Monday, November 23, 2020

Speaking at Conferences, 2020 edition

As you can imagine, 2020 has been a very "different" year, for a lot of reasons, and impacts of the events of the year have extended far and wide.  One of the impacts is conference attendance, and to address this, several conferences have opted to go fully virtual. 

The Open Source Digital Forensics Conference (OSDFCon) is one such conference.  You can watch this year's conference via YouTube, or view the agenda with presentation PDFsBrian and his team (and his hair!) at BasisTech did a fantastic job of pulling together speakers and setting up the infrastructure to hold this conference completely online this year.

Speakers submitted pre-recorded presentations, and then during the time of their presentation, accessed the Discord channel set up for their talk in order to answer questions and generally interact with those viewing the presentation.

I've attended (in person) and spoken at this conference in the past, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the mix of presentations and attendees. This time around, presenting was very different, particularly given that I wasn't doing so in a room filled with people.  I tend to prefer speaking and engaging in person, as well as observing micro-expressions and using those to draw people out, as more often than not, what they're afraid to say or ask is, in reality, extremely impactful and insightful.  

In many ways, an online virtual conference is no different from an in-person event.  In both cases, you're going to have your vocal folks who overwhelm others.  A good example of this was the Discord channel for my talk; even before I logged in for the presentation, someone had already posted a comment about textbooks for DFIR courses.  I have to wonder, much like an "IRL" conference, how many folks were in the channel but were afraid to make a statement or ask a question.

Overall, I do think that the pandemic will have impacts that extend far beyond the wide-spread distribution of a vaccine.  One thought is that this is an interesting opportunity for those doing event planning to re-invent what they do, if not their industry.  Even after we move back to in-person meetings and conferences, there will still be significant value in holding virtual or hybrid events, and planning for such an event to be seamless and easy to access for the target audience will likely become an industry unto itself.

Addendum, 24 Nov: Here is the link to the video for my presentation.

Other videos:
Video for Brian's RDPiece presentation 
Asif's Investigating WSL presentation
Linux Forensics for IoT

Addendum, 27 Nov: This morning, I uploaded my slides for the OSDFCon and Group-IB CyberCrimeCon 2020 presentations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Happy Birthday, Marine Corps!


I thought today of all days would be a good time to break from tradition and share a post that has nothing to do with DFIR or Windows, one that isn't technical, nor related to computers. 

Some of you may be aware that once, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a Marine officer.  I was commissioned out of college, and served for a total of eight years.  During that time, I attended some interesting birthday ball events.  

There was the year that I was the commander of the cake detail, in charge three other Marines as we escorted the "cake" to the proper location in the ballroom. The guest of honor, and the oldest Marine in the room, was PX Kelley.  The youngest Marine was a 2ndLt on the cake detail.  That's the year that I learned a little secret, that the 'cake' isn't really cake. The vast majority of what looks like a cake is actually plywood decorated with icing.  For the 'cake' we were escorting, the second tier of the 'cake' was ringed with small USMC flags, with a small US flag marking the left and right borders of what was actually cake.

There was the year when, for some reason, the birthday ball venue included a stage, and a ramp was constructed for the cake detail to escort the cake up to the stage for the ceremony.  I'm sure that the detail practiced moving a gurney but apparently they did so without an actual cake, because when the detail got to the top of the ramp during the ceremony, the two lead Marines realized that they needed to actually lift the cake, as there was a lip at the top of the ramp.  When they did so, the gurney beneath the cake was freed, and rolled back down the ramp.  Much hilarity ensued as the two trailing Marines, being downhill, realized that they weren't going to be holding the cake for long.  Fortunately, several Marines in the audience jumped into action and rescued the detail.

There was the year when the commanding general droned on and on, as general officers are want to do. In fact, the general went on for so long that several Marines in the ceremony (who apparently had 'celebrated' prior the ceremony) began passing out.  One of the senior Marines, who was later my boss, passed out...twice.  He was caught the first time, before he completely pitched over, and took a seat for a few minutes at a table.  Then he got up, got back into the formation, went to the position of attention, and apparently locked his knees again, because within seconds he began pitching back and forth.  After the first instance, those of us seating at tables near the ceremony set up "fields of fire" and began watching those in the ceremony closely, looking for eyes rolling back, knees buckling, etc.

However, the most memorable birthday ball occurred in Nov, 1990, as units that had participated in Operation Valiant Blitz returned to Okinawa from Pohang, South Korea.  I was temporarily assigned to the USS Duluth as the billeting officer, and was responsible for the billeting of 217 Marines, as well as several officers and staff NCOs.  On 10 Nov 1990, at 23:45, the ship's platoon assembled in the mess for mid-rats and the birthday celebration. The Navy cooks had made a big sheet cake, that apparently had been subject to the rolling of the ocean; one end of the cake had about an inch of cake, and an inch of icing, while the other end had two inches of cake and just the slightest layer of icing.  For most of the young Marines on board, I don't think it mattered...and I hope that the those 18- and 19-year-olds who were there realized that they were part of a tradition reaching back more than 200 years.

So, to all past, present, and future Marines...Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Name Resolution

How often to DFIR analysts think about name resolution, particularly on Windows systems?  I know that looking back across engagements I've done in the past, I've asked for DNS server logs but very often, these were not available. I'm sure others have seen the same thing. When we moved to enterprise response and had access to EDR tools, we could look up DNS queries or create reports based on EDR telemetry, if such a thing was recorded by the agent.  In some cases, we could have the DNS queries automatically checked against a blacklist, and queries for known-bad domains highlighted or marked.

According to MS KB article 172218, Windows systems look to their local hosts file prior to making a DNS query (on the network) when looking up a host name. This hosts file is located, by default, in the %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc folder.  I say "by default", because this path can be changed via the following Registry value:

Key: HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters
Value: DataBasePath what?  Well, it's widely known that threat actors will (we know because we've seen it) make modifications to Windows systems to meet their needs, modifying the environment to suit their goals.  We've discussed some of those settings before, and we've seen where threat actors have changed the location of a user's StartUp folder in order to hide their persistence mechanism.  If I wanted to keep DNS queries from appearing on the network, it would be relatively easy to either just modify the hosts file, or change the default location and plant a malicious hosts file.

Addendum, 22 Oct - since publishing this post yesterday, others have tried this and found that changing the location of the hosts file does not appear to work.  At this point, I have only found the value to exist on a few of the Windows 10 1809 and up systems/images to which I have access, and through searches, I've found indications online that this does not work for Windows 7 systems.  At this point, in the absence of explicit documentation, a bit more testing would be valuable.

However, analysts should still keep in the name resolution order in mind, and be aware that modifying the hosts file itself is still something a threat actor can do.  Other issues to keep in mind include the use of persistent routes (I've actually seen this done for legitimate business purposes), as well as the use of a port proxy. Both are fairly trivial to check during DFIR pre-processing or threat hunting.

Addendum, 28 Oct - Okay, so there's been no new info on this topic beyond the testing that's been done.  On that note, it's actually a bit sad that you can't point Windows systems to a centralized hosts file; Trend Micro recently posted regarding some new malware, which included listings of C2 services.  Being able to quickly add this info to a centralized hosts file (redirect host names to localhost) which all systems use would be very beneficial in defanging this malware.  

An alternative to this is to maintain a centralized hosts file, but have a GPO or some other process that regularly updates the hosts files, even if only on critical systems.  

So, at this point, it appears that the DataBasePath value on Win10 systems is pointless/has no discernible impact.  However, that does not mean that we don't look to other Registry locations that contain network-based information.  For example, I previously mentioned persistent routes and port proxy info, and I'd add checking the DNS server names/IP addresses for interfaces.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Settings That Impact The Windows OS

There are a number of settings within Windows systems that can and do significantly impact the functionality of Windows, and as a result, can also impact what is available to a #DFIR analyst.  These settings very often manifest as modifications to Registry keys or values. These settings also make excellent targets for threat hunting, as well.

Application Prefetching
Most DFIR analysts are aware of application prefetching and what it means.  In short, when application prefetching is enabled, files with *.pf extensions are created in the C:\Windows\Prefetch folder.  These files are intended to provide quicker loading of frequently-used applications, by placing needed information in a specific, known location.  

