My Road to Digital Forensics Excellence

Manual review of data structures

Posted by Paul Bobby on June 8, 2011

#dfirsummit has been generous this year in that they’ve provided a free live stream of the 2 days of presentations. This quick post was prompted from listening to Lee “Gervais” Whitfield, and his discussion of where to look to disprove the ‘bios clock changed’ conspiracy when it comes to disputing the evidence on your hard drive.

He indicated several locations that exhibit temporal anomalies should the clock in fact get changed. For example, thumbs.db (thumbnail databases in folders with images) stores thumbnail data sequentially – changes in the timestamps of those thumbnails may indicate time change.

He was asked, what are the Top3 places to look for for evidence of clock changes, and as #1 he mentioned Event Logs. But I don’t think for the reason why it is #1. He mentioned one event for XP and a couple of events for Vista/7 that show the clock being changed that get recorded in the event log. This is good of course, but I believe the real deal with event logs is just as with thumbs.db. Data is written to the event log sequentially – it is not ordered chronologically.

Talking Windows OS and NTFS.

Again: event logs are written to the NTFS file system, and then individual events appended to the log. If the clock changes, new events are appended to the log with these new timestamps. This is where reliance on tools such as Encase/FTK to perl scripts, to Event Log explorers, even log2timeline, that may auto-sort events for us chronologically for presentation, or at the least, our first step is to sort output chronologically. If we manually inspect the contents of the event log file with a hex editor (i.e. a raw view), and do some decoding ourselves, we can see the jump in time/anomaly clearly.

Of course what is ‘clear’ is subjective – but this is a good example of where manual review of data structures may in fact save the day rather than relying on our tools. Manual review of data sources may only be appropriate for certain scenarios, and I’m not recommending it as a daily approach; but it is something to be mindful of when trying to prove a point.


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