you choose to parse/extract these items, you may now at least have an additional DFIR investigation method and artifact(s) to identify previously deleted files that are no longer resident on (allocated) disk.

Though we focused solely on .DS_Store files in this post, do note that it is not just .DS_Store files that can assist in identifying deleted files on a system. There are several other files/areas that should be searched for such investigations; however, I wanted to hone in on analysis of these files as it is possibly lesser known (at least in my research and experience).

At any rate, I hope this can be somehow useful in your investigations moving forward! As usual, YMMV, so I’m interested to hear feedback and stories of if/how this works in the field for everyone.


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Know Your Tools: Linux (GNU) vs. Mac (BSD) Command Line Utilities

Welcome to first post in the “Know Your Tools” series!

Without further ado…

Have you ever wondered if/how *nix command line utilities may differ across distributions? Perhaps it never even occurred to you that there was even a possibility the tools were any different. I mean, they’re basic command line tools. How and why could/would they possibly differ?

Well, I’m here to say… thy basic command line utilities art not the same across different distributions. And, the differences can range from those that can cause a simple nuisance to those that can cause oversight of critical data.

Rather than going into aspects of this discussion that have already been covered such as how Linux and BSD generally differ, I would instead like to focus on a few core utilities commonly used in/for DFIR artifact analysis and some caveats that may cause you some headache or even prevent you from getting the full set of results you’d expect. In highlighting the problems, I will also help you identify some workarounds I’ve learned and developed over the years in addressing these issues, along with an overarching solution at the end to install GNU core utilities on your Mac (should you want to go that route).

Let’s get to it.


Grep is one of the most useful command-line utilities for searching within files/content, particularly for the ability to use regular expressions for searching/matching. To some, this may be the first time you’ve even heard that term or “regex” (shortened version of it). Some of you may have been using it for a while. And, nearly everyone at some point feels like…


Regardless of whether this is your first time hearing about regular expressions or if you use them regularly albeit with some level of discomfort, I HIGHLY suggest you take the time to learn and/or get better at using them – they will be your most powerful and best friend for grep. Though there is a definite regex learning curve (it’s really not that bad), knowing how to use regular expressions translates directly to performing effective and efficient searches for/of artifacts during an investigation.

Nonetheless, even if you feel like a near master of regular expressions, equally critical to an expression’s success is how it is implemented within a given tool. Specifically for grep, you may or may not be aware that it uses two different methods of matching that can highly impact the usefulness (and more important, validity) of results returned – Greedy vs. Lazy Matching. Let’s explore what each of these means/does.

At a very high level, greedy matching attempts to find the last (or longest) possible match, and lazy matching attempts to find the first possible match (and stops there). More specifically, greedy matching employs what is called backtracking and look-behind’s but that is a separate discussion. Suffice to say, using an incorrect, unintended, and/or unexpected matching method can completely overlook critical data or at the very least provide an inefficient or invalid set of results.

Now having established some foundational knowledge about how grep searches can work, we will drop the knowledge bomb – the exact same grep expression on Linux (using GNU grep) may produce completely different or no results on Mac (using BSD grep), especially when using these different types of matching.

…What? Why?

The first time I found this out I spent an inordinate and unnecessary amount of time banging my head against a wall typing and re-typing the same expression across systems but seeing different results. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And, well, now I hope to let you know what I didn’t know but painfully learned.

While there is an explanation of why, it doesn’t necessarily matter for this discussion. Rather, I will get straight to the point of what you need to know and consider when using this utility across systems to perform effective searches. While GREEDY searches execute pretty much the same across systems, the main difference comes when you are attempting to perform a LAZY search with grep.

We’ll start with GREEDY searches as there is essentially little to no difference between the systems. Let’s perform a greedy search (find the last/longest possible match) for any string/line ending in “is” using grep’s Extended Regular Expressions option (“-E”).

(Linux GNU)$ echo “thisis” | grep -Eo ‘.+is'
(Mac BSD)$ echo “thisis” | grep -Eo ‘.+is'

Both systems yield the same output using a completely transferrable command. Easy peasy.

Note: When specifying Extended Regular Expressions, you can (and I often do) just use “egrep” which implies the “-E” option.