Most analysts are also aware that application prefetching is not enabled by default on server versions of Windows.  As such, Prefetch files are expected on Windows 7 and 10 systems, but not on Windows Server 2016 and 2019 systems.

As Dr. Ali Hadi pointed out, not all application prefetch files appear directly beneath the Prefetch folder.

Plaintext Passwords
We've seen the UseLogonCredential value being used during credential access for some time now, as creating this value and setting it to "1" tells the operating system to maintain credentials in memory in plain text.  As a result, threat actors have been observed creating this value (via reg.exe), setting it to "1", and then returning to the system 6 - 14 days later (depending upon the time frame, campaign, threat actor group, etc.) and using freely available tools such as mimikatz to dump credentials.  In a number of cases, lateral movement has followed very shortly thereafter, as the credentials are available.

If you perform a Google search for the value name, you'll find more than a few articles that mention setting the value to "0" in order to disable the functionality; however, this will have little effect if the threat actor is able to access systems with the appropriate level of privileges to set the value to "1".  However, this does provide an excellent resource for proactive, reactive, and DFIR threat hunting.  This is easy to set up and automate, and you'll only need to react when the value is found, and when it's set to "1".  That is, however, if the value doesn't exist within your infrastructure at all; if it does, and you find it set to "0", you then have good reason to investigate further.

Disabling Security Event Logging
About a year ago, this Sec-Labs blog post described a Registry key that, when added to a system, disabled Security Event Logging.  More recently, this tweet reiterated the same thing, referring to the blog post; I tested this on a Windows Server 2016 VM and found that it worked exactly as described in the Sec-Labs blog post; the EventViewer wasn't functioning properly and after extracting Windows Event Logs from the VM image file, I found the Security Event Log was not being populated.  After adding the value to the Registry, I had rebooted the system several times, which should have caused logon events to be written to the log file; however, upon examination of the Security.evtx file, this was not the case.

This is markedly different from clearing the Security Event Log.  If a Windows Event Log is cleared, some, if not all, of the records may be recovered (I say "may" because it depends upon how soon you're able to respond).  However, adding the "MiniNt" key to the Registry causes events to not be written to the Security Event Log, and as a result, there's nothing to "recover".  Nothing is written, neither to the log nor to unallocated space.

I know...I was thinking the same thing when I read the original blog post on the topic, and thought it again when I saw that it worked.

There are other Registry keys and values that can significantly impact the performance and operation of the Windows operating system; the three listed here are by far not the only ones.  Rather, they are just examples, and serve to demonstrate what I meant by "significantly impact". These keys and values can also be added to a proactive, reactive, or DFIR threat hunting process.


 The agenda for the 11th annual Open Source Digital Forensics Conference has been posted.  I've attended OSDFCON before (several times), it's one of the conferences where I've enjoyed presenting over the years. Maybe someone reading this remembers the "mall-wear" incident from a number of years ago.

So, on 18 Nov, I'll be speaking on Effectively Using RRv3This past spring, I shared some information about about this new version of RegRipper (here, and here), as well as highlighting specific plugins. What I'd like to do is, in the same vein as the conference agenda, crowd-source some of the content for my 30 min presentation.

What would you like to see, hear, or learn about during my 30-ish minute presentation regarding RegRipper 3.0?

Saturday, September 19, 2020


 I recently ran across an interesting article from Sophos, indicating that the Maze ransomware threat group had taken a page from the Ragnar ransomware threat group.  The article stated that the Maze group was seen delivering the ransomware in a virtualize environment as a means of defense evasion.

In describing the attack, the article includes the following:

...before they launched it, they executed a script that disabled Windows Defender’s Real-Time Monitoring feature.

Immediately following this, the article includes the contents of the batch file that perform this function, and we can see that the command is:

cmd.exe /c powershell.exe -exec Bypass /c Set-MpPreference -DisableRealtimeMonitoring 1

We know the impact of this command; Windows Defender real-time monitoring is disabled, and the Registry value is set to "1".  Also, the key LastWrite time will be updated to when this command was executed.  This is important because these toolmarks are different from other methods used to disable Windows Defender. For example, some threat actors have been observed using 'net stop' commands to stop the service, or using external tools, such as ProcessHacker or Defender Control.  Other actors have been observed enabling the DisableAntiSpyware value, or adding exclusions to the Registry. Some actors use Powershell or WMI, others use reg.exe. Whichever means that is used leaves different toolmarks.

Some folks (i.e., my wife) like analogies, so here's usually access your home by putting a key in the lock, a key you own that is designed to open the door.  However, there are other ways to accomplish the same activity (i.e., opening the door).  You can use lock picks, a crowbar, or a 12 lb sledge. If the door has glass panels, maybe you can break one, reach inside and unlock the door.  However, the point is that all of these methods, while accomplishing the same goal, leave different toolmarks. These toolsmarks can be used to illustrate "humanness" in an attack, can be used to clarify and extend attribution, and can be used in proactive protection measures, such as EDR monitoring, and EDR threat hunting.  They can also be used in DFIR threat hunting, to facilitate the analysis process.

All of this is extremely valuable and can should be exploited to maximize its effect.

As far as the virtual machines go, the toolmarks differed between the Maze and Ragnar threat groups, as well.  The article sums those differences up by stating:

The Maze attackers took a slightly different approach, using a virtual Windows 7 machine instead of XP. This significantly increased the size of the virtual disk, but also adds some new functionality that wasn’t available in the Ragnar Locker version. 

Finally, as I read through the article, it occurred to me that, based on how the article was written, it seemed that the threat group knew something about the infrastructure.  Either the story of the attack was heavily edited, or the threat group had prior knowledge of the infrastructure.  Well, as it turned out:

The virtual machine was, apparently, configured in advance by someone who knew something about the victim’s network...

All of the information in the Sophos articles is extremely valuable, because it not only reinforces Microsoft's perspective on "human-operated ransomware attacks", but also reinforces that they're preventable.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Death of AV??

I had a conversation recently, which started out being about endpoint technologies.  At one point in the conversation, the topic of AV came up.  The question was, is there still value in AV?

I believe there is; I believe that AV, when managed properly, can be a valuable tool.  However, what I've very often seen, through targeted threat response and DFIR analysis, is that AV isn't maintained or updated, and when it does detect something, that detection is ignored.

MS systems have had the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) installed for some time.  This is a micro-scanner, designed to target specific instances of malware.  Throughout many of the investigations I've done, I've seen where systems were infected with malware variants that should have been prevented by MSRT; however, in those instances, I've found that MSRT hasn't been kept up to date, and was last updated well prior to the infection.

Not long ago, I was assisting with some analysis work, and found that the customer was using WebRoot as their AV product. I found entries for AV detections in the Registry, and based on the timing, it was clear that while the product had detected and quarantined an instance of Dridex, the customer was still infected with ransomware.  That was due to no one being aware of the detection, and as such, no one took action. The threat actor was able to find something else they could install that wasn't detected by the installed AV product, and proceed with their attack.

Over the years, I've had more than a few opportunities to observe threat actor behavior, through a combination of EDR telemetry and DFIR analysis.  As such, I've seen more than a few methods for circumventing AV, and in particular, Windows Defender.  Windows Defender is actually a pretty decent AV product; I've had my research interrupted, as when I would download a web shell or "malicious" LNK file for testing, and Windows Defender would wake up and quarantine the file.  Very recently, I was conducting some analysis as part of an interview questionnaire, and wrote a Perl script to deobfuscate some code.  I ran the script and redirected the output to a file, and Windows Defender pounced on the resulting file.  Apparently, I did things correctly.

Again, I've seen threat actors disable Windows Defender through a variety of means, from stopping the service, to uninstalling the product.  I've also seen more subtle "tweaks", such as adding path exclusions to the product, or just disabling the AV component via a Registry value. However, the attacks have proceeded, because the infrastructure lacked the necessary visibility to detect these system modifications.  Further, there was no proactive threat hunting activity, not even an automated 'sweep' of the infrastructure, checking against various settings.

