Saturday, May 23, 2015

Forensics Quickie: NTUSER.DAT Analysis (SANS CEIC 2015 Challenge #1 Write-Up)

FORENSICS QUICKIES! These posts will consist of small tidbits of useful information that can be explained very succinctly.

SANS posted a quick challenge at CEIC this year. I had some downtime before the conference, so I decided to take part. In short, SANS provided an NTUSER.DAT hive and asked three questions about it. Below is a look at my process for answering these questions and ultimately solving the challenge. It's time to once again refresh our memories with the raw basics.

The Questions

Given an NTUSER.DAT hive [download], the questions were as follows:
  1. What was the most recent keyword that the user vibranium searched using Windows Search for on the nromanoff system?
  2. How many times did the vibranium account run excel.exe on the nromanoff system?
  3. What is the most recent Typed URL in the vibranium NTUSER.DAT?

The Answers

Right off the bat, we can see that these questions are pretty standard when it comes to registry analysis. Let's start with the first question.

Question #1: Find the most recent keyword searched using Windows Search.

First, we must understand what the question is asking. "Windows Search" refers to searches run using the following search fields within Windows:

Windows Search via the Start Menu.


Windows Search via Explorer.

The history of terms searched using Windows Search can be found in the following registry key:


For manual registry hive analysis, I use Eric Zimmerman's Registry Explorer. Once I open up the program and drag/drop the NTUSER.DAT onto it, I typically click the root hive (in the left sidebar) and just start typing whichever key I'd like to analyze. In this case, I started to type "wordwheel" and Registry Explorer quickly jumped to the registry key in question. Note that you can also use the "available bookmarks" tab in the top left to find a listing of some common artifacts within the loaded hive (pretty neat feature; try it out).

Registry Explorer displaying the WordWheelQuery regkey (MRUListEx value selected).

In the screenshot above, notice that the MRUListEx value is highlighted (Sound familiar? We also saw use of the MRUListEx value upon analyzing shellbags and recentdocs artifacts). This value will show us the order in which the Windows Search terms were searched. The first entry in the MRUListEx value is "01 00 00 00." This means that the registry value that is marked as "1" is the most recently searched item. If we analyze the MRUListEx value further, we notice that the next entry is "05 00 00 00," indicating that the value marked as "5" is the term that was searched before the most recently searched item marked as "1." But we're only concerned with the most recently searched term, so let's look at what the value marked as "1" contains:

Registry Explorer displaying the WordWheelQuery regkey (value "1" selected).

We note that the Unicode representation of the hex values is "alloy." And just like that, we have our answer to question #1. The most recent Windows Search term is "alloy."
Note: MRUListEx Item Entries

Each entry in the MRUListEx value will be 4 bytes in length stored in little endian. That is, each entry is going to be a 32-bit integer with the least significant byte stored at the beginning of the entry. E.g. an entry for "7" would be shown as "07 00 00 00."

Question #2: Find the number of times excel.exe was run.

For question #2, we are concerned with program execution. And, as we already know, there is no shortage of artifacts that can be used to determine this (.lnk files, Windows Error Reporting crash logs, Prefetch, AppCompatCache, etc.). However, we are limited to only the NTUSER.DAT hive for this challenge. As such, the artifact we will want to look at will be UserAssist.

Remember that unlike Prefetch, UserAssist artifacts will show us run counts per user instead of globally per system. Since we would like to determine how many times excel.exe has been run by a specific user, UserAssist is the perfect candidate.

UserAssist artifacts can be found in the following registry key:


Just as with question #1, let's open up Registry Explorer and start typing "userassist" to quickly find our way to this key.

Registry Explorer displaying the UserAssist regkey. ROT13'd EXCEL.EXE, run counter, and last run time highlighted. 

Within the UserAssist key, there will be two subkeys that each contain a "Count" subkey. For this challenge, we will be looking in the {CEBFF5CD-ACE2-4F4F-9178-9926F41749EA} subkey. Each value's name within the "Count" subkey is ROT13 encoded, so let's decode the value for Excel.