Now, let’s look at LAZY searches. First, how do we even specify a lazy search? Well, to put it simply, you append a “?” to your matching sequence. Using the same search as before, we’ll instead use lazy matching (find the first/shortest match) for the string “is” on both the Linux (GNU) and Mac (BSD) versions of grep and see what both yield.

(Linux GNU)$ echo “thisis” | grep -Eo ‘.+?is'
(Mac BSD)$ echo “thisis” | grep -Eo ‘.+?is'

Here the fun begins. We did the exact same command on both systems and it returned different results.

Well, for LAZY searches, Linux (GNU) grep does NOT recognize lazy searches unless you specify the “-P” option (short for PCRE, which stands for Perl Compatible Regular Expressions). So, we’ll supply that this time:

(Linux GNU)$ echo “thisis” | grep -Po ‘.+?is'

There we go. That’s what we expected and hoped for.

*Note: You cannot use the implied Extended expression syntax of “egrep” here as you will get a “conflicting matchers specified” error. Extended regex and PCRE are mutually exclusive in GNU grep.

Note that Mac (BSD), on the other hand, WILL do a lazy search by default with Extended grep. No changes necessary there.

While not knowing this likely won’t lead to catastrophic misses of data, it can (and in my experience will very likely) lead to massive amounts of false positives due to greedy matches that you have to unnecessarily sift through. Ever performed a grep search and got a ton of very imprecise and unnecessarily large (though technically correct) results? This implementation difference and issue could certainly have been the cause. If only you knew then what you know now…

So, now that we know how these searches differ across systems (and what we need to modify to make them do what we want), let’s see a few examples where using lazy matching can significantly help us (note: I am using my Mac for these searches, thus the successful use of Extended expressions using “egrep” to allow for both greedy and lazy matching)…

User-Agent String Matching
Let’s say I want to identify and extract the OS version from Mozilla user-agent strings from a set of logs, the format of which I know starts with “Mozilla/“ and then contains the OS version in parenthesis. The following shows some examples:

  • Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2228.0 Safari/537.36
  • Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.3; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2226.0 Safari/537.36
  • Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2227.0 Safari/537.36
  • Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_10_1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2227.1 Safari/537.36

Greedy Matching (matches more than we wanted – fails)
(Mac BSD)$ echo "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_10_1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2227.1 Safari/537.36" | egrep -o 'Mozilla.+\)'
Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_10_1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko)

Lazy Matching
(Mac BSD)$ echo "Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_10_1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/41.0.2227.1 Safari/537.36" | egrep -o 'Mozilla.+?\)'
Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_10_1)

Searching for Malicious Eval Statements
Let’s say I want to identify and extract all of the base64 eval statements from a possibly infected web page for analysis, so that I can then pipe it into sed to extract only the base64 element and decode it for plaintext analysis.

Greedy Matching (matches more than we wanted – fails)
(Mac BSD)$ echo "date=new Date(); eval(base64_decode(\"DQplcnJvcl9yZ=\")); var ua = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase();" | egrep -o 'eval\(base64_decode\(.+\)'
eval(base64_decode("DQplcnJvcl9yZ=")); var ua = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase()

Lazy Matching (matches exactly what we want)
(Mac BSD)$ echo "date=new Date(); eval(base64_decode(\"DQplcnJvcl9yZ=\")); var ua = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase();" | egrep -o 'eval\(base64_decode\(.+?\)'

There you have it. Hopefully you are now a bit more informed not only about the differences between Lazy and Greedy matching, but also about the difference in requirements across systems.


Strings is an important utility for use in extracting “human-readable” strings from files/binaries. It is particularly useful in extracting strings from (suspected) malicious binaries/files to attempt to acquire some insight into what may be contained within the file, its capabilities, hard-coded domains/URL’s, commands, … the list goes on.

However, not all strings are created equal. Sometimes, Unicode strings exist within a file/program/binary for various reasons, those of which are also important to identify and extract. By default, the GNU (Linux) strings utility searches for simple ASCII encoding, but also allows you to specify additional encodings for which to search, to include Unicode. Very useful.

