Clone a hard drive on Ubuntu

Spoiler: Whether it is following the purchase of a new disk, to make a backup, or any other reason, you want to copy, identically, the contents of a hard disk or a USB key. But, as you can never be too careful, your best bet is to make sure that you don’t touch the original. We show you how to do it on Ubuntu Desktop. We start by disabling automount. Then, we will make a cryptographic fingerprint of the device before copying it thanks to dd. Thanks to the cryptographic fingerprint, we can then verify that the copy went well.

During an expertise, when we have to carry out an investigation on a part of a file, it is important to keep it intact.

Imagine … You open your seal, plug in the hard drive it contained. A false manipulation, and presto! Evidence disappears…

Hard Drive

Before any action, it is therefore essential to copy hard disks and other USB keys, in order to be able to work on these copies with peace of mind.

So we’ll show you how to do it using Ubuntu.

Disable automount

Do not plug in your drive yet!

In order to avoid modifying anything without doing it on purpose, the first thing to do is to turn off automount. For that, we need to install the dconf-editor package

sudo apt-get install dconf-editor

dconf-editor is a graphical interface tool, allowing you to manage configuration variables. The equivalent command line tool is gsettings.

Start dconf-editor. Navigate to From here you can disable automatic mounting of removable media, by changing automount from I to O.

configuration via dconf-editor

Locate your disc

You are now sure that your drive will not mount on its own, and that improper handling will not affect anything. You can therefore plug in your disk.

Shut down your PC, plug in your drive, restart.

You will need to identify which device your disk corresponds to. For that, we use fdisk, which we ask to list all existing partitions.

sudo fdisk -l

SATA and SSD hard drives are in /dev/sd…, IDE drives /dev/hd…. Use what you know about your hard drive to find it (using its size, installed OS, etc.).

I am trying to locate a 32GB USB key containing my data to be investigated…

After using fdisk, I spot two interesting devices, one in/dev/sda and the other in /dev/sdb. By observing the details, including size and OS, I can see that the 240GB SSD hard drive my Linux is running on is in /dev/sda and that my 32Gb USB key, formatted for Windows, can be found in /dev/sdb.

Disque /dev/sda : 223,6 GiB, 240057409536 octets, 468862128 secteurs
Unités : secteur de 1 × 512 = 512 octets
Taille de secteur (logique / physique) : 512 octets / 512 octets
taille d'E/S (minimale / optimale) : 512 octets / 512 octets
Type d'étiquette de disque : dos
Identifiant de disque : ----

Périphérique Amorçage Début       Fin  Secteurs Taille Id Type
/dev/sda1    *         2048 468860927 468858880 223,6G 83 Linux

Disque /dev/sdb : 29,3 GiB, 31457280000 octets, 61440000 secteurs
Unités : secteur de 1 × 512 = 512 octets
Taille de secteur (logique / physique) : 512 octets / 512 octets
taille d'E/S (minimale / optimale) : 512 octets / 512 octets
Type d'étiquette de disque : dos
Identifiant de disque : ----

Périphérique Amorçage Début      Fin Secteurs Taille Id Type
/dev/sdb1    *           64 61439999 61439936  29,3G  b W95 FAT32

As the display uses GiB, or Gibibytes, the values are slightly lower than those in GB.

Calculate the checksum

In order to be able to check if data has been modified, we will calculate the checksum. By comparing the result before and after the manipulation, it will be checked that no data has been altered.

We will use the hash function sha256sum, coupled todd. On the one hand, because it is installed by default on Ubuntu, and on the other hand, because ANSSI (French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems) recommends it for cryptographic fingerprints.

HashRule-2. For use beyond 2020, the minimum size of fingerprints generated by a hash function is 256 bits.

The SHA-256 hash mechanism defined in FIPS 180-2 complies with the standard .

Référenciel Général de Sécurité, ANSSI

By putting in (if) your device and sending the output to sha256sum, we get the SHA-256 fingerprint of the device.

sudo dd if=device |sha256sum 

In my case :

time sudo dd if=/dev/sdb |sha256sum 
61440000+0 enregistrements lus
61440000+0 enregistrements écrits
31457280000 bytes (31 GB, 29 GiB) copied, 1773,13 s, 17,7 MB/s
e3375bb22d59233757cbcb24d7f4ffa7b25eaff40e60e40f42f3a22435bf2655  -

real    29m33,203s
user    12m44,728s
sys    4m15,840s

Using time, we can see that to calculate the footprint of my 32GB key, it took about 30 minutes. Good to know when you have a 1TB drive.

Cloning the hard drive

We plugged in the device, making sure we couldn’t do anything stupid and made a fingerprint, all we have to do is clone it. For that, we use again dd with the following command:

sudo dd if=device of=fichier.iso conv=notrunc,noerror status=progress

Where the parameters have the following meaning:

Still in the case of my USB key

time sudo  dd if=/dev/sdb of=clef.iso conv=notrunc,noerror status=progress
31444406272 bytes (31 GB, 29 GiB) copied, 1981 s, 15,9 MB/s
61440000+0 enregistrements lus
61440000+0 enregistrements écrits
31457280000 bytes (31 GB, 29 GiB) copied, 1981,74 s, 15,9 MB/s

real    33m4,898s
user    1m36,367s
sys    11m27,615s

Note that it took me another half hour …

Check integrity

Our copy is made, we will calculate a new device footprint, in order to verify that it was not altered during the copy. Let’s also check that the copy conforms to the original.

To do this, we simply reuse the command for everything on time, on the device, then on its copy. And finally we compare the fingerprints.

sudo dd if=device |sha256sum 

On the USB key, to make sure that it has not been touched.

time sudo dd if=/dev/sdb |sha256sum 
[sudo] Mot de passe de arsouyes : 
61440000+0 enregistrements lus
61440000+0 enregistrements écrits
31457280000 bytes (31 GB, 29 GiB) copied, 1755,58 s, 17,9 MB/s
e3375bb22d59233757cbcb24d7f4ffa7b25eaff40e60e40f42f3a22435bf2655  -

real    29m18,712s
user    10m34,172s
sys    3m37,959s

Then, on the ISO to check that the copy is true to the original:

time sudo dd if=clef.iso |sha256sum
[sudo] Mot de passe de arsouyes : 
61440000+0 enregistrements lus
61440000+0 enregistrements écrits
31457280000 bytes (31 GB, 29 GiB) copied, 1111,31 s, 28,3 MB/s
e3375bb22d59233757cbcb24d7f4ffa7b25eaff40e60e40f42f3a22435bf2655  -

real    18m34,487s
user    10m2,526s
sys    3m56,255s

Here, bingo, they are quite identical.

Altered data would be detected by a different sha256:

You can also put the initial fingerprint in a file (for example Initial_CHECKSUM) and calculate the fingerprint with the -c option as follows:

sudo dd if=device | sha256sum -c Initial_CHECKSUM

Where device is either your iso file or your device (depending on what you want to do).

If the fingerprint is the same, you will get a nice little OK output, but if the fingerprint is different, you will get aFAILED followed by sha256sum: WARNING: 1 computed checksum did NOT match.

And after ?

Now that you have a beautiful copy of your device, you will be able to replace your original in its small bag and close your seal.

If you are not a forensic expert and don’t have to deal with seals, you can still be proud that you didn’t change anything on your original record.