So, no...AV isn't dead.  It's simply not being maintained, and no one is listening for alerts.  AV can be very valuable.  Not only can checking AV status be an effective threat hunting tool (in both proactive scanning and DFIR threat hunting), but I've also been using "check AV logs" as part of my malware detection process. This is because AV has always been a great place to look for indications of attacks.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Toolmarks: The "How"

 I recently published a post where I discussed DFIR toolmarks, and not long after sharing it on Twitter, someone asked me for a list of resources that describe the "how"; that is, how to go about finding or determining toolmarks for various activities.  The specific use case asked about was malware; how to determine malware toolmarks after running the sample in a sandbox.  The best response I could come up with was Windows Forensic Analysis, 4/e, and I included the caveat that they'd have to learn the material and then apply it.  As they'd already found out, there isn't a great deal of information available related to identifying DFIR toolmarks.

One way to think of toolmarks is as artifact constellations, as these are the "scratches" or "indentations" left behind either as a direct result of the activity, or as a result of the activity occurring within the "eco-system" (i.e., operating system, audit configuration, applications, etc.).

The way I have gone about identifying toolmarks is through the use of timelines, at multiple levels.  What I mean by that is that I will start with a system timeline, using data sources such as the MFT, USN change journal, selected Windows Event Logs, Registry hives, SRUM database, etc.  From there, if I find that a specific user account was used in a manner that likely populated a number of artifacts (i.e., type 10 login as opposed to a type 3 login), I might need to create mini- or micro-timelines, based on user activity (browser history, Registry hives, timeline activity database, etc.).  This would allow me to drill down on specific activity without loosing it amongst the 'noise' of the system timeline.  Throughout the timeline analysis process, there's also considerable enrichment or "decoration" of the data that goes on; for example, the timeline might show that a Registry key had been modified, and decorating the data with the specific value that was created or modified will add context, and likely provide a pivot point for further analysis.  Data can also be decorated using online resources (knowledgebase articles, blog posts, etc.), providing additional insight and context, and even leading to additional pivot points.

The theDFIRReport write-up on Snatch ransomware attacks states that the threat actors "turned off Windows Defender"; however, there's no mention as to how this is accomplished. Now, like many will tell you, there are a number of ways to do this, and that's absolutely true...but it doesn't mean that we walk away from it.

Disabling Windows Defender falls under MITRE ATT&CK subtechnique T1562.001, and even so, doesn't go quite deep enough and address how defenses were impaired.  The data from the analyzed cases [c|sh]ould be used to develop the necessary toolmarks.  For example, was sc.exe or some other tool (GMER?) used to disable the Windows service?  Or was reg.exe or Powershell used to add or modify Registry values, such as disabling some aspect of Defender, or adding exclusions?  Given that the threat actors were found to access systems via RDP, was a graphical means used to disable Defender, such as Defender Control?  Each of these approaches has very different toolmarks, and each of these approaches is trivial to check for and identify, as most collection processes (be they triage or full image acquisition) already collect the necessary data.

So, for me, identifying toolmarks starts with timeline creation and analysis.  However, I do understand that this approach doesn't scale, and isn't something that everyone even wants to do, even if there is considerable value in doing so. As such, the way to scale something like this is to start with timeline analysis, and then incorporate findings from this analysis back into the process, 'baking' it back in to the way you do analysis.  One approach to automating this is to incorporate data decoration into a timeline creation process, so that something learned from one engagement is then used to enrich future engagements. A very simple example of how to do this can be found in eventmap.txt, which "tags" specific Windows Event Log records (based on source/ID pairs) as the Windows Event Logs are processed from the native state and being incorporated into a timeline.

If your data collection process results in data in a standard structure (i.e., acquired image, triage data in a zipped archive, etc.) then you can easily automate the parsing process, even at the lab intake point rather than having the analyst spend time doing it. If your analysts are able to articulate their findings and incorporate those back into the parsing and decoration process via some means, they are then able to share their knowledge with other analysts such that those other analysts don't have to have the same experiences.

Another example of toolmarks can be found in this u0041 post that discusses artifacts associated with the use of, one of the Impacket tools used for lateral movement, similar to PSExec. We can then create a timeline events file (from an acquired image, or from triage data), and add Windows Event Log records to the events file using wevtx.bat, employing data decoration via eventmap.txt.  An additional means of identifying pivot points in analysis would include running Yara rules over the timeline events file, looking for specific lines with the event source and IDs, as well as the specific service name that, per the u0041 blog post, is hard-coded into  All of this can be incorporated into an automated process that is run via the lab intake team, prior to the data being handed off to the analyst to complete the case.  This would mean that the parsing process was consistent across the entire team of analysts, regardless of who was performing analysis, or what case they received.  It would also mean that anything learned by one analyst, any set of toolmarks determined via an investigation, would then be immediately available to other analysts, particularly those who had not been involved in, nor experienced, that case.  The same can be said for research items such as the u0041 blog analyst might read about it, create the necessary data decoration and enrichment, and boom, they're done.  


Identifying toolmarks is just the first step.  Again, the means I've used is timeline analysis....not creating one big timeline, but creating mini-timelines or "overlays" (think cellophane sheets teachers used to use with overhead projectors) that allow me to see the important items without having to wade through the "noise" of regular system activity (i.e., operating system and application updates, etc.).

Once toolmarks have been identified, the next step is to document and 'bake' them back into the analysis process, so that they are immediately available for future use.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Toolmarks and Intrusion Intelligence

Very often, DFIR and intel analysts alike don't appear to consider such things as toolmarks associated with TTPs, nor intrusion intelligence. However, considering such things can lead to greater edge sharpness with respect to attribution, as well as to the intrusion itself.  

What I'm suggesting in this post is fully exploiting the data that most DFIR analysts already collect and therefore have available.  I'm not suggesting that additional tools be purchased; rather, what I'm illustrating is the value of going just below the surface of much of what's shared, and adding a bit of context regarding the how and when of various actions taken by threat actors.

Disable Security Tools
What used to be referred to as simply "disable security tools" in the MITRE ATT&CK framework is now identified as "impair defenses", with six subtechniques.  The one we're interested in at the moment is "disable or modify tools", which I think makes better sense, as we'll discuss in this section.

In TheDFIRReport regarding the Snatch ransomware actors, the following statement is made regarding the threat actor's activities:

"...turned off Windows Defender..."

Beyond that, there's no detail in the report regarding how Windows Defender was "turned off", and the question likely asked would be, "..does it really matter?"  I know a lot of folks have said, "...there are a lot of ways to turn off or disable Windows Defender...", and they're absolutely correct.  However, something like this should not be dismissed, as the toolmarks associated with a particular method or mechanism for disabling or modifying a tool such as Windows Defender will vary, and have been seen to vary between different threat actors. However, it is because they vary that make them so valuable.

Toolmarks associated with the means used by a particular threat actor or group to disable Defender, or any other tool, can be used as intrusion intelligence associated with that actor, and can be used to attribute the observed activity to that actor in the future.

Again, there are a number of ways to render Windows Defender ineffective.  For example, you can incapacitate the tool, or use native functionality to make any number of Registry modifications that significantly impact Defender.  For threat actors that gain access to systems via RDP, using a tool such as Defender Control is very effective, as it's simply a button click away; it also has it's own set of toolmarks, given how it functions. In particular, it "disables" Defender by setting the data for two specific Registry values, something few other observed methods do. 

Other techniques can include setting exclusions for Windows Defender; rather than turning it off completely, adding an exclusion "blinds" the tool by telling it to ignore certain paths, extensions, IP addresses, or processes.  Again, different TTPs, and as such, different toolmarks will be present.  The statement "turned off Windows Defender" still applies, but the mechanism for doing so leaves an artifact constellation (toolmarks) that varies depending upon the mechanism.

The "When"
Not only is the method used to disable a tool a valuable piece of intelligence, but so is the timing. That is to say, when during the attack cycle is the tool disabled?  Some ransomware executables may include a number of processes or Windows services (in some cases, over 150) that they will attempt to disable when they're launched (and prior to file encryption) but if a threat actor manually disables a security tool, knowing when and how they did so during their attack cycle can be value intrusion intel that provides insight into their capabilities. 

