Category Archives: Packet Analysis

Practical Packet Analysis 3rd Edition Released!

Ten years after releasing the first edition of Practical Packet Analysis, the third edition is finished and has been released! It’s hard to believe it’s been so long. So far, existing editions have sold tens of thousands of copies, been translated into multiple languages, and been used as a textbook in multiple college courses. I’m very humbled by the success the book has seen over the past decade.

Purchase Here from Amazon

Purchase Here from No Starch Press

If you’ve never read Practical Packet Analysis…

the key word I want to focus on is Practical. There are a lot of books about networking and protocols out there that get into the specific details at magnified level, but this isn’t that book. This book is written for people who need to do things like solve network issues, troubleshoot latency, or investigate security threats. Capturing packets is easy, but understanding them isn’t, and PPA is designed to give you the practical knowledge you need to get started down the right path. Practical Packet Analysis was the first book of its kind a decade ago, and the approach I’ve taken is unlike any other book you’ll find on the topic.

If you’ve read one of the previous editions…

I think you’ll like the new one too. Much of the introductory material is the same, but I’ve added quite a bit of new content:

  • Updated content for Wireshark 2.
  • A new chapter on packet analysis from the command line with tshark and tcpdump.
  • A bonus chapter on how to read packets in hex using packet diagrams.
  • New protocol coverage of IPv6 and SMTP.
  • All new scenarios related to network troubleshooting, internet of things devices, and security scenarios.

Charitable Contributions from Book Sales

A significant portion of the royalties from Practical Packet Analysis will be going to support a number of charities. This includes the Rural Technology Fund, the Against Malaria Foundation, and several others. Through your purchase of my books we’ve been able to put computer science resources into the hands of over 10,000 students just last year alone, purchase life saving mosquito nets for thousands of African families, and so much more. I’m thrilled to be able to use my work to serve others, and I hope you’ll share in that joy with me.


First of all, I want to sincerely thank everyone who has ever purchased any of the prior editions. I know you work hard for your money, so I’m glad my work was deemed worthy of your contribution and your time. As I always do, I want to share the acknowledgements and dedications you’ll find in the first few pages.

I’d like to express sincere gratitude for the people who’ve supported me and the development of this book.

Ellen, thank you for your unconditional love and for putting up with me pecking away at the keyboard in bed for countless nights while you were trying to sleep.

Mom, even in death the example of kindness you set continues to motivate me. Dad, I learned what hard work was from you and none of this happens without that.

Jason Smith, you’re like a brother to me, and I can’t thank you enough for being a constant sounding board.

Regarding my coworkers past and present, I’m very fortunate to have surrounded myself with people who’ve made me a smarter, better person. There’s no way I can name everyone, but I want to sincerely thank Dustin, Alek, Martin, Patrick, Chris, Mike, and Grady for supporting me every day and embracing what it means to be servant leaders.

Thanks to Tyler Reguly who served as the primary technical editor. I make stupid mistakes sometimes, and you make me look less stupid. Also, thanks to David Vaughan for providing an extra set of eyes, Jeff Carrell for helping edit the IPv6 content, Brad Duncan for providing a capture file used in the security chapter, and the team at QA Café for providing a Cloudshark license that I used to organize the packet captures for the book.

Of course, I also have to extend thanks to Gerald Combs and the Wireshark development team. It’s the dedication of Gerald and hundreds of other developers that makes Wireshark such a great analysis platform. If it weren’t for their efforts, information technology and network security would be significantly worse off.

Finally, thanks to Bill, Serena, Anna, Jan, Amanda, Alison, and the rest of the No Starch Press staff for their diligence in editing and producing all three editions of Practical Packet Analysis.


This time around, rather that dedicating the book to an individual, I chose to include the first verse of one of my favorite songs, “Amazing Grace”. These words have profound meaning, and they just felt right positioned as the first words you’ll read in these pages.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”


Finally, if you do end up with a copy of Practical Packet Analysis, I’m always grateful for a review on the books Amazon page. A positive review is the most meaningful way to help an author whose work you enjoyed. If you’d rather share your review with me directly, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I’m always happy to hear your feedback.

