Stewardship of E-Manuscripts: Advancing a Shared Agenda >

Title: Tools for Digital Acquisition
Author: Christopher (Cal) Lee, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Draft: March 25, 2009
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 License

These are examples to give you a sense of what's out there. I have NOT created a comprehensive list of available products, nor is it my intention to endorse any particular products or services.  Some are general computer utilities that can be used for many different purposes.  Many other tools on the list were created for purposes such as forensic analysis after a security incident. However, many of the needs of recovering and describing properties of digital objects are the same and can benefit from use of these tools.

Boot Loaders and Boot Managers

These are small programs that run shortly after the computer is first powered on and determine what operating system will be loaded into memory.  Boot loaders can be used to boot the same computer into several different operating systems, as well as booting into an operating system that is not the one normally used on the computer (e.g. booting into Linux to then examine or obtain data from a computer that normally runs under Windows).

Checksum and Hash Generators – used for verifying that a given bitstream is identical to another

Compression and Decompression

Creating an Image (Exact Bit-by-Bit Copy) of Data from a Physical Medium

Data Carving – extracting data from a raw bitstream (often based on identifying file headers/footers) in order to reconstruct files or parts of files

Data Recovery

Data Recovery and Copying (includes bitstream copying and verification, generating data images and bitstream hashes)

File Analysis

File Format Identification, Characterization, Validation and Transformation

File Viewers

Forensic Application Packages and other Multi-Purpose Applications

These tools provide multiple functions, often including features listed elsewhere in this document.


Hex Viewers/Editors

Metadata Extraction and Export

Network Data Transfer

Recovery of Passwords and Login Information

Redaction and Removal of Information from Files

Reverse Engineering

Along with emulation and virtual machines discussed elsewhere in this list, reverse engineering tools can help in the isolation, analysis, revision/debugging, execution and portability of the software upon which digital objects depend. For a great discussion of these tools and related practices, see: Eilam, Eldad. Reversing: Secrets of Reverse Engineering. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2005.

Screen Capture

Search for Data in Disk Image or Other Bitstream

Unix Tools on Windows

It is often helpful to be able to run Unix tools on a computer that is running Windows as its operating system.  See also Virtualization and Emulation below.

View Sector-Level Data on Disk

Virtualization and Emulation

This software can be used to create a sandbox in which an acquired computer can be “run” without interfering with operation or data of curator’s computer.  It can also be used to run other software on this list on operating systems for which the software wasn’t specifically developed.

Wiping Data and Removing Files from Bitstream (making sure data is truly gone)

General Resources for Information about Tools