Deleting Volume Shadow Copies
Deleting Volume Shadow Copies is an action most often associated with ransomware attacks, employed as a means of preventing recovery and forcing the impacted organization to pay the ransom to get its files back.  However, it's also an effective counter-forensics technique, particular when it comes to long-persistent threat actors.

I once worked an engagement where a threat actor pushed out their RAT to several systems by creating remote Scheduled Tasks to launch the installer.  A week later, they pushed out a copy of the same RAT, but with a different config, to another system.  Just one.  However, in this case, they pushed it to the StartUp folder for a communal admin account.  As such, the EXE file sat there for 8 months; it was finally launched when the admins used the communal admin account in their recovery efforts for the engagement I was working.  I was able to get a full copy of the EXE file from one of the VSCs, demonstrating the value of data culled from VSCs.  I've had similar success on other engagements, particularly one involving the Poison Ivy RAT and the threat actor co-opting an internal employee to install it, and subsequently, partially remove it from the system.  The point is that VSCs can be an extremely valuable source of data.

Many analysts on the "intel side" consider deleting VSCs commonplace, and not worth a great deal of attention.  After all, this is most often accomplished using tools native to the operating system, such as vssadmin.exe.  But what if that's not the tool used?  What if the threat actor uses WMI instead, using a command such as:

Get-WmiObject Win32_Shadowcopy | ForEach-Object{$_.Delete();}

Or, what if the threat actor base64-encoded the above command and ran it via Powershell?  The same result is accomplished, but each action results in a different set of toolmarks.

Clearing Windows Event Logs
Another commonly observed counter-forensics technique is clearing the Windows Event Logs.  In some cases, it's as simple as three lines in a batch file, clearing just the System, Security, and Application Event Logs.  In other cases, it's a single line of code that is much more comprehensive:

FOR /F “delims=” %%I IN (‘WEVTUTIL EL’) DO (WEVTUTIL CL “%%I”)

As with the other actions we've discussed in this post, there are other ways to go about clearing Windows Event Logs, as well; WMI, Powershell (encoded, or not), external third party tools, etc.  However, each has its on set of toolmarks that can be associated with the method used, and are separate from the end result.

Addressing Counter-Forensics
Much of what we've discussed in this post constitute counter-forensics activities. Fortunately, there are ways to address instances of counter-forensics from a DFIR perspective, such as when Windows Event Logs have been cleared, as there are other data sources that can provide information in the absence of that data. For example, if you want to know when a user was logged into the system, you don't need the logs for that.  Instead, create a mini-timeline from data sources in the user profile, and you'll be able to see when that user was logged into the system.  However, if your question is, "what were the contents of the log records?", then you'll have to carve unallocated space to retrieve those records.

In some cases, an analyst may collect an image or selected triage files from a system, and find that some of the Windows Event Logs aren't populated.  I've been seeing this recently with respect to the Microsoft-Windows-TaskScheduler/Operational Event Log; on the two Win10 systems in my office, neither file is populated (the same is true with a number of the images downloaded from CTF sites).  This isn't because the logs were cleared, but rather because they had been disabled.  It seems that at some point, the settings for that Windows Event Log were modified such that they were disabled, and as such, the log isn't populated.  This doesn't mean that scheduled tasks aren't being executed, or that information about scheduled tasks isn't just means that the historical record normally seen via that Windows Event Log isn't available.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

On Artifact Constellations And "Toolmarks"

Something I've been pretty focused on in my analysis for some time is the concept of "artifact constellations".  I originally referred to this concept as "artifact clusters", but I heard someone from the FBI's Cyber BAU team use the term "constellations", and co-opted the term, in part to facilitate our conversation, but also because it sounded much more appropriate.

Artifact constellations are found as a result of events (not an event, but events) that occur on a system within close temporal proximity (another borrowed term, this one from Mr. Walters), as a result of some action, taken either by the user or threat actor.  When someone interacts with the operating system and applications, there are direct artifacts as a result of that interaction.  There are also very often indirect artifacts, created as a result of the events occurring within the "eco-system";  that is, events generated by the operating system but are not a result of direct interaction by the user.

Artifacts should never be viewed in isolation, as this can lead to incorrect findings when an artifact constellation is completed with assumption.  This can be an issue, among other instances, when examining artifacts of program execution.  For example, if an analyst were to find a prefetch file or a UserAssist entry for CCleaner, does this mean that the user executed the capabilities of CCleaner, or simply that they launched the GUI?  When viewing only artifacts such as a prefetch file or a UserAssist entry in isolation, there is qualitatively no difference between launching CCleaner and taking advantage of its full capabilities, and simply launching the CCleaner UI, waiting a few minutes, and closing the application.

Artifact constellations will vary in the number of artifacts they contain, based on a number of factors, such as the version  and configuration of the operating system, the version and configuration of installed applications, the audit configuration of the system, etc.  All of these factors play an important role in the make up of the artifact constellation, which can also be viewed as a set of "toolmarks" related to the use of the application.

The overall idea here is that rather than pursuing and basing findings on individual artifacts in isolation, we instead pursue artifact constellations, as this allows us to develop a better sense of context, as well as overcome attempts at counter-forensics, however intentional (or otherwise).

If we are used to viewing artifacts in isolation and those artifacts are not available on the system, where does that leave us?  Let's say, for example, that an analyst is familiar/comfortable with pursuing Application Prefetch files as artifacts of program execution; what happens if those artifacts don't exist on the system?  Say, the version of Windows being examined is a server variant, or the threat actor launched programs from within alternate data streams, or the threat actor took counter-forensics measures and deleted the prefetch files (and possibly disabled application prefetching).  What happens then?  How does the examiner pursue the goals of their analysis if the artifacts with which they are most comfortable no longer exist?

Attempts at counter-forensics, no matter how unintentional, should also be considered.  For example, something many analysts have seen before is an AppCompatCache entry for a possibly malicious file with a last modification time more closely aligned with the installation time of the operating system.  This can be the result of the threat actor copying the file to the system and quickly time stomping it with the $STANDARD_INFORMATION attribute time stamps from files that are part of the legitimate Windows installation.  If the analyst views this one artifact as evidence of program execution in isolation from other artifacts in the constellation, they may also make an incorrect determination as to the threat actor's dwell time.

A recent article on TheDFIRReport site regarding the Snatch ransomware describes the actions of the threat actor, which includes "turned off Windows Defender".  However, the article does not mention how the threat actor did so.  Determining the how and the when (in relation to other events) with respect to the threat actor disabling Windows Defender can be very beneficial to developing threat intelligence about that actor, and identifying toolmarks associated with their activities.

Now, there are a number of ways to disable Windows Defender, and each will have it's own artifacts or "toolmarks". We know from the article that the threat actor accesses systems via RDP, so that provides some indication as to what artifacts would be available for analysis.

One way to disable Windows Defender via the command line is to use reg.exe:

reg.exe add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender" /v
"DisableAntiSpyware" /t REG_DWORD /d "1" /f > Nul

Disabling Windows Defender can also be achieved via Powershell.  In addition to  a Registry value (or values) being modified, there will also be entries in the Powershell Event Logs indicating the usage of Powershell.  Depending upon how the commands are launched, there may also be entries in a user's Powershell console history file.

Another way to disable Defender is via a freeware tool such as Defender Control, which is a simple GUI tool with two buttons, one to disable Defender, and one to enable it.  If a threat actor uses a tool such as this, the artifact constellation will likely appear as follows:
  • File downloaded to/created on the system
  • AppCompatCache entry, and perhaps an AmCache.hve entry
  • Launch via user account (compromised account used to RDP into the system) results in UserAssist and RecentApps entries
  • There likely won't be a Prefetch file, as workstations do not run Terminal Services by default
  • Registry values related to disabling Windows Defender modified
  • Windows Defender Event Log records for event IDs 5001 and 5010
Again, the constellation will vary depending upon the means used to disable Defender.  However, understanding the artifact constellation, and the toolmarks associated with various methods for disabling Defender, are not only beneficial for identifying threat actors, but can also be valuable when the threat actor has taken steps to perform counter-forensics (such as clearing Windows Event Logs).

