Quick and dirty packet capture data extraction

By stretch | Monday, July 13, 2009 at 12:58 a.m. UTC

If you ever find yourself needing to reconstruct binary data contained within a packet capture, there is a simple way to do so on the fly using only Wireshark and a utility called foremost. Reference the attached packet capture containing a JPEG image downloaded via HTTP to play along.

Step 1: Isolate the desired data stream

This is most easily done by selecting a packet within the stream containing the data you want to extract and selecting "Follow TCP (or UDP) Stream" from the right-click context menu.


Wireshark applies a display filter to the packet list so that only packets from the selected stream are shown, and it invokes the stream content window shown below.


Step 2: Extract raw unidirectional data

Wireshark marks transmitted and received data in red and blue, respectively. For the purpose of this example, we're only interested in the received data, so we restrict the stream parser to show only inbound (blue) packets by selecting that direction from the option at bottom.


Now to extract this data. Ensure that the Raw option is selected and click Save As to export the binary data. For our example, I've saved the dump to disk as "example.raw".

Step 3: Data carving with foremost

What we have now is an HTTP response and a JPEG image smooshed together in a single binary blob; this isn't of much use.

$ file example.raw
example.raw: data

We can use the foremost forensics utility to sift through this blob and extract any recognizable binary data structures (e.g. a JPEG image).

$ foremost -v -i example.raw
Foremost version 1.5.5 by Jesse Kornblum, Kris Kendall, and Nick Mikus
Audit File

Foremost started at Sun Jul 12 15:59:27 2009
Invocation: foremost -v -i example.raw 
Output directory: /home/stretch/test/output
Configuration file: /etc/foremost.conf
Processing: example.raw
File: example.raw
Start: Sun Jul 12 15:59:27 2009
Length: 30 KB (31185 bytes)

Num  Name (bs=512)         Size  File Offset     Comment

0:  00000000.jpg          30 KB             330
Finish: Sun Jul 12 15:59:27 2009


jpg:= 1

Foremost finished at Sun Jul 12 15:59:27 2009

foremost dumps its findings to a directory named output:

$ ls output/
audit.txt  jpg
$ ls output/jpg/
$ file output/jpg/00000000.jpg
output/jpg/00000000.jpg: JPEG image data, JFIF standard 1.01

Filenames are assigned as serial identifiers because foremost has no knowledge of their original names, but the data is intact.

There are, of course, more elegant ways to do this, but this simple method is handy when on-the-run or manual one-off analysis is necessary. Some other (open source) tools to check out are:

(Thanks to Dave Hull, from whom I shamelessly stole this idea.)


Jeremy L Gaddis pointed out that Wireshark has the (limited) ability to extract data on its own, demonstrated nicely in these two videos: JPEG from the example and a PDF. (Note that foremost may still be necessary for extracting data from protocols other than HTTP.)

Also, Sebastien Raveau suggested tcpflow, which I've added to the list of suggested tools above.

Thanks guys!

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Tips and Tricks


Jeremy L. Gaddis (guest)
July 13, 2009 at 1:59 a.m. UTC

You're doing the hard way. Since you're already running wireshark, why not let it do the extraction for you?

Sebastien Raveau (guest)
July 13, 2009 at 6:22 a.m. UTC

Hey :)

In case you don't know it already, check out tcpflow

It is perfect for doing bulk "follow TCP stream" stuff...

Erik (guest)
July 13, 2009 at 11:32 a.m. UTC

You should also check out Dave Hull's follow-up post on this matter.

In this post Dave mentions my suggestion for an even simpler method for extracting files using Wirehsark's "Export Selected Packet Bytes…". In the comments Jonathan Ham also mentions an even quicker method that unfortunately only works for HTTP.

My weapon-of-choice for these tasks is of course NetworkMiner, which you also nicely mentioned in your post (thanks!).

Jens Link (guest)
July 14, 2009 at 7:12 p.m. UTC

Just for images but still fun when using (an open) WLAN:


And there is also dsniff which includes filesnarf to extract files from nfs traffic.

md (guest)
July 22, 2009 at 4:03 a.m. UTC

Another tool which does the same thing is Chaosreader (http://chaosreader.sourceforge.net/), it can also create some pretty funky reports.

Data Extraction (guest)
August 9, 2010 at 10:18 a.m. UTC

This is the best process i have read for packet capturing.. hope this would help me to capture data from particular location.

biggerisbetter (guest)
September 19, 2010 at 2:40 p.m. UTC

hey fellows,

Im new to all these but i wanna achieve sumthing that is along this line too

Ive got 2 computers connected with ad hoc (WEP) PC1 (windows) and PC2 (windows) However i connected a 3rd computer to the network (ubuntu) I shared a folder on pc2 then transferred series of odinary jpeg files from pc1 to pc 2 using regular copy and paste.

my main goal is to be able to sniff those jpeg files using tools like driftnet that displays the images in real time or to store the wireshark dump and try and convert the raw data back to an image

when i did a search from wireshark, i could see traces of the names of the jpeg i sent...

Would appreciate it if u cld be of assitance

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