By default, the Mac (BSD) strings utility also searches for simple ASCII encoding; however, I regret to inform you that the Mac (BSD) version of strings does NOT have the native capability to search for Unicode strings. Do not ask why. I highly encourage you to avoid the rabbit hole of lacking logic that I endured when I first found this out. Instead, we should move on and instead just be asking ourselves, “What does this mean to me?” Well, if you’ve only been using a Mac to perform string searches using the native BSD utility, you have been MISSING ALL UNICODE STRINGS. Of all the pandas, this is a very sad one.

So, what are our options?

There are several options, but I personally use one of the following (depending no the situation and my mood) when I need to extract both Unicode and ASCII strings from a file using a Mac (BSD) system:
1. Willi Ballenthin’s Python strings tool to extract both ASCII and Unicode strings from a file
2. FireEye’s FLOSS tool (though intended for binary analysis, it can also work against other types of files)
3. GNU strings*

*Wait a minute. I just went through saying how GNU strings isn’t available as a native utility on a Mac. So, how can I possibly use GNU strings on it? Well, my friends, at the end of this post I will revisit exactly how this can be achieved using a nearly irreplaceable third-party package manager.

Now, go back and re-run the above tools against various files and binaries from your previous investigations you performed from the Mac command line. You may be delighted at what new Unicode strings are now found 🙂


Sed (short for “Stream editor”) is another useful utility to perform all sorts of useful text transformations. Though there are many uses for it, I tend to use it mostly for substitutions, deletion, and permutation (switching the order of certain things), which can be incredibly useful for log files with a bunch of text.

For example, let’s say I have a messy IIS log file that somehow lost all of its newline separators and I want to extract just the HTTP status code, method, and URI from each line and output into its own separate line (restoring readability):


Looking at the pattern, we’d like to insert a newline before each instance of the date, beginning with “2016-…”. Lucky for us, we’re on a Linux box with GNU sed and it can easily handle this:

(Linux GNU)$ sed 's/ \(.+\?\)2016/\1\n2016/g' logfile.txt

You can see that it not only handles lazy matching, but also handles ANSI-C escape sequences (e.g., \n, \r, \t, …). This statement also utilizes sed variables, the understanding of which I will leave to the reader to explore.

Sweet. Let’s try that on a Mac…

(Mac BSD)$ sed 's/\(.+\?\)\(.+\)/\1\n2016/g' logfile.txt

… Ugh. No luck.

Believe it or not, there are actually two common problems here. The first is the lack of interpretation of ANSI-C escape sequences. BSD sed simply doesn’t recognize any (except for \n, but not within the replacement portion of the statement), which means we have to find a different way of getting a properly interpreted newline into the statement.

Below are a few options that will work around this issue (and there are more clever ways to do it as well).

1. Use the literal (i.e., for a newline, literally insert a new line in the expression)
(Mac BSD)$ sed ’s//\*Press Enter*
> /g'

2. Use bash ANSI-C Quoting (I find this the easiest and least effort, but YMMV)
(Mac BSD)$ sed 's//\'$'\n/g’
3. Use Perl
(Mac BSD)$ perl -pe ‘s||\n|g'

Unfortunately, this only solves the first of two problems, the second being that BSD sed still does not allow for lazy matching (from my testing, though I am possibly just missing something). So, even if you use #1 or #2 above, it will only match the last found pattern and not all the patterns we need it to.

“So, should I bother with using BSD sed or not?”

Well, I leave that up to your judgment. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In cases like this where you need to use both lazy matching and ANSI-C escape sequences, it may just be easier to skip the drama and use Perl (or perhaps you know of another extremely clever solution to this issue). Options are always good.

Note: There are also other issues with BSD sed like line numbers and using the “-i” parameter. Should you be interested beyond the scope of this post, this StackExchange thread actually has some useful information on the differences between GNU and BSD sed. Though, I’ve found that YMMV on posts like this where the theory and “facts” may not necessarily match up to what you find in testing. So, when in doubt, always test for yourself.


Of all commands, you might wonder how something so basic as find could differ across *nix operating systems. I mean, what could possibly differ? It’s just find, the path, the type, the name… how or why could that even be complicated? Well, for the most part they are the same, except in one rather important use case – using find with regular expressions (regex).

Let’s take for example a regex to find all current (non-archived/rotated) log files.