Practical Packet Analysis 3rd Edition Research

Practical Packet AnalysisAfter a lot of demand, I’ve started researching content for Practical Packet Analysis, 3rd edition. There is no timeline for release yet, but for those of you who have read either of the previous editions, what would you like to see in a third edition? Specific scenarios? Additional protocols? Let me know in the comments here, or e-mail me directly at Thanks!


Applied Network Security Monitoring, the book!

I’m thrilled to announce my newest project, Applied Network Security Monitoring, the book, along with my co-authors Liam Randall and Jason Smith.

Better yet, I’m excited to say that 100% of the royalties from this book will be going to support some great charities, including the Rural Technology Fund, Hackers for Charity, Hope for the Warriors, and Lighthouse Youth Services.

You can read more about the book, including a full table of contents at its companion site, here:

Differential Diagnosis of Network Security Monitoring Events

There are a lot of things that the industry does well when it comes to network security monitoring (NSM). For instance, I tend to think that we have data collection figured out reasonably well. I also think that signature-based intrusion detection is a really well developed science. However, with NSM having only existed for a short period of time there are several facets of it that aren’t too well defined. One such aspect is the actual diagnostic method that people use to analyze NSM events. That is, the process an analyst uses to connect the dots between the initial alert and the final diagnosis. In this article I’m going to discuss the use of a common medical diagnostic method called differential diagnosis and how it can be applied to NSM.


Understanding Normal

The first thing that was ever taught to me when I started my career as an NSM analyst was that if you know what normal looks like, then you can determine what is bad. I trusted in this concept for many years and even taught it to others. As true as this statement may be, I believe it is relied on entirely too much. This is primarily due to a failure in separating the collection, detection, and analysis processes.


Collection centers on the hardware and software used to collect NSM related data. Consider the collection of full content packet capture (PCAP) data. The use a network tap and DaemonLogger allow you to store this data on disk so that it may be used for the identification and analysis of network security related events. Collection occurs with a combination of hardware and software.

Detection is the process by which collected data is examined and anomalies are identified, typically through some form of signature, anomaly, or statistically based detection. Snort is software that is an example of signature-based intrusion detection that compares collected network traffic to signatures of known malicious activity in an effort to perform pattern matching to determine if something bad has occurred. Detection is typically software focused.

Analysis is what occurs when a human interprets the results of the output of an identification tool. Although Snort may detect a pattern match in a communication sequence and generate an alert, it is a human who is ultimately responsible for reviewing the alert and investigating it to an end determination on its validity. The key concept here is that analysis is human focused.


With those three terms more clearly defined and distinctions drawn, it would stand to reason that the concept of knowing what normal looks like in order to determine what is bad is actually more relevant to detection than analysis. Realistically speaking, it’s not feasible in the modern state of network computing to be well versed in every aspect of normal communications. Although some traffic patterns may remain fairly static, the open nature and loose standards that govern network communication protocols result in a constant evolution of traffic patterns. Don’t be mistaken, this is still an important concept that must be incorporated into the analytic approach, it’s just not strong enough to stand on its own as the singular concept new analysts should be taught. Knowing what normal looks like is best used when analyzing specific facets of a potential breach rather than as a holistic method to classify all network traffic you may be capturing.


A Differential Approach

The general goal of an NSM analyst is to digest the alerts generated by various detection tools and investigate multiple data sources and perform relevant tests and research to see if their findings represent a network security breach. This is very similar to that of a physician, whose goal is to digest the symptoms a human presents and investigate multiple data sources and perform relevant tests and research to see if their findings represent a breach in the person’s immune system.  Both practitioners share a similar of goal of connecting the dots to find out if something bad has happened and/or is still happening.

