A recent case involved the download of a contraband file and I was asked to establish what happened just before the download in order to try and establish who was responsible. This scenario is fairly commonplace and I usually start with a timeline analysis of the file system activity around the event in question. An invaluable enscript for this is Geoff Black's Timeline Report which can also be found within the Guidance Software Enscript Resource center. The html report produced by this script is particularly cool.
In my case my analysis showed there were a number of link files in a number of system restore points all created at a time and date just before the download. They were all named in the form A000XXXX.lnk (xxxx being a variable number) and I could see from a rough and ready examination of the data that they all pointed to one particular file saved on the users desktop. As these link files were stored within restore points the first hurdle to overcome was to establish the link files original name and path. This information is stored within the changelog files of each respective restore point. Manually searching through this file for the restore point file name (e.g. A000XXXX.lnk) will reveal the files original path. There used to be an enscript for parsing the changelog files but it was written for version 5, however I was able to track down a version that worked in version 6 at Paul Bobby's excellent blog/web site (this enscript can also be found within the Guidance Software Enscript Resource Center). The changelog files contain a lot of information and all I really needed was the original filename and path - the scripts output may be a little bit of an overkill*. Another utility out there is the Mandiant Restore Point Analyzer. I used this utility to determine the original paths and file names.
All of the link files related to one link file stored within a users Recent folder. In my case the file the link file linked to was created and stored upon the desktop, thus causing the initial link file to be created. Over a period the target file was opened and additional information written into it, thus causing the link file to be updated. Harry Parsonage's paper on link files illuminates this further.
I copied the link files out of my image and loaded them into Sanderson Forensics Linkalyzer. This program decodes and displays the contents of link files into a grid much like a spreadsheet ( I was going to post a screenshot but sanitising the contents became too much of a pain) and very quickly allowed me to see that the target file was being regularly accessed and modified. Because the target file size is also stored within the link file I could also see that the file size was growing over time. The program produces good reports and has many other abilities beyond the scope of this blog post, but in short I thoroughly recommend it.
Now as far as my case was concerned the target file was clearly linked to the suspect and it proved worthwhile delving into those restore point link files.
Forensic Analysis of System Restore Points in Microsoft Windows XP
*Now what would be really useful is an enscript that simply parsed out the original path and filename of only all user selected (blue checked) files sitting in restore points. I would envisage the output to be a three column csv file - Current Filename, Original Path and Filename, Restore Point Creation Date.