So, why is the when important? Some ransomware variants have been observed to include a series of commands to turn Windows services off, via the 'net stop' command.  In fact, one variant was found to include more than 150 such commands, specifying several EDR, AV, and backup services. However, that variant did not include a command to disable the Windows Defender service; in that case, the threat actor had to do so manually, prior to moving their malware to the system.  In some instances, the threat actor will copy a batch file over to the system and execute it, so that they don't have to retype commands (and possibly make an error); sometimes, they leave the batch files in place when they're done.

In another instance, disabling of Windows Defender was actually determined to be a result of normal system administrator actions.  In fact, not only was Windows Defender manually disabled by administrators upon installation, but it was also regularly disabled via GPO.  It's easy to see that Defender was disabled, but determining the when can make a pretty significant difference in the incident, particularly if the analyst assumes that the threat actor disabled the application.

While it's very useful that there are cheat sheets available that provide us with a list of DFIR artifacts to examine, as analysts we are called upon to go beyond looking at artifacts in isolation, and instead base findings on artifact constellations.  Doing so also allows us to develop toolmarks associated with specific sets of activities, providing context and allowing us to better understand that threat actors.  It's easy to say that some event (Windows Defender was disabled) occurred, but developing the how and the when of that event provides the context to better visualize a threat actor's activities.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Plugin Spotlight - consentstore, consentstore_tln, update

These plugins were developed as a result of this article posted to Medium by Zach, aka, "svch0st".  The article is fascinating, in that Zach found that there're Registry keys that appear to track the applications that access the microphone and webcam on a Windows system.  In addition, there are values that specify the last start and stop times for the applications using those devices.  Zach then takes the article a step further by illustrating what it looks like when a RAT is used to access and record audio from the mic.

Running the plugin against a hive extracted from one of my own systems, I can see the following:

LastWrite time          2020-05-05 23:06:16Z
LastUsedTimeStart    2020-05-05 23:00:52Z
LastUsedTimeStop     2020-05-05 23:06:16Z

LastWrite time          2020-05-05 23:05:24Z
LastUsedTimeStart    2020-05-05 23:01:30Z
LastUsedTimeStop     2020-05-05 23:05:24Z

As you can see from the above information,  the key LastWrite times correspond to the final time stamp, or the "LastUsedTimeStop".  

The plugin outputs the same information in the 5-field TLN format, illustrated 

1588719652|REG|||ConsentStore microphone "C:\Users\harlan\AppData\Roaming\Zoom\bin\Zoom.exe" LastUsedTimeStart
1588719976|REG|||ConsentStore microphone "C:\Users\harlan\AppData\Roaming\Zoom\bin\Zoom.exe" LastUsedTimeStop
1588719690|REG|||ConsentStore webcam "C:\Users\harlan\AppData\Roaming\Zoom\bin\Zoom.exe" LastUsedTimeStart

1588719924|REG|||ConsentStore webcam "C:\Users\harlan\AppData\Roaming\Zoom\bin\Zoom.exe" LastUsedTimeStop

Because the full name of the key is included in the timeline output, albeit with the "#" translated to back slashes, searches run across the timeline looking for pivot points (such as AppCompatCache or AmCache entries, user profile paths, etc.) will result in positive 'hits'.  For example, in Zach's article, the RAT used to access the microphone was found in the path "dev\shell.exe".  If an analyst found an entry for "dev\shell.exe" in the AppCompatCache or AmCache data, and then using that as a pivot point found something similar to the above, the analyst would not only have the insight that the file was on the system, but also what it had been used for.  As such, this also serves to extend the "program execution" artifact category a bit, because know we not only know that the file was executed, but we now also have insight into what it was used for, or what it did.

In addition, this information provides us with some very useful artifacts, particularly when viewed as part of an overall artifact constellation.  For example, this provides a view into "humanness", or indications of human interaction with the system.  I most instances when engaging with applications such as Zoom, the user has an option to use the mic and webcam on the local system, and has to click a button/make a choice to do so.

Further, as this is a "new" location of sorts, it is not yet covered/addressed by counter-forensics techniques.  From the above information retrieved from the Software hive, we can see that Zoom was launched from the user's profile path, and the dates and times that it ran, providing insight into user activity in the face of counter-forensics activities, even the entire user profile being deleted.

So, thanks to Zach for sharing the information, and providing the opportunity for me to view this information and create these two plugins.  Keep up the great work, Zach, and I'm going to keep watching to see what further topics you tackle.

Not a new plugin, but I updated the plugin based on the content provided by Christopher at TrustedSec, which looks like the AppCompatFlags key is another useful persistence location.

Plugin Spotlight - printer_settings, featureusage

Given the number of RegRipper plugins that are part of the distro, I thought it would be a good idea every now and then to spotlight a plugin or two, and share what led to the plugin being created, and discuss how it can be used as part of analysis.
This plugin is a result of what I read about Project TajMahal. If you scroll down in Appendix II, to modules 65 and 66, you'll see the following statement:

Steals printed documents from spooler queue.

This is done by enabling the “KeepPrintedJobs” attribute for each (or just one) configured printer stored in Windows Registry. What this means is that print jobs will not be deleted once they're complete; as such, this serves as an interesting means of data collection, specifically, data from information repositories.

I thought that was interesting and tried setting the attribute via the UI, and then writing and testing a plugin to detect the attribute setting.  The result is the plugin.

So, how would you use this during an engagement?  A positive finding from the plugin would be a pivot point into deeper analysis; for example, if the attribute is set, what is the LastWrite time of the key (or keys) in question?  Does this time stamp then prove to be a useful pivot point within the greater context of an overall system timeline?  If you have an image of the system, what is the content of the spooler?
CrowdStrike recently posted an article on the various values and subkeys beneath the FeatureUsage key, so I'm not sure what I could add to that.

In short, the FeatureUsage artifacts reportedly serve as evidence of program execution, on Windows 10 version 1903 and higher.  The CrowdStrike blog post provides some very good information regarding the subkey contents; what really stood out for me is how the contents provide insight into humanness within the Windows Registry, as well as provide information that analysts can look to in the face of counter-forensics.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Tips on Using RegRipper v3.0

With the "new" release, I thought it would be good to share a couple of tips as to how you can get the most out of RegRipper v3.0. I should note that for the most part, all of these tips are the same things I've recommended for using RegRipper v2.8, as well.

The "Kitchen Sink" Approach
When you take the "kitchen sink" approach and run every available plugin against a hive file, you're going to get a great deal of info back, some of which may not make sense or even apply to the case on which you're working.  As such, you're likely going to have questions about some of what you see, and whether it can be applied to the case you're working on.  I provided the GUI tool to operate in exactly this manner, because according to many, this is the primary use case, and how RegRipper is most often used. However, what follows are some tips that might be helpful, particularly if you do not want to use this approach.

Check The References
If you have a question about a plugin, feel free to open the plugin in Notepad (I use Notepad++ or UltraEdit) and take a look at the contents, particularly the "header".  If you're not sure what a "header" is, it's all the stuff commented out (preceded by '#') at the top of the plugin.  If you're using something like Notepad++, the header may appear in a different color, such as green, thanks to syntax highlighting.  Very often, the header will contain reference information or URLs that provide insight as to why the plugin was written and how the information returned by the plugin may be applied to specific use cases.

Finding a Plugin
Sometimes, you might want to check and see if there's a plugin that gets some information you're interested in, as it may be helpful to your case.  There is no online reference for the plugins; the v2.8 distro contains 386 plugins, and the v3.0 distro contains 248 plugins, so keeping a reference or wiki of some kind is still going to require searching.  Further, not all of the plugins look for specific values, but instead get all or most of the values beneath a key, so if you're looking for a specific value name, or some element that may be included in the data, you may not find it.

In order to see if there's a plugin that looks for a particular key or value name, I use the following command:

C:\perl\rr3\plugins>findstr /C:"UseLogonCredential" /i *.pl

...or to find any plugins that reference blog posts from PenTestLabs (hint: there are two), I use the following command:

C:\perl\rr3\plugins>findstr /C:"pentestlab" /i *.pl

If you don't find what you're looking for, ask.  Yep, it's that easy.  Just ask.  Sure, you can go on social media and say, "hey, RegRipper doesn't have a plugin that does this...", and that may very well be true.  However, RegRipper was originally designed to be a community-supported project; if you don't find a plugin that does something you need, either write one (Corey Harrell did a lot of that, starting off with simply copy-paste...), or share a request along with some data so that it can be written.  In most cases, I've turned a plugin around in an hour or so, with limited data for testing. As time goes on and more data becomes available, the testing improves, and the there may be corresponding improvements in the plugins, as well.