Although NSM has only been around a short while, medicine has been around for centuries. This means that they’ve got a head start on us when it comes to developing their diagnostic method. One of the most common diagnostic methods used in clinical medicine is one called differential diagnosis. If you’ve ever seen an episode of “House” then chances are you’ve seen this process in action. The group of doctors will be presented with a set of symptoms and they will create a list of potential diagnosis on a whiteboard. The remainder of the show is spent doing research and performing various tests to eliminate each of these potential conclusions until only one is left. Although the methods used in the show are often a bit unconventional they still fit the bill as a part of the differential diagnosis process.

The differential method is one based upon a process of elimination. It consists of five distinct steps, although in some cases only two will be necessary. The differential process exists as follows:

  1. Identify and list the symptoms
    In medicine, symptoms are typically initially conveyed verbally by the individual experiencing them. In NSM, a symptom is most commonly in the form of an alert generated by some form of intrusion detection system or other detection software. Although this step focuses primarily on the initial symptoms, more symptoms may be added to this list as additional tests or investigations are conducted.

  3. Consider and evaluate the most common diagnosis first
    A statement every medical student is taught in their first year is “If you hear hoof beats, look for horses…not zebras.” This is to state to that the most common diagnosis is likely the correct one. As a result, this diagnosis should be evaluated first. The analyst should focus his investigation on doing what is necessary to quickly confirm this diagnosis. If this common diagnosis cannot be determined to be true during this initial step then the analyst should proceed to the next step.

  5. List all possible diagnosis for the given symptoms
    The next step in the differential process is to list every possible diagnosis based upon the information currently available with the initially assessed symptoms. This step requires some creative thinking is often most successful when multiple analysts participate in generating ideas. Although you may not have been able to completely confirm the most common diagnosis in the previous step, if you weren’t able to rule it out completely then it should be carried over into the list generated in this step. Each potential diagnosis on this list is referred to as a candidate condition.

  7. Prioritize the list of candidate conditions by their severity
    Once a list of candidate conditions is created a physician will prioritize these listing the condition that is the largest threat to human life at the top. In the case of an NSM analyst you should also prioritize this list, but the prioritization should focus on which condition is the biggest threat to your organizations network security. This will be highly dependent upon the nature of your organization. For instance, if “MySQL Database Root Compromise” is a candidate condition then a company whose databases contains social security numbers would prioritize this condition much higher than a company who uses a simple database to store a list of its sales staffs on-call schedule.

  9. Eliminate the candidate condition, starting with the most severe
    The final step is where the majority of the action occurs. Based upon the prioritized list created in the previous step the analyst should begin doing what is necessary to eliminate candidate conditions, starting with the condition that poses the greatest threat to network security. This process of elimination requires considering each candidate condition and performing tests, conducting research, and investigating other data sources in an effort to rule them out as a possibility. In some cases investigation on one candidate condition may effectively rule out multiple candidate condition, speeding up this process. Alternatively, investigation of other candidate conditions may prove inconclusive leaving one or two conditions that are unable to be definitively eliminated as possibilities. This is acceptable however as sometimes in network security monitoring (as in medicine) there are anomalies that can’t be explained that require more observation before determining a diagnosis. Ultimately, the goal of this final step is to be left with one diagnosis so that either the incident handling process may begin or the alert can be dismissed as a false positive. It’s very important to remember that “Normal Communication” is a perfectly acceptable diagnosis, and will be the most common diagnosis an NSM analyst arrives at. I also find that remembering that all packets are good unless you can prove they are bad is an important concept to remember during this step.



Let’s consider this process with a couple of broad case scenarios.


Scenario 1

Step 1: Identify and List the Symptoms


  • Internal host appears to be sending outbound traffic to a Russian IP address
  • The traffic is occurring at regular intervals, every 10 minutes
  • The traffic is HTTPS over port 443, and as such is encrypted and unreadable

Step 2: Consider and Evaluate the Most Common Diagnosis First

It’s been my experience that most entry level analysts will see these symptoms and automatically think that this machine is infected with some form of malware and is phoning home for further instructions. Those analysts tend to key in on that fact that the traffic is going to a Russian IP address and that it is occurring at regular 10 minute intervals. Although those things are worth noting (I wouldn’t have listed them if they weren’t), I don’t buy into the malware theory so easily. I believe entirely too much emphasis is placed on the geographic location of IP addresses, so the fact that the remote IP address is Russian means little to me. Additionally, there are a whole variety of normal communication mechanisms that talk on regular periodic intervals. This includes things like web-based chat, RSS feeds, web-based e-mail, stock tickers, software update processes, and more. Operating on the principal that all packets are good unless you can prove they are bad, I think the most common diagnosis here is that this is normal traffic.

