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Windows Registry Forensics – Pt. 2


I talked for a bit about the Windows Registry and what are its main purposes, as well as what we can do with it; before delving further into that, I wanted to briefly mention a tool you might use for your forensic Analysis – Autopsy.

I will also just touch upon another tool you might use as well – FTK Imager.

Finally, I will also provide some useful links at the end of the article.


Data Acquisition

So, you have a disk to analyze, and want to access it so you can dig around for useful artifacts to uncover what has transpired on the said system. Remember that your disk needs cloning/imaging – this is best practice, and you should always try to copy the data you want to do some forensics on. This is also known as data acquisition.

By now, you know that you can look at the Windows Registry with the registry editor (regedit.exe), however the best way to do this is to acquire a copy of that data and analyze the copy.


You can go to %WINDIR%\System32\Config and try to copy those files that are in fact our registry hives:

I selected the files here and tried to copy them to my Desktop:

After checking the box and clicking on continue, Windows won’t let me copy the files to the desktop:

This happens because the files are restricted.

Luckily, there are tools that can help us with acquisition of the registry hive files. One such tool is Autopsy, which lets you acquire data from both live system and disk images.

Once installed and ran, you need to create a new case:

You then have some optional info to fill, to help you stay organized etc. (I won’t be doing that here – see the image below)

Further, you need to add a data source:

I am choosing Disk Image or VM file here which I previously downloaded from the Cfreds (Computer Forensics Reference DataSet portal) found here:

Note that if you download the dataset I linked, you should download all the files from .7z.001 to .7z.003 and place them in the same folder; afterward, just extract the .001 and 7z will know to merge the three files together, giving you the disk image I am using in the article here.

For the configure ingest step, you can do a lot of stuff here, but I am choosing just two options – Recent Activity and File Type Identification. If you were to choose all for let’s say a disk that’s slightly larger, you’d have to wait for a bit, before Autopsy did all its stuff.

Now, I just must wait for Autopsy to do its thing and see what I’ve got!

One more quick note: This can take some time and eat up your RAM – Autopsy 64bit recommends you have 16GB RAM. Also, when ran on Windows it will create a max heap size of 4GB, leaving the remaining memory to the OS, and Solr text indexing service. You can change this value by changing the value of Maximum JVM memory, found under Tools -> Options -> Application as shown in the image below:

Going back to our dataset, the situation is now looking something like this:

As you can see in the screenshot above, Autopsy has found a bunch of very interesting things! From Installed software to OS info, Web History, Bookmarks… so many artifacts! 

But, since the topic here is the Registry, let’s investigate that specifically.

Before going further, I’d like to add that this image comes with 12 questions for you to try and answer. This is perfect for the scope of this article and the reason why I included it.

I will answer a couple of questions and leave you to try and solve the others yourself. With some Google-fu, you could probably find the answers online, but for the sake of learning do try to go for the questions yourself first. (There’s even a Youtube video, that I won’t link here, but if you get stuck search for it, or write in the comment section of this article and I will share it with you)

Practice Questions

The questions are:

  1. What operating system was used on the computer?
  2. When was the install date?
  3. Who is the registered owner?
  4. What is the computer name?
  5. Who was the last user to logon into PC?
  6. What is the account name of the user who mostly uses the computer?
  7. When was the last recorded computer shutdown date/time?
  8. What is the timezone settings?
  9. Explain the information of network interface(s) with an IP address assigned by DHCP.
  10. List all accounts in OS except the system accounts: Administrator, Guest, systemprofile, LocalService
  11. What applications were installed by the suspect after installing OS?
  12. List external storage devices attached to PC.

Q1: What operating system was used on the computer?

A: For this, we can look under the Operating System Information – which is the output for the ingest module:

On the righthand side we can see two source files for the Software hive, by clicking on one of those, we can see in the window below all that Autopsy knows about this image.

From the underlined part above, we can conclude that this is a backup of the Registry – because of the RegBack in the path.

When we look at the second Software Hive, we can see what OS is used on this computer:

We now know the answer to first question is – Windows 7 Ultimate SP 1.


Q2: When was the install date?

A: I will just drop a hint here! The answer is already visible… no need to even install Autopsy and load the image from this article.

Q3: Who is the registered owner?

A: See above.

Q4: What is the computer name?

A: Same as Q3.

Q5: Who was the last user to logon to the PC?


Q6: What is the account name of the user who mostly uses the computer?


Q7: When was the last recorded computer shutdown date/time?

A: We can look at the System Hive again, and click on the Application tab (remember to use the one that doesn’t have RegBack in its name)

Under application, we drill down to ControlSet001, expand the Control node, and go all the way down to the Windows node (notice the size of the scroll bar)

Highlighting the Windows node, we can see the ShutdownTime key, which we now just need to convert to something human readable

We go to our trusty Cyberchef and create our recipe to decode this value.

Step 1 – We change the Little Endian in our Cyberchef recipe – we used Swap Endianness recipe

Note that I copied the value from Autopsy, but removed the whitespaces

We’re also converting from 8 byte words, so I changed the default 4 byte word length to 8 bytes.

Step 2 – We search for Remove Whitespace module and add it to our recipe

Step 3 – We add Windows Filetime to UNIX Timestamp to our recipe

The output above is what we’re after, we just need to convert the UNIX timestamp. Also, the default is Decimal, which I changed to Hex (Big Endian)

Step 4 – For our final step, we add one last ingredient to the recipe – From UNIX Timestamp

And that’s it! The answer to our question is – last recorded shutdown time was on Wednesday, 25th of March, 15:31:05 UTC, 2015

*Note that in the Windows Filetime to Unix Timestamp Hex (big endian) is selected. Change it to Little endian, and pay close attention to the output.

Questions 8 to 12 (and other unanswered questions) are left for you to try and solve. Feel free to share your experiences, results, or anything really, in the comment section!

FTK Imager

Before concluding, I wanted to mention another tool you might end up using in your analysis – FTK Imager.

This one can also extract files from a disk image (or a live system) through the mounting of the disk/drive in the program.

Below is one screenshot of my mounted C: drive.

You can also extract the Registry Hives with FTK Imager by clicking on the little yellow safe icon (image above) – called Obtain Protected Files.

This option is only there when a live system is being investigated. Also, I’d like to note that this option, even though it can extract all the hives to a path you chose, it isn’t able to copy the Amcache.hve (See 1st part of the series) which keeps information about executed applications, which are usually interesting (even necessary) to investigate when conducting a forensic analysis – specifically because it contains evidence about programs last executed.


I hope you liked my part 2 of the series! It was a blast for me, and I will continue with this topic in the future.

I purposefully chose to make a ‘demo’ by using a tool, but I will also write about some important artifacts/keys that you might want to keep in mind when investigating those hives!

Stay tuned.



Cover image by Alexandre Debiève

#autopsy #registry #ftk_imager #windows #hives

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