A final note on that thought...when looking for a plugin, spelling helps.  Tremendously.  You don't even know.

Building Profiles
I know that some folks are of the opinion that the RegRipper GUI doesn't allow you to modify the available profiles, but that is simply NOT the case.  In fact, all you need to do to create your own profiles is find the double-secret-monkey-stuff Windows tool called "Notepad".  ;-)  Really, it's that easy.

A "profile" is a list of plugins that are run by rip.exe, via the "-f" switch.  You can use rip to run individual plugins, but if you have a series of plugins that you want to run against a hive, the easiest way, and one that is self-documenting, is to use a profile.  To create a profile, just create a text file with no extension, and add the plugins you want to run, one on each line.  For example, to build out a profile that lets me check the Software hive for information related to connected USB devices, I'd create a file called "USB-Software" (again, no file extension), and then add the following plugins:


That's all it takes. As new information is developed and new plugins become available, I might add some of those plugins to the profile. 

RegRipper v2.8
As a final note and just a reminder, I'm no longer supporting RegRipper v2.8.  I'll leave the repo up for the time being, but I'll be removing the repo before too long (date TBD).

I hope that someone finds this information useful.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

RegRipper v3.0

I recently released RegRipper v3.0, something I've been working on since Aug, 2019.

I am no longer supporting RegRipper 2.8.  I'll leave the repo up for the time being, but I will not be writing plugins to support that version.  You can move plugins written for v2.8 to the v3.0 plugins folder, and they will work fine.  However, due to modifications in the date output format, the reverse is not true.

What's New?
Fig. 1: RegRipper GUI
GUI - The GUI (i.e., rr.exe) no longer makes use of profiles.  When you launch the GUI, you'll see what appears in figure 1.  Note that you can select the hive, and the output folder for the report, but there is no longer a drop-down for selecting a profile.

Instead, what now happens is that the hive file type is "guessed"/determined, and the tool runs through the entire plugins folder to build a list of all plugins that apply to that hive, and then runs them.  All of them. There is no longer any need to maintain a profile for use with the GUI.  In the end, the idea of profiles seemed to be just too confusing.

The hive file types that RR "knows" are Software, System, SAM, NTUSER.DAT, USRCLASS.DAT, and AmCache.

However, the capability to run individual plugins and profiles still exists, albeit via the command line tool, rip.exe.  More about that later.

Date Format - the date output format has changed.  Phill Moore had asked for this via Twitter back in Feb, and more recently, a Github issue had been submitted via the Autopsy Github site.  The issue what was submitted asked for date output format IAW ISO 8601, but what was asked for was not, in fact, compliant with ISO 8601. Rather, what they'd asked for was the RFC 3339 profile.  That's very likely much more than you wanted to know, so to be brief, the date output format is now:


Note the space between the date and time...that's what is NOT compliant with ISO 8601, but it is what was asked for.  In those instances where the time stamp is equivalent to UTC, I've added "Z" to the date output format.

Plugin Updates - As part of the process of "fixing" all 386 plugins in the 2.8 distro, a good number of them were updated, modified, consolidated, or simply "whacked".  In this case, "whacked" means removed from the main distro, moved to a separate folder, and may be addressed at a later date.

At the moment, the 3.0 distro contains 248 plugins.  The easiest way to find something specific in the plugins is to use a hidden MS tool called "findstr".  Navigate to the plugins folder and type a command such as:

findstr /C:"UseLogonCredential" /i *.pl


findstr /C:"pentestlab" /i *.pl

If you can't find a plugin that addresses a specific need, then reach out and ask.  I recently was provided some information about a key, and some sample data, by a co-worker, and within an hour was able to turn around a fully functional plugin.

RIP - the capabilities of the command line tool have been modified significantly, which you can see from the syntax info below:

Rip v.3.0 - CLI RegRipper tool
Rip [-r Reg hive file] [-f profile] [-p plugin] [options]
Parse Windows Registry files, using either a single module, or a profile.

  -r [hive] .........Registry hive file to parse
  -d ................Check to see if the hive is dirty
  -g ................Guess the hive file type
  -a ................Automatically run hive-specific plugins
  -aT ...............Automatically run hive-specific TLN plugins
  -f [profile].......use the profile
  -p [plugin]........use the plugin
  -l ................list all plugins
  -c ................Output plugin list in CSV format (use with -l)
  -s systemname......system name (TLN support)
  -u username........User name (TLN support)
  -uP ...............Update default profiles
  -h.................Help (print this information)

Ex: C:\>rip -r c:\case\system -f system
    C:\>rip -r c:\case\ntuser.dat -p userassist
    C:\>rip -r c:\case\ntuser.dat -a
    C:\>rip -l -c

All output goes to STDOUT; use redirection (ie, > or >>) to output to a file.

copyright 2020 Quantum Analytics Research, LLC

Notice the "-a" switch; this replicates what the GUI does, in that it gets the hive file type, then runs through the plugins folder and finds all plugins that pertain to that hive type, and then runs them.  The "-aT" switch does the same thing, but for the timeline (* plugins.  As with the RR GUI, the hive file types that rip "knows" are Software, System, SAM, NTUSER.DAT, USRCLASS.DAT, and AmCache.  However, with rip.exe, you can still run the plugins designated for "all" hive types;,,, etc., via the command line using the "-p" switch.

Also, you still have the capability to run profiles via rip.exe.  This is very useful if you don't want to take a "kitchen sink" approach, but you want to be able to easily run several plugins, such as for a USB playbook.

RegRipper is not and never was intended to be an "all knowing" tool.  It was intended to be a "good" tool that made people's jobs easier, and the only real way to do that is if analysts provide input.  So, rather than saying, "RegRipper doesn't...", why not grab some sample data, attach it to an email and send in a request?  I've been pretty good about turning something around within an hour, and more time and more data for testing simply means that the plugin becomes more useful for others, as well.

I haven't seen everything, nor do I know everything.  I do not offer myself up as an "expert".  This is to say that the available RegRipper plugins are based on either what I've seen or what others have shared with me.  For example, I read about Project TajMahal, did some testing, and the plugin checks to see if the KeepPrintedJobs property is enabled.  But that doesn't mean the everything pertinent to your case is included in a plugin; if that turns out to be the case, I'm more than happy to assist where I can, and were you allow me to do so.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Registry Analysis, pt II

In my last blog post, I provided a brief description of how I perform "Registry analysis", and I thought it would be a good idea to share the actual mechanics of getting to the point of performing Registry analysis.

First off, let me state clearly that I rarely perform Registry analysis in isolation from other data sources and artifacts on the system.  Most often, I'll incorporate file system metadata, as well as Windows Event Log metadata, into my analysis in order to develop a clearer picture of the activity.  Doing this helps me to 'see' activity that might be associated with a threat actor, and it goes a long way towards removing guesses and speculation from my analysis.

For instance, I'll incorporate Windows Event Log record metadata using the following command:

C:\tools>wevtx.bat d:\case\*.evtx > d:\case\evtx_events.txt

The above command places the record metadata, decorated using intrusion intel from the eventmap.txt file, into an intermediate file, with all of the entries in the 5-field TLN format.  I can then make use of just this file, or I can incorporate it into my overall timeline events file using the 'type' command:

C:\tools>type evtx_events.txt >> events.txt

That being said, there are times when I have been asked to "take a look at the Registry", and during those times, my hope is to have something around which to pivot...a service name, a specific date and time, some particular event, etc. I'll start this process by listing all of the Registry keys in the Software and System hives based on the key LastWrite times, using the following commands:

C:\tools>regtime -m HKLM/Software/ -r d:\case\software > d:\case\reg_events.txt
C:\tools>regtime -m HKLM/System/ -r d:\case\system >> d:\case\reg_events.txt

Note: RegRipper will tell you if the hive you're accessing is 'dirty', and if so, you'll want to strongly consider merging the transaction logs into the hive prior to parsing.  I like to do this as a separate process because I like to have the original hive file available so that I can look for deleted keys and values.