That said, how we can confirm this potential diagnosis? Confirming something is normal can be hard. In this particular instance we could start with some open source research on the Russian IP. Although it’s located in Russia it still may be owned by a legitimate company. If we were to look up the host and find that it was registered to a popular AV vendor we might be able to use that information to conclude that this was an AV application checking for updates. I didn’t mention the URL that the HTTPS traffic is going to, but quickly Googling it may yield some useful information that will help you determine if it is a legitimate site or something that might be hosting malware or some type of botnet C2. Another technique would be to examine the host physically if you have ready access to it in an effort to see if any processes are launched on the machine at the same intervals the traffic is occurring at.

Let’s assume that we weren’t able to make a final determination on whether or not this was normal communication.

Step 3: List all Possible Diagnosis for the Given Symptoms

*There are obviously more candidate conditions in the realm of possibility, but for this and the other scenario I’ve kept it to some of the more common ones for the sake of brevity.

Candidate Conditions:

    • Normal Communication
      We weren’t able to rule this out completely in the previous step so we carry it over to this step.


    • Malware Infection / Installed Malicious Logic
      This is used as a broad category. We typically don’t care about the specific strain until we determine that malware may actually exist. If you are concerned about a specific strain then it can be listed separately. Think of this category as a doctor listing “bacterial infection” as a candidate condition knowing that they can further narrow it down later.


    • Data Exfiltration from Compromised Host
      Potential that the host could be sending proprietary or confidential information out. This sort of thing would likely be part of a coordinated or targeted attack.


    • Misconfiguration
      It’s well within the realm of possibilities that a system administrator fat-fingered an IP address and a piece of software that should be trying to communicate periodically with an internal IP is now trying to do so with a Russian IP. This is really quite common.


Step 4: Prioritize the List of Candidate Conditions by their Severity

These priorities are fairly generalized since they are dependent upon your organization.

Priority 1: Data Exfiltration from Compromised Host

Priority 2: Malware Infection / Installed Malicious Logic

Priority 3: Misconfiguration

Priority 4: Normal Communication

Step 5: Eliminate the Candidate Conditions, Starting with the Most Severe

Priority 1: Data Exfiltration from Compromised Host

This one can be a bit tricky to eliminate as a possibility. Full packet capture won’t be of the most assistance here since the traffic is encrypted, but if you can create some statistics from this traffic, or better yet, if you have netflow available, you should be able to determine the amount of data going out. If only a few bytes are going out every then minutes than it’s likely that this is not data exfiltration. The host based research you did earlier on the Russian IP address may also provide some value here in determining the reputation of this host. It would also be of value to determine if any other hosts on your network are talking to this IP address or any other IPs in the same address space. Finally, baselining normal communication for your internal host and comparing it with the potentially malicious traffic may provide some useful insight.

Priority 2: Malware Infection / Installed Malicious Logic

At this point the research you’ve already done should give you a really good idea on whether or not this condition is true. It will be likely that by examining the potential for data exfiltration you will rule this condition out as a result, or will have already been able to confirm it to be true.

Priority 3: Misconfiguration

This condition can best be approached by comparing the traffic of this host against the traffic of one or more hosts with a similar role on the network. If every other workstation on that same subnet has the same traffic pattern, but to a different IP address, then it’s likely that the wrong IP address was entered into a piece of software somewhere proving that a misconfiguration exists. Having access to host-based logs can also be useful in figuring out if a misconfiguration exists since they might exist in Windows or Unix system logs.

Priority 4: Normal Communication

If you’ve gotten this far, then the diagnosis of normal communication should be all that remains on your list of candidate conditions.

