Friday, September 7, 2012

Facebook Search History

A digital forensics investigator is often asked to answer the question, "What did the user search for?"  Usually, the question revolves around Internet search engines, and producing a list depends on the browser in play as much as the search engine.  With the 250+ search engines and the 130+ Internet browsers referenced in Wikipedia, where you will find these histories and in what format can vary wildly.  Add to that the various tool bars that maintain data independent of the browser, and you're probably ready to surrender jump to another post on a topic less daunting!

But, you probably figured out from the title of this post that I'm not going to discuss the over 33,800 browser/search engine possibilities you need to consider when producing a "search term" history.  Instead, I'm going to discuss something I just discovered, Facebook search history.  And like so many web browsing sessions, I begin the discussion with a Google search....

Google Instant Predictions

I'll wager that most Internet users that have conducted an Internet search in the last two years have done so at least once using Google.  If so, they have likely experienced Google Instant Predictions. Launched around September, 2010, Instant Predictions produces "instant" search results as you type.  Search results begin populating based on Google's prediction of your search terms as you type them.

From a forensics point of view, this produces a lot more Internet history.  Every time Google populates results, its sending a webpage and elements.  And unless the connection is slow or the typist is particularly fast, Google refreshes the search results page for every letter typed by the user!  Consider a Google search using the Safari web browser for the term: "car wash" (obtained from the Safari Cache.db).
It is easy to see that an html page was cached for each of these URLs!  What can be interesting, and entertaining, is that you can even follow typing errors such as typos, spelling errors, and the resulting backspaces!

Facebook Type Ahead Search

I've recently discovered that Facebook produces a similar URL history for searches conducted through its website.  Observe the following:
The response speed of Facebook does not appear to be that of Google, but again, it is easy to see that facebook sent several responses that were cached by Safari related to a single search by way of the "typeahead" mechanism.

Now, Facebook searches might be recorded in browser history databases, but consider that these databases may be destroyed through anti-forensics techniques or otherwise.  Searching for URLs might be the only method at your disposal for producing search term histories.  And now, like me, you know what to seek to reconstruct Facebook searches!