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Zeitline: a forensic timeline editor
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The area of event reconstruction in computer forensics deals with analyzing and evaluating data obtained from a system and use it to determine what happened. The data recovery process is a well-covered area within computer forensics, but little work has been done on how to actually analyze and evaluate the data. Only very crude tools, such as mactimes or individual log analyzers, exist. A comprehensive event reconstruction on a system that takes into account data from various sources, such as file MAC times, system logs, firewall logs, and application data, is mostly done manually by the investigator. With storage capacities growing rapidly and systems permanently being connected to global networks more and more, it is not uncommon that the number of events recorded by a system easily goes into the hundreds of thousands.

To provide an investigator a tool that helps him process this large amount of data, we are developing a graphical time line editor. The tool should allow the grouping of events into super-events. The main data structure for the time line analyzer is the event. An event consists of a time span when the event took place, a source to denote the origin of the event, and a description of the event. An event can contain a list of sub-events and can also be part of a super event's sub-list. Starting with events at discrete times that were generated from the system information, events that belong to the same ``action'' can thus be grouped together into event hierarchies. For example, the three events ``access program gcc'', ``access file x'' and ``access library y'' could be grouped together into a super event by an investigator labeled ``compile program x'', which in turn could be part of another super event ``install rootkit z''.

A graphical front-end should allow an investigator to manage the events. Super events may be created based on selected sub-events. Events may be moved around via drag-and-drop or directly assigned to a super event hierarchy. The event hierarchy can be displayed in a tree-like view allowing to collapse all or select branches. This way, an investigator can concentrate on events only relevant to his direct attention.

We have the following design objectives for the tool:

  • Import events from various sources, such as system MAC times, system and firewall logs, and application data
  • Provide an easy to use and intuitive GUI to manage and classify the events.
  • Allow a fast retrieval of individual events or events that fall into a certain time window.
  • Support for many platforms

We are proud to present Zeitline, a tool written in Java. Please consult the README file for details. Zeitline currently has a limited base functionality: you can import events, display information about events, group events together into super events (using menu actions, drag and drop, or cut and paste), create new timelines (empty or from a selection of events), perform a basic filtering of the events that are displayed by keyword and/or time, save and load a project. We believe the program is fairly stable at this point, but there are likely to be many errors left. Also, performance can probably be improved quite a bit as well. Please report any bugs, including a description and how to reproduce it to

08/16/2005: Released version 0.1 of Zeitline.

07/06/2005: Zeitline has moved to Sourceforge. See for details. Downloads, forums, bug trackers, feature requests, and more can be done from there.

04/04/2005: Zeitline is now available as source code. Zeitline is free and open source. See LICENSE for details.

See CHANGELOG for changes for the current version.

A mailing list on which we will announce new releases and other information regarding Zeitline has now been set up. To subscribe, send an e-mail to with "subscribe" in the body of the message. You will have to confirm your subscription by following the instructions in the follow-up mail you will receive. To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to the above address with "unsubscribe" in the body.

If you are interested in working on Zeitline, we are always looking for volunteers to help with the following:

  • if you have GUI programming experience, we can use your help in tweaking some of the widgets, improving the look and feel, and working on drag and drop support.
  • if you are good with data structures, we can use your help in improving the data structures we use for our event hierarchy (currently AVL balanced trees), reducing the memory requirements of the data structures, and developing better indexing and searching techniques.
  • if you have good knowledge of UNIX or Windows systems, firewall or IDS logs, or application logs, we can use your help in developing new import filters that generate events for the tool.
  • if you just like programming, we can always use help for the development of new features for the tool.
Please contact me if you are interested in working on the project.