Concluding a Diagnosis

At this point you have to use your experience as an analyst and your intuition to decide if you think something malicious is really occurring. If you were able to complete the previous analysis thoroughly, then operating on the assumption that all packets are good unless you can prove they are bad would mean your final diagnosis here should be that this is normal communication. If you still have a hunch something quirky is happening though, there is no shame in monitoring the host further and reassessing once more data has been collected.


Scenario 2

Step 1: Identify and List the Symptoms


  • A web server in our DMZ is receiving massive amounts of inbound traffic
  • The inbound traffic is unreadable and potentially encrypted or obfuscated
  • The inbound traffic is coming to multiple destination ports on the internal host
  • The inbound traffic is UDP based

Step 2: Consider and Evaluate the Most Common Diagnosis First

With the amount of traffic being received by the internal host being very large and the packets using the UDP protocol with random destination ports, my inclination would be that this is some form of denial of service attack.

The quickest way to determine whether something is a denial of service is to assess the amount of traffic being received compared with the normal amount of traffic received on that host. This is something that is really easy to do with netflow data if you have it available. If the host is only receiving 20% more traffic than it normally would then I would consider other alternatives to a DoS. However, if the host is receiving ten or one hundred times its normal amount of traffic then DoS is very likely and almost a certainty.  It’s important to remember that a DoS is still a DoS even if it is unintentional.

Once again, for the sake of this scenario we will continue as though we weren’t able to make a clear determination on whether or not a DoS condition exists.

Step 3: List all Possible Diagnosis for the Given Symptoms

Candidate Conditions:

    • Denial of Service
      We weren’t able to rule this out completely in the previous step so we carry it over to this step.


    • Normal Communication
      It doesn’t seem incredibly likely, but there is potential for this to be normal.


    • Misdirected Attacks
      When a third party chooses to attack another they will often spoof their source address for the sake of anonymity and to prevent getting DoS’d themselves. This will result in the owner of the spoofed IP they are using seeing that traffic. This web server could be seeing the effects of this.


    • Misconfigured External Host
      A misconfiguration can happen on somebody else’s network just as easily as it could on yours. This misconfiguration could result in an external host generating any number of types of traffic and sending them to the web server.


    • SPAM Mail Relay
      The server could be misconfigured or compromised in a manner that allows it to be used for relaying SPAM across the Internet.


Step 4: Prioritize the List of Candidate Conditions by their Severity

Priority 1: Denial of Service

Priority 2: SPAM Mail Relay

Priority 3: Misconfigured External Host

Priority 4: Misdirected Attacks

Priority 5: Normal Communication

Step 5: Eliminate the Candidate Conditions, Starting with the Most Severe

Priority 1: Denial of Service

We’ve already gone through the paces on this one without being able to identify that it is the definitive diagnosis. Even though this is the most severe we would have to proceed to attempt to eliminate other candidate conditions to help in figuring out if a DoS is occurring. Of course, depending on the effect of the attack it may make the most sense to contain the issue by blocking the traffic before spending more time investigating the root cause.

Priority 2: SPAM Mail Relay

This one is relatively easy to eliminate. If the server was being used as a mail relay then you would have a proportionate amount of traffic going out as you do going in. If that’s not the case and you don’t see any abnormal traffic leaving the server then it is likely that it is not relaying SPAM. If the web server is also running mail services then you can examine the appropriate logs here as well. If it is not supposed to be running mail services you can examine the host to see if it is doing so in an unauthorized manner.

Priority 3: Misconfigured External Host

This one is typically pretty tricky. Unless you can identify the owner of the IP address and communicate with them directly then the most you can hope to do is block the traffic locally and/or report abuse at their ISP level.

Priority 4: Misdirected Attacks

This is another tricky one along the same lines as the previous candidate condition. If it’s an attacker somewhere else whose antics are causing traffic redirection to your server then the most you can do is to report the issue to the ISP responsible for the IP address and block the traffic locally.