{7P5N40RS-N0SO-4OSP-874N-P0S2R0O9SN8R}\Zvpebfbsg Bssvpr\Bssvpr14\RKPRY.RKR

  ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕     ↕

{7C5A40EF-A0FB-4BFC-874A-C0F2E0B9FA8E}\Microsoft Office\Office14\EXCEL.EXE

The first part of the decoded path (in bold) is the Windows KnownFolderID GUID that translates to the %ProgramFiles% (x86) location.

We've now pinpointed the application in question. Next, we need to find out how many times it has been run.

The run counter for the EXCEL.EXE UserAssist entry can be found at offset 0x04. In this instance, the run counter happens to be 4, indicating that EXCEL.EXE was run four times. Note that on an XP machine, this counter would start at 5 instead of 1. So if you are manually parsing this data, remember to subtract 5 from the run counter when dealing with XP machines.

We've successfully answered question #2. EXCEL.EXE was run 4 times.

But wait, there's more! Check the 8-byte value starting at offset 0x3C (60d). That's the last time the program was run. Convert this 64-bit FILETIME value to a readable date/time using DCode.

DCode showing the decoded last run time of EXCEL.EXE

EXCEL.EXE was last run Wed, 04 April 2012 15:43:14 UTC. On to question #3.

Note: Determining OS version with NTUSER.DAT only

As a side note, we can now tell that the machine housing this NTUSER.DAT was a post XP/Server 2003 machine. How? Well, there are a few indicators: UserAssist entries on Windows XP are 16 bytes in length while Windows 7 UserAssist entries are 72 bytes in length; the two subkeys under the root UserAssist key ({CEBFF5CD-ACE2-4F4F-9178-9926F41749EA} and {F4E57C4B-2036-45F0-A9AB-443BCFE33D9F}) are typically found on machines running Windows 7; we see references to the "C:\Users" folder in other UserAssist entries instead of the "Documents and Settings" folder that is typically found on XP machines; the run counter for EXCEL.EXE is less than 5 -- on an XP machine, this counter would be at LEAST 5.

Question #3: Find the most recent TypedURL.

The TypedURLs registry key stores URLs that are manually typed/pasted into Internet Explorer. Clicked links are not stored here.

Using our tried and true Registry Explorer process, let's look at what the TypedURLs registry key has to offer. Navigate to the NTUSER.DAT\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\TypedURLs key by typing "typedurls" in Registry Explorer.

Registry Explorer showing the TypedURLs regkey.

As we can see above, the most recent TypedURL is The value labeled "url1" will always be the most recent TypedURL. Also, check the LastWrite time on the root TypedURL key to determine the last time "url1" was typed.

Question #3: answered. Challenge complete.


Now, let's assume you've actually got some work to finish. You've gone through this stuff manually at least once and understand it inside and out. It's time to automate.

Harlan Carvey's RegRipper has plugins to quickly pull/parse the registry keys covered here and much, much more. Yes, we can answer all three of these questions with a one-liner.

C:\RegRipper2.8>rip.exe -r Vibranium-NTUSER.DAT -p wordwheelquery >> ntuser.log && rip.exe -r Vibranium-NTUSER.DAT -p userassist >> ntuser.log && rip.exe -r Vibranium-NTUSER.DAT -p typedurls >> ntuser.log

Remember, though: it's one thing to be able to run RegRipper. It's another to know where the output is coming from and why you're seeing what you're seeing.

Again, this is nothing new; this challenge is actually on the easier side of analysis. But, if at any point you had doubts about the artifacts covered here, it's worth going back and refreshing your memory.


1. UserAssist Forensics (by 4n6k)
2. INSECURE Magazine #10 (by Didier Stevens)
3. ROT13 is used in Windows? You’re joking! (by Didier Stevens)
4. KNOWNFOLDERID (by Microsoft)
5. FILETIME structure (by Microsoft)


Anonymous said...

Excellent; thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

I still don't know if I need this DAT file?

yehudacabrales said...

업계 관계자는 “오프라인 영역의 소셜카지노 산업이 다시 활성화되도 이미 비대면 문화가 자리잡아 모바일 부문의 성장이 이어질 것”으로 내다봤다. 일본 여행 완화에 바카라사이트 LCC(저비용항공사) 실적 개선 기대감도 크다. 24일 하루 새 진에어는 전날보다 10.4% 오른 1만7450원에 제주항공은 7.4% 오른 1만6750원에 각각 장을 마쳤다.

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