An example of Master Boot Record


Sometimes when your computer refuses to boot, or your partition table is corrupt you have a “beautiful message” on screen saying your hard drive has an issue, a MBR error. Let’s dive inside and decrypt an existing MBR in order to understand what can be found inside it.

Wikipedia, what’s a MBR ?

The master boot record is a type of boot sector very popular (for instance Windows and Grub use it). It contains 512 bytes stored at the first sector of your data storage device (HDD, USB stick).Inside this boot sector can be found:

Structure of the Master Boot Record

source : wikipedia

How to extract a Master Boot Record

We can simply use the command dd to copy the raw first 512 bytes of a media


An example of Master Boot Record

To provide a readable/hexa version of the MBR, I used an hexadecimal editor but you could use the command hexadump (to display hexa directly from your raw data storage device). And to understand what is displayed I added some sprinkles thanks photoshop =0)

Code area

In this example MBR, the code area contains shellcode and not only zeros padding. So, we can guess that this data storage device contains a bootstrap for an operating system. The goal of this tutorial isn’t to understand how a OS bootstrap works, so nothing more to add… Maybe, we can cheat and discover the string GRUB in the plain text - not a reason to be sure it’s GRUB but still a tips that confirms our supposition -

Disk signature

Yeah, an id…


Too much said in the name

Table of primary partitions

Here we have four 16 bytes entries describing each primary partition. Now, you know why only 4 primary partitions can be defined for a data storage device. If we create bunch of 16 bytes, we have :

Even without knowing the meaning of those bytes we can say that there is only two partitions in the partition table described by this MBR because we have zero padding for the two last 16 bytes entries

MBR signature

It always end by 55 AA. It’s a signature, so by extracting the 512 first bytes of a data storage device you could said if it’s a MBR or something else by reading those two last bytes.

Let’s decrypt a primary partition entry

Partition 1 : 80 01 01 00 83 FE 3F 01 3F 00 00 00 43 7D 00 00

Guess what ?

We have enough information to guess about this data storage device. It contains a bootstrap (GRUB) and two partitions. The first partition is a Linux file system of 32067 sectors (- on a hard drive each sector is 512 bytes -, so 32067512/1024=16mb) and it’s a bootable partition (where the bootstrap, GRUB, will have to read). The second partition is a non bootable partition which contains a Linux file system of 192 780 sectors (192780512/1024=96mb).

The right answer is …

I don’t what to hurt you but there is a beautiful command “file”, and guess what…

x86 boot sector;
GRand Unified Bootloader, stage1 version 0x3, stage2 address 0x2000, stage2 segment 0x200;
partition 1: ID=0x83, active, starthead 1, startsector 63, 32067 sectors;
partition 2: ID=0x83, starthead 0, startsector 32130, 192780 sectors, code offset 0x48

Yes, you don’t need to decrypt all by yourself like we did to extract information from the MBR, this command print out everything for you… At least, we guess right about the content of this data storage device =0)

comments powered by Disqus