Priority 5: Normal Communication

This doesn’t seem likely, but you can’t say this for sure without baselining the normal traffic for the host. Compare its traffic at similar times on previous days to see if you can draw any conclusions. Is the pattern normal and it’s just the amount of traffic that anomalous? Is it both the pattern and the amount that’s anomalous? Does the server ever talk to the offending IP prior to this?


Concluding a Diagnosis

In this scenario, it’s very possible that you are left with as many as three candidate conditions that you cannot rule out. The good thing here is that even though you can’t rule these out, the containment and remediation methods would be the same for all of them so you still have gotten to a state of diagnosis that allows the network to recover from whatever is occurring. If the amount of traffic isn’t too great then you may not need to block the activity and you may be able to monitor it further in order to attempt to collect more symptoms that may be useful in providing a more accurate diagnosis.



I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing analysis with this differential approach and also reviewing previous investigations post-mortem while applying these concepts and I’ve been really pleased with my findings. I think that if you are struggling with being able to grasp a firm analytical method then this may be a great one to start with. I’m not entirely sure that the differential method is appropriate for all organizations, but just as with medicine, there are competing approaches and I hope to examine more of those in the future so that I can draw more comparisons between the medical field and NSM. If you have any scenarios in which you’ve used this differential approach (for better or for worse), I’d love to hear about them.

Packet Carving with SMB and SMB2

One of the more useful network forensic skills is the ability to extract files from packet captures. This process, known as packet data carving, is crucial when you want to analyze malware or other artifacts of compromise that are transferred across the network. That said, packet data carving has varying degrees of difficulty depending on the type of traffic you are attempting to extract data from. Carving files from simple protocols like HTTP and FTP is something that can be done in a matter of minutes and is usually cut and dry enough that it can be done in an automated fashion with tools like Foremost and Network Miner.

There are articles all over the Internet about carving files from simple protocols so I won’t rehash those. Instead, I want to take a look at a two more complex protocols that are extremely common in production networks. Server Message Block (SMB) is the application-layer protocol that Microsoft operating systems use for file sharing and communication between networked devices. If you live on a Microsoft network (or a Unix network that utilizes SAMBA) then you are a user of SMB or SMB2, depending on your operating system version. In this article I’m going to discuss the art of carving files from SMB and SMB2 traffic. If you want to follow along you’ll need to download a copy of Wireshark ( and your favorite hex editor. I’ve used Cygnus Hex Editor ( for the purpose of this article since it’s simple and a free version exists.


Carving Files from SMB Packets


The first version of SMB is in use on all modern Microsoft operating systems prior to Windows Vista. In order to setup a packet capture for this scenario I took two Windows XP SP3 virtual machines running on VMWare Workstation and placed them in the same network. Once they were able to communicate with each other I setup a shared folder on one host ( that is acting as the server. I then fired up Wireshark and began capturing packets as I copied an executable file from the client ( to the servers shared folder. The resulting packet capture is called smb_puttyexe_xfer.pcap.

If you’ve never looked at SMB traffic then don’t get scared by all the different types of SMB packets in the capture, we will only be looking at a few of them. This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive reference on each and every type of SMB packet (there are over a hundred of them), so if you want the gory details then take a look at the references at this end of this article.

In order to carve the file out of these packets we have to find some basic information about it. Before and after transferring a file to a server the client will attempt to open the file in order to see if it exists. This is done with an SMB NT Create AndX Request packet.  The response from the server to this is an SMB NT Create AndX Response, which contains the name, extension, and size of the file being transferred. This is everything we need to get started. You can filter for Create AndX Response packets in Wireshark with the filter (smb.cmd == 0xa2) && (smb.flags.response == 1). If we examine one of those requests that occur after the file has been transferred, we can identify that the file being transferred is putty.exe and its file size is 454,657 bytes. We will use this information later.

Figure 1: Note the file name, extension, and size.