If there's a suspicion or evidence to suggest that a local user account was created, then adding metadata from the SAM hive is pretty simple and straightforward:

C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\sam -p samparse_tln >> d:\case\reg_events.txt

When I say "evidence to suggest" that the threat actor added a local account to the system, one way to check for that is to hope the right auditing was enabled, and that you'd find the appropriate records in the Security Event Log. Another way to check is to parse the SAM Registry hive:

C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\sam -p samparse

Then, correlate what you see to the ProfileList key from the Software hive:

C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\software -p profilelist

Looking at these two data sources allows us to correlate user accounts and RIDs to user profiles on the system.  In many cases, we'll have to consider domain accounts (different SIDs), as well.

I'll also include other specific information from the Registry hives in the timeline:

C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\system -p shimcache_tln >> d:\case\reg_events.txt

I'll also incorporate the AmCache metadata, as well:

C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\amcache.hve -p amcache_tln >> d:\case\reg_events.txt

For a user, I generally want to create a separate mini-timeline, using similar commands as above:

C:\tools>regtime -m HKCU/ -r d:\case\user\ntuser.dat -u user > d:\case\user\reg_events.txt
C:\tools>regtime -m HKCU/ -r d:\case\user\usrclass.dat -u user >> d:\case\user\reg_events.txt
C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\user\usrclass.dat -u user -p shellbags_tln >> d:\case\user\reg_events.txt
C:\rr3>rip -r d:\case\user\ntuser.dat -u user -p userassist_tln >> d:\case\user\reg_events.txt

Note: If you're generally looking at the same artifacts within a hive (NTUSER.DAT, etc.) over and over, it's a good idea to open Notepad and create a RegRipper profile.  That way, you have a documented, repeatable process, all in a single command line.

Note: If you're looking at multiple systems, it's not only a good idea to differentiate users on the system via the "-u" switch, but also differentiate the system by using the "-s" switch in the RegRipper command lines.  You can get the system name via the RegRipper plugin.

Once the events file has been created, I have a source for parsing out specific items, specific time frames, or just the entire timeline, using parse.exe.  I can create the entire timeline, and based on items I find to pivot on, go back to the events file and pull out specific items using combinations of the type and find commands.  The complete timeline is going to contain all sorts of noise, much of it based on legitimate activity, such as operating system and application updates, normal user activity (logins, logoffs, day-to-day operations, etc.), and sometimes it's really helpful to be able to look at just the items of interest, and then view them in correlation with other items of interest.

Note: If you have a standard extraction process, or if you mount images using a means that makes the files accessible, all of this can be automated with something as simple as a batch or shell script.

Once I get to this point, the actual analysis begins...because parsing and display are not "analysis".  Getting one value or the LastWrite time to one key is not "analysis".  For me, analysis is an iterative process, and what I described above is just the first step.  From there, I'll keep a viewer handy (usually MiTeC's WRR) and a browser open, allowing me to dig in deeper and research items of interest.  This way, I can see values for keys for which there are not yet RegRipper plugins, such as when a new malware variant creates keys and values, or when a threat actor creates or modifies keys. When I do find something new like that (because the process facilitates finding something new), that then becomes a RegRipper plugin  (or a modification to an existing plugin), decoration via the eventmap.txt file, etc.  The point is that whatever 'new thing' is developed gets immediately baked back into the overall process.

For example, did a threat actor disable Windows Defender, and if so how? Via a batch file?  No problem, we can use RegRipper to check the Registry keys and values.  Via GPO?  Same thing...use RegRipper.  Via an sc.exe command?  No problem...we can use RegRipper for that, as well.

What about open source intrusion intel, such as this FireEye blog post?  The FireEye blog post is rich with intrusion intel that can be quickly and easily turned into plugins and event decoration, so that whenever those TTPs are visible in the data, the analyst is immediately notified, providing pivot points and making analysis vastly more consistent and efficient.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Registry Analysis

When you see the words, "Registry analysis", what comes to mind? 

Okay, now...what actually happens when we 'do' this thing we call "Registry analysis"?  More often than not, what this refers to manifests itself as opening a Registry hive file in a viewer, "looking around", or maybe doing some searches or sorting based on dates.  But is that really Registry analysis, or is it simply parsing and viewing?

Often, when you get right down to it and peel back all of the layers (like an onion), "analysis" (in general) from an operational perspective manifests as:
  • Get a data source, often based on a list provided by an external resource
  • Open that data source in a viewer, or parse it and open the output in another application (Excel)
  • Locate specific items, again often based on an externally-provided list; this can include conducting a search based on some items (time) or keywords
  • Do the same with another data source
  • Lather, rinse, repeat
For example, an analyst might extract the MFT, parse it via a tool such as AnalyzeMFT or MFTECmd, search for specific files, or for files created or modified during a specific time frame, and then manually transpose that information into a spreadsheet.  If other data sources are then examined, the process is repeated, and as such, the overall approach to getting to the point of actually conducting analysis (i.e., looking at the output from more than one data source) is very manual, very time intensive, and as a result, very expensive.

To that point, 'cost' isn't just associated with time and expense.  It's also directly tied in with what's included in the analyst's final spreadsheet; more specifically, the approach lends itself to important artifacts and TTPs being missed.  OSINT regarding a threat actor group, based on analysis of the malware associated with the group, most often focuses on IOCs does not account for TTPs and behaviors (i.e., how the malware and tools are used...).  This includes not just of the threat actor's behaviors on the system, but also as a result of the threat actor's interactions with the ecosystem in which they're operating.  OSINT is not intrusion intelligence, and if the analyst uses that OSINT as the totality of what they look for, rather than just the beginning, then critical data is going to be missed.

One way of overcoming this is the use of automation to consume and correlate multiple data sources simultaneously, viewing them in relation to each other.  Some have looked at automation tools such as log2timeline or plaso, but have experienced challenges with respect to how the tools are used. Perhaps a better approach is a targeted, 'sniper forensics' approach, rather than the usual "spray and pray" approach.

For many analysts, what "Registry analysis" means is that they may have a list of "forensically relevant" items (i.e., keys and values), perhaps in a spreadsheet, that they use to manually peruse hive files.  As such, they'll open a hive in a viewer and use the viewer to navigate to specific keys and values (Eric's Registry Explorer makes great use of bookmarks).  This list of "forensically relevant" items within the Registry may be based on lists provided to the analyst, rather than developed by the analyst, and as such, may not be complete.  In many cases, these lists are stagnant, in that once they are received, they are neither extended, nor are new items (if determined) shared back with the source.

Rather than maintaining a list of keys and values that are "forensically relevant", analysts should instead consider what is "forensically relevant" based on the analysis goals of the case, and employ a process that allows them to not only find the items they're looking for, but to also 'see' new things.  For example, I like to employ a process that creates a timeline of activity, using Registry key LastWrite times, as well as parsing specific values based on their associated time stamps.  This process correlates hive files, as well...doing this using the Software hive, user's NTUSER.DAT and USRCLASS.DAT, as well as the AmCache.hve file, all in combination, can be extremely revealing.  I've used this several times to 'see' new things, such as what happens on a system when a user clicks on an ISO email attachment.  Viewing all of the 'events' from multiple sources, side-by-side, in a consolidated timeline provides a much more complete picture and a much more granular view than the traditional "manually add it to a spreadsheet" approach.

Adding additional sources...MFT, Windows Event Logs, etc...can be even more revealing of the overall TTPs, than simply viewing each of these data sources in isolation.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Going Beyond

As an industry and community, we need to go beyond...go beyond looking at single artifacts to indicate or justify "evidence", and we need to go beyond having those lists of single artifacts provided to us.  Lists, such as the SANS DFIR poster of artifacts, are a good place to start, but they are not intended to be the end-all.  And we need to go beyond our own analysis, in isolation, and discuss and share what we see with others.

Here's a good this recent blog post, the author points to Prefetch artifacts as evidence of file execution.  Prefetch artifacts are a great source of information, but (a) they don't tell the full story, and (b) they aren't the only artifact that illustrates "file execution".  They're one of many.  While it's a good idea to start with one artifact, we need to build on that one artifact and create (and pursue) artifact constellations.