On a GNU Linux system this is somewhat straight forward:

(Linux GNU)$ find /var/log -type f -regextype posix-extended -regex "/var/log/[a-zA-Z\.]+(/[a-zA-Z\.]+)*"

You can see here that rather than using the standard “-name” parameter, we instead used the “-regextype” flag to enable extended expressions (remember egrep from earlier?) and then used the “-regex” flag to denote our expression to utilize. And, that’s it. Bless you, GNU!

Obviously, Mac BSD is not this straight forward, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. It’s not exactly SUPER complicated, but it’s different enough to cause substantial frustration as your Google searches will show that the internet is very confused about how to do this properly. I know. Shocking. Nonetheless, there is value in traveling down the path of frustration here so that you don’t have to when it really matters. So, let’s just transfer the command verbatim over to a Mac and see what happens.

(Mac BSD)$ find /var/log -type f -regextype posix-extended -regex "/var/log/[a-zA-Z\.]+(/[a-zA-Z\.]+)*"
find: -regextype: unknown primary or operator

Great, because why would BSD find use the same operators, right? That would be too easy. By doing a “man find” (on the terminal, not in Google, as that will produce very different results from what we are looking for here) you will see that BSD find does not use that operator. Though, it still does use the “-regex” operator. Easy enough, we’ll just remove that bad boy:

(Mac BSD)$ find /var/log -type f -regex "/var/log/[a-zA-Z\.]+(/[a-zA-Z\.]+)*
(Mac BSD)$

No results. Ok. Let’s look at the manual again… ah ha, to enable extended regular expressions (brackets, parenthesis, etc.), we need to use the “-E” option. Easy enough:

(Mac BSD)$ find /var/log -E -type f -regex "/var/log/[a-zA-Z\.]+(/[a-zA-Z\.]+)*"
find: -E: unknown primary or operator

Huh? The manual says the “-E” parameter is needed, yet we get the same error message we got earlier about the parameter being an unknown option. I’ll spare you a bit of frustration and tell you that it is VERY picky about where this flag is put – it must be BEFORE the path, like so:

(Mac BSD) $> find -E /var/log -type f -regex "/var/log/[a-zA-Z\.]+(/[a-zA-Z\.]+)*"

Success. And, that’s that. Nothing earth shattering here, but different and unnecessarily difficult enough to be aware of in your switching amongst systems.

So, now what?

Are you now feeling a bit like you know too much about these little idiosyncrasies? Well, there’s no going back now. If for no other reason, maybe you can use them to sound super smart or win bets or something.

These are just a few examples relevant to the commands and utilities often used in performing DFIR. There are still plenty of other utilities that differ as well that can make life a pain. So, now that we know this, what can we do about it? Are we doomed to live in constant translation of GNU <—> BSD and live without certain GNU utility capabilities on our Macs? Fret not, there is a light at the end of the tunnel…

If you would like to not have to deal with many of these cross-platform issues on your Mac, you may be happy to know that the GNU core utilities can be rather easily installed on OS X. There are a few options to do this, but I will go with my personal favorite method (for a variety of reasons) called Homebrew.

Homebrew (or brew) has been termed “The missing package manager for OS X”, and rightfully so. It allows simple command-line installation of a huge set of incredibly useful utilities (using Formulas) that aren’t installed by default and/or easily installed via other means. And, the GNU core utilities are no exception.

As a resource, Hong’s Technology Blog provides a great walk-through of installation and considerations.

You may already be thinking, “Great! But wait… how will the system know which utility I want to run if both the BSD and GNU version are installed?” Great question! By default, homebrew installs the binaries to /usr/local/bin. So, you have a couple options, depending on which utility in particular you are using. Some GNU utilities (such as sed) are prepended with a “g” and can be run without conflict (e.g., “gsed” will launch GNU sed). Others may not have the “g” prepended. In those cases, you will need to make sure that /usr/local/bin is in your path (or has been added to it) AND that it precedes those of the standard BSD utilities’ locations of /usr/bin, /bin, etc. So, your path should look something like this:

$ echo $PATH

With that done, it will by default now launch the GNU version installed in /usr/local/bin instead of the standard system one located in /usr/bin. And, to use the native system utilities when there is a GNU version installed with the same name, you will just need to provide their full path (i.e., “/usr/bin/<utility>”).

Please feel free to sound off in the comments with any clever/ingenious solutions not covered here or stories of epic failure in switching between Linux and Mac systems 😃


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