The next step we have to take in order to extract this file is to isolate the appropriate block of traffic. Wireshark makes this pretty easy with its Follow TCP Stream functionality. Start by right-clicking any packet in the capture file and selecting Follow TCP Stream. This will bring up a window that contains all of the data being transferred in this particular communication stream concatenated together without all of the layer 2-4 headers getting in the way. We are only concerned about the traffic transferred from the client to the server so we will need to specify this in the directional drop down box by selecting –> (458592 bytes). Click Save As and save the file using the name putty.raw.

Figure 2: Saving the isolated traffic from Wireshark

If you were to view the properties of the data you just extracted and save you should find that its file size is 458,592 bytes. This is 3,935 bytes more than the size of the actual file that was transferred. This means that our goal is to get this raw files size down to exactly 454,657 bytes. This is where the real carving begins.

First things first, we have to delete all of the extra data that occurs before the executable data actually begins. Since we do know that the transferred file is an executable the quickest way to do this is to look for the executable header and delete everything that occurs before it. The executable header begins with the hex bytes 4D 5A (MZ in ASCII), which occurs approximately 1112 bytes into the putty.raw file. Once deleted, resave the file as putty.stage1. You should now be down to a file size of 457,480 bytes.

Figure 3: Removing added bytes from the beginning of the file

Now things get a bit trickier. SMB transmits data in blocks. This is great for reliability since a lost or damaged block can be retransmitted, but it adds some extra work for us. This is because each block must contain some bytes of SMB header data in order to be interpreted correctly by the host that is receiving it. The good thing is that the size of this data is somewhat predictable, but you have to understand a bit more about SMB in order to put the rubber to the road. The thing to know here is that the data block size in SMB is limited to 64KB, or 65536 bytes.  Of this amount, only 60KB is typically used for each block. These 61,440 bytes are combined with an additional 68 bytes of SMB header information. This means that after every 61,440 bytes of data we will have to strip out the next 68 bytes.

There is one thing to add to this that must be taken into consideration before stripping out those bytes. As a part of the normal SMB communication sequence, an additional packet is sent right after the first block. This is an NT Trans Request packet, which is packet 77 in the capture file. The SMB portion of this packet is 88 bytes, which means we will have to remove those 88 bytes in addition to the 68 bytes that make up the normal SMB block header, for a total of 156 bytes.

Now that we have all that sorted out let’s start removing bytes. In your hex editor, skip one byte past the 61,440th byte. This will be offset 0x0F000. You should start with this byte and select a range of 156 bytes and delete them. Save this file as putty.stage2.

Figure 4: Removing the initial 156 bytes

Things get a bit easier now as we are just concerned with stripping out the 68 bytes after every block. Skip through the file in 61,440 byte increments deleting 68 bytes each time. This should occur X times in this file at offsets 0x1e000, 0x2d000, and 0x3c000, 0x4b000, 0x5a000, 0x69000. Once finished, save the file as putty.stage3.

Figure 5: Removing a 68 byte SMB header block

Go ahead and take a look at the file size of putty.stage3. We are still XXX bytes off from our target, but luckily the last part is the easiest. The data stream is actually just padded by some extra information that needs to be deleted. We know that the file should be 454,657 bytes, so browse to that byte and delete everything that occurs after it.

Figure 6: Trimming the extra bytes off the end of the file

Save the final product as putty.exe and if you did everything right, you should have a fully functioning executable.

Figure 7: Success! The executable runs!


The whole process can be broken down into a series of repeatable steps:

  1. Record the file name, extension, and size by examining one of the SMB NT Create AndX Response packets
  2. Isolate and extract the appropriate stream data from Wireshark by using the Follow TCP Stream feature and selecting the appropriate direction of traffic
  3.  Remove all of the bytes occurring before the actual file header using a hex editor
  4. Following the first 61,440 byte block, remove 156 bytes
  5. Following each successive 61,440 byte block, remove 68 bytes
  6. Trim the remaining bytes off of the file so that it matches the file size recorded in step 1


Carving Files from SMB2 Packets


Microsoft introduced SMB2 with Windows Vista and began using it with its newer operating systems moving forward. In order to setup a packet capture for this scenario I took two Windows 7 (x32) virtual machines running on VMWare Workstation and placed them in the same network. Once they were able to communicate with each other I setup a shared folder on one host ( that is acting as the server. I then fired up Wireshark and began capturing packets as I copied an executable file from the client ( to the servers shared folder. The resulting packet capture is called smb2_puttyexe_xfer.pcap.