This post, and numerous others, tend to look at artifacts in isolation, and not as part of an overall artifact constellation.  Subsequently, attempts at analysis fall apart (or simply fall short) when that one artifact, the one we discussed in isolation, is not present.  Consider Prefetch files...yes, they are great sources of information, but they are not the only source of information, and they are not present by default on Windows servers. 

And, no, I do not think that one blog post speaks for the entire community...not at all.  Last year, I took the opportunity to explore the images provided as part of the DefCon 2018 CTF.  I examined two of the images, but it was the analysis of the file server image that I found most interesting.  Rather than attempting to answer all of the questions in the CTF (CTF questions generally are not a good representation of real world engagements), I focused on one or two questions in particular.  In the case of the file server, there was a question regarding the use of an anti-forensics tool.  If you read my write-up, you'll see that I also reviewed three other publicly available write-ups...two relied on a UserAssist entry to answer the question, and the third relied on a Registry value that provided information about the contents of a user's desktop.  However, none of them (and again, these are just the public write-ups that I could find quickly) actually determined if the anti-forensics tool had been used, if the functionality in question had been deployed.

Wait...what?  What I'm saying is that one write up had answered the question based on what was on the user's desktop, and the two others had based their findings on UserAssist entries (i.e., that the user had double-clicked on an icon or program on their desktop).  However, neither had determined if anything had actually been deleted. I say this because there was also evidence that another anti-forensics tool (CCleaner) had been of interest to the user, as well. 

My point is that when we look at artifacts in isolation from each other, we only see part of the picture, and often a very small part.  If we only look at indications of what was on the user's desktop, that doesn't tell us if the application was ever launched.  If we look at artifacts of program execution (UserAssist, Prefetch, etc.), those artifacts, in and of themselves, will not tell us what the user did once the application was launched; it won't tell us what functionality the user employed, if any.

Here's another way to look at it.  Let's say the user has CCleaner (a GUI tool) on their desktop.  Looking at just UserAssist or Prefetch...or, how about UserAssist and Prefetch...artifacts, what is the difference between the user launching CCleaner and deleting stuff, and launching CCleaner, waiting and then closing it?

None.  There is no difference. Which is why we need to go beyond just the initial, easy artifacts, and instead look at artifact clusters or constellations, as much as possible, to provide a clear(er) picture of behavior.  This is due to the nature of what we, as examiners, are looking at today.  None of the incidents we're looking at...targeted threats/APTs, ransomware/crimeware, violations of acceptable use policies, insider threats, etc...are based on single events or records. 

Consider ransomware...for the most part, these events were looked at, more often than not, as, "files were encrypted". End of story. But the reality is that in many cases, going back years, ransomware incidents involved much more than just encrypting files.  Threat actors were embedded within environments for weeks or months before ever encrypting a file, and during that time they were collecting information and modifying the infrastructure to meet their needs.  I say "were", but "still are" applies equally well.  And we've seen an evolution of this "business model" over the past few months, in that we know that data was exfil'd during the time the actor was embedded within the infrastructure, not due to our analysis, but because the threat actor releases it publicly, in order to "encourage" victims to pay. A great deal of activity needs to occur for all of this to happen...settings need to be modified, tools need to be run, data needs to be pulled back to the threat actor's environment, etc.  And because these actions occur over time, we cannot simply look to one, or a few artifacts in isolation, in order to see the full picture (or as full a picture as possible).

Dr. Ali Hadi recently authored a pair of interesting blog posts on the topic of USB devices (here, and here).  In these posts, Dr. Hadi essentially addresses the question of, how do we go about performing out usual analysis when some of the artifacts in our constellation are absent? 

Something I found fascinating about Dr. Hadi's approach is that he's essentially provided a playbook for USB device analysis.  While he went back and forth between two different tools, both of his blog posts provide sufficient information to develop that playbook in either tool.  For example, while Dr Hadi incorporated the use of Registry Explorer, all of the artifacts (as well as others) can also be derived via RegRipper plugins.  As such, you can create RegRipper profiles of those plugins, and then run the automatically against the data you've collected, automating the extraction of the necessary data.  Doing so means that while some things may be missing, others may not, and analysts will be able to develop a more complete picture of activity, and subsequently, more accurate findings.  And automation will reduce the time it takes to collect this information, making analysis more efficient, more accurate, and more consistent across time, analysts, etc.

Okay, so what?  Well, again...we have to stop thinking in isolation.  In this case, it's not about just looking at artifact constellations, but it's also about sharing what we see and learn with other analysts.  What one analyst learns, even the fact that a particular technique is still in use, is valuable to other analysts, as it can be used to significantly decrease their analysis time, while at the same time increasing accuracy, efficiency, and consistency. 

Let's think bigger picture...are we (DFIR analysts) the only ones involved?  In today's business environment, that's highly unlikely.  Most things of value to a DFIR analyst, when examined from a different angle, will also be valuable to a SOC analyst, or an EDR/EPP detection engineer.  Here's an example...earlier this year, I read that a variant of Ryuk had been analyzed and found to contain code for deploying Wake-on-LAN packets in order to increase the number of systems it could reach, and encrypt. As a result, I wrote a detection rule to alert when such packets were found originating from a system; the point is that something found by malware reverse engineers could be effectively employed by SOC analysts, which in turn would result in more effective response from DFIR analysts.

We need to go beyond.  It's not about looking at artifacts in isolation, and it's not about conducting our own analysis in isolation.  The bad guys don't do it...after all, we track them as groups.  So why not pursue all aspects of DFIR as a 'group'; why not look at groups of artifacts (constellations), and share our analysis and findings not just with other DFIR analysts, but other members of our group (malware RE, threat intel analyst, SOC analyst, etc.), as well?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Hardly a week (sometimes a day??) passes without some mention of ransomware, and another organization or municipality (or three) feeling the impact of a ransomware attack. In fact, just recently, the City of Durham, NC, was hit with a Ryuk ransomware infection, which by some reports, impacted their 911 capability.  At the end of February, the BBC reported that two organizations impacted by a ransomware infection had been down for three weeks.

CrowdStrike recently released their 2020 Global Threat Report includes a great deal of information regarding ransomware, as viewed through CS's lens. The report includes more than a few pages of what CS had seen over the previous year, with some thoughts as to what they expect to see going forward.

In addition, just last week, Microsoft published an interesting blog post regarding human-operated ransomware attacks (with a very telling graphic available here).  All of the events at which I spoke in 2019 focused on this very topic, that many of the ransomware attacks weren't about something that AV products would detect and prevent. The general perception of these attacks seemed to be predominantly, "oh, if I have AV or NGAV, I'm good..."; well, no.  Because these are human-operated attacks, the human operator is able to modify the infrastructure to meet their needs.  For example, pull plain text credentials from memory, in order to escalate privileges and extend their reach to other systems.  The better part of this activity is missed by AV, because sometimes, malware isn't required to perform the "attack".  Instead, attackers simply use the native MS tools provided within the operating system distribution, something referred to as "living off the land". 

Further, as discussed in the CrowdStrike GTR, ransomware actors are increasingly modifying the infrastructure's they've targeted by disabling security products, enabling WinRM (sometimes through GPOs), and just making things easier for themselves.  These changes often go unnoticed by the system owners but do serve as precursors to the actor deploying ransomware.  This means that if these infrastructure modifications are detected, and there's a response plan in place, the overall impact of the ransomware being deployed can be obviated.

Something that is rarely discussed at length, or in an inclusive manner, is the impact of a ransomware attack, and why some organizations choose to pay the ransom.  Sure, we're all generally aware of what happens...files are encrypted, everyone's caught by surprise, and suddenly things need to happen that no one was prepared to do.  In some cases, such as with hospitals, diagnostics and patient record keeping gets reduced to by-hand processes, and the same is often true when a municipality's 911 services are taken down by ransomware.

I recently read this ZDNet article (similarly discussed in this NakedSecurity article), which discusses how 11 cases against six criminals were dismissed because the data was lost as a result of a ransomware attack.  The article also provides a list of other similar issues (police depts experiencing ransomware attacks), going back to 2017.