You should notice that this traffic is a little bit cleaner than the SMB traffic we looked at earlier. This is because SMB2 is optimized so that there are a lot less commands. Whereas SMB had over a hundred commands and subcommands, SMB2 only has nineteen. Regardless, we still need to find the filename being transferred and the size of that file. One of the best places to do this is at one of the SMB2 Create Response File packets. This packet type serves a purpose similar to that of the SMB NT Create AndX Response packet. You can filter these out in Wireshark with the filter (smb2.cmd == 5) && (smb2.flags.response == 1). The last one of these in the capture, which is packet 81, is the one we want to look at since it occurs after the file transfer is complete. This identifies the file name as putty.exe and the file size as 454,656 bytes. This is indeed the same file as our earlier example, but it is being reported as being one byte smaller. The missing byte is just padding at the end of the file and has a null value so it’s not of any real concern to us.

Figure 8:  Once again we note the file name, extension, and size

At this point you should perform the same steps as we did earlier to isolate and extract the data stream from the capture using Wiresharks Follow TCP Stream option. Doing this should yield a new putty.raw file whose file size is 459,503 bytes. This is 4,847 too big, so it’s time to get to carving.

Once again we need to start by stripping out all of the data before the executable header. Fire up your favorite hex editor and remove everything before the bytes 4D 5A. This should account for a deletion of 1,493 bytes.

Figure 9: Removing the extra bytes found prior to the executable header

Now things change a bit. SMB2 works in a method similar to SMB, but it actually allows for more data to be transferred at once. SMB had a maximum block size of 64K because it has a limit of 16-bit data sizes. SMB2 uses either 32-bit or 64-bit data sizes, which raises the 64KB limit. In the case of the transfer taking place in the sample PCAP file, these were two 32-bit Windows 7 hosts under their default configuration which means that the block size is set at 64KB. Unlike SMB however, the full 64KB is used, so we will see data in chunks of 65,536 bytes being transferred. These 65,536 bytes combine with a 116 byte SMB2 header to form the full block.

SMB2 doesn’t include an additional initial request packet like the SMB Trans Request, so we don’t have to worry about stripping out any extra bytes right off the bat. As a matter of fact, some might say that carving data from SMB2 is a bit easier since you only have to strip out 116 bytes after each block of 65,536 bytes. You can do this now on putty.stage1. In doing so you should be deleting 116 bytes of data at offsets 0x10000, 0x20000, 0x30000, 0x40000, 0x50000and 0x60000.

Figure 10: Removing 116 bytes of data following the first 65,536 chunk

Once you’ve finished this save the file as putty.stage2. All that is left is to remove the final trailing bytes from the file. In order to do this, browse to by 454,656 and delete every byte that occurs after it.

Figure 11: Removing the final trailing bytes

Finally, save the file as putty.exe and you will have a fully functioning executable. The process of carving a file from an SMB2 data stream breaks down as follows:

  1. Record the file name, extension, and size by examining one of the SMB2 Create Response File packets
  2. Isolate and extract the appropriate stream data from Wireshark by using the Follow TCP Stream feature and selecting the appropriate direction of traffic
  3.  Remove all of the bytes occurring before the actual file header using a hex editor
  4. Following each successive 65,536 byte block (assuming a 64K block size), remove 116 bytes
  5. Trim the remaining bytes off of the file so that it matches the file size recorded in step 1




That’s all there is to it. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t cover every single aspect of SMB and SMB2 here and there are a few factors that might affect your success in carving files from these streams, but this article shows the overall process. Taking this one step farther, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that this process can be automated with a quick Python script, but this is something I’ve not devoted the time to yet. If you feel like taking up that challenge then be sure to get in touch and I’ll be glad to post your code as an addendum to this post. In the mean time, happy carving!