Binaries require no external dependencies; working from a
source checkout requires Python 2.6.x or 2.7.x and additional third-party apps
"Christmas is not a time nor a
season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in
mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
Readers of the SANS Computer Forensics Blog
Harlan Carvey’s Windows Incident Response blog
have likely caught wind of Registry Decoder
even went so far as to say “sounds like development is really ripping along (no
pun intended). If you do any analysis of Windows systems and you haven't looked
at this tool as a resource, what's wrong with you?” When Registry Decoder was first
released in September 2011, I spotted it via Team Cymru’s Dragon News Bytes
mailing list and filed it away for future use. Then, in most fortuitous
fashion, Andrew Case, one of the Volatility developers I’d reached out to for
September’s Volatility column, contacted me regarding Registry Decoder in early
November. Andrew co-develops Registry Decoder with Lodovico Marziale as part of
Digital Forensic Solutions and kindly provided me with content for the
remaining entirety of this introduction.
Registry Decoder is open source (GPL) and written
completely in Python and is downloadable via Google Code projects. It was
initially funded by the National Institute of Justice and now is funded by
Digital Forensics Solutions.
Registry Decoder was devised to automate the acquisition,
analysis, and reporting of registry contents. To accomplish this, there are
actually two projects. The first is RegistryDecoder Live
which allows for the safe acquisition of registry files from a
live machine by forcing a system restore point, thus putting the currently
active registry files into a read-only state in backup. It then reads these
files from backup either in System Restore Points for XP or from the Volume
Shadow Service on Windows Vista & Windows 7. As Registry Decoder Live acquires
files, it creates a database that can then be imported into the second tool, Registry Decoder
Registry Decoder can analyze registry files from a number
of sources and then provide a number of GUI-driven analysis capabilities. The
current version of the tool (1.1 as this is written) can import individual
registry files, raw (dd) disk images, raw (dd) split images, Encase (E01)
images, and databases from the live tool. Once evidence is imported and
pre-processed, the investigator then has a number of analysis tools available
and new evidence can be added to a case at any time.
Registry Decoder’s analysis capabilities include:
Browsing Hives (similar to Access Data’s
Hive Searching (more on this below)
Plugin System (similar to regripper)
Timelining based on last write time
Automated reporting of all of the above
Registry Decoder automates all of this functionality for
any number of registry hives and the reporting can handle exporting results
from multiple hives and analysis types into one report.
Andrew’s favorite Registry Decoder use case is USBSTOR
analysis. Almost every case involving investigating a specific employee requires
determining which (if any) USB drives were in use. To do this with Registry Decoder, all an
investigator has to do is create a case with the disk images or hives acquired,
run the USBSTOR
plugin, and then
export the results. After pre-processing is done, it takes mere minutes to have
a report created with the device name, serial number, etc. of any devices
connected. Also, since Registry Decoder pulls historical files from live
machines and disk images (System Restore & Volume Shadow Service), this
analysis can be run across hives going back months or years.
Similarly, while investigating data exfiltration between
multiple employees of a company, Andrew needed to know if they shared USB
drives. To make the determination he took the SYSTEM files from each machine,
loaded them into Registry Decoder and then used the plugin differencing ability
on the USBSTOR
immediately revealed what drives were shared between computers, including their
serial number. Another common use of the
differencing feature is with the Services
plugin as this quickly identifies malware if you difference your known good
disk image vs. a disk image of a machine suspected to be infected.
Registry Decoder’s search feature is one of its strongest
features. It allows you to search across any number of hives and filter by
keys/values/names, last write time range, wildcard searching, and bulk
searching with keyword files.
For a recent case, Andrew had to determine if a person
was accessing files they shouldn’t have been looking at. They had a desktop and
a laptop, both running XP and both with many System Restore Points. In less
than 30 minutes with Registry Decoder, Andrew needed only load the disk images
from the two machines into Registry Decoder, make a text file with all the
search terms, and then search all the terms across all the hives in the case
(including historical ones). This returned results that he then exported into
one report and was finished. Another useful
search is noted when viewing the search results tab, right click on any result,
and immediately jump into the Browse
view positioned at that key.
Another good use case includes path-based analysis which
allows you to determine if a registry path exists in any number of files. For whichever
files it is present in, one can then export the path and optionally its
key/value pairs. This is extremely useful in two situations:
if certain software is installed (P2P, cracked software, etc.), as you can simply
search any of the paths that the program creates and then export its key/values
inclusive of when and where the software was installed.
malware analysis as most malware writes to the registry. Searching across numerous
suspect systems for the malware’s path allows investigators to immediately determine
the extent of infection.
Registry Decoder’s roadmap includes more analysis plugins
and added support for memory analysis (integrate with Volatility’s existing
in-memory registry functionality).
The developers also want to add support for analyzing
previously deleted keys and name/value pairs within hives. The library utilized
for enumerating hives, reglookup
already supports this functionality so it is just a matter of integration.
Registry Decoder online acquisition component
I ran regdecoderlive32 on a 32bit Windows XP SP3 virtual
machine infected with Lurid and regdecoderlive64 on a Windows 7 SP1 64bit
One note for regdecoderlive32 on Windows XP systems with drives
formatted with NTFS. Even when running regdecoderlive32 with administrator
privileges the hidden System Volume Information directory is protected with
unique ACLs. To circumvent this issue, issue cacls
"C:\System Volume Information" /E /G :F
command prompt at the root of C: (this assumes the OS is installed on C:).
As seen in Figure 1, running regdecoderlive is as simple
as executing and defining a few parameters including description, output
directory (must be empty) and check boxes for acquisition of current and backup
|Figure1: Registry Decoder Live|
Once acquisition is complete, the results directory will
be populated with registryfiles/acquire_files.db
and related files. This results directory can (should) be written to portable
storage mounted on the target system or a network share, which can then be
consumed by Registry Decoder for offline analysis.
Registry Decoder offline analysis component
Registry Decoder can consume individual registry files,
raw (dd) disk images, and Encase (E01) images, including split images. Building
a case is as easy as adding a case name and number, investigator, comments, and
case directory. Adding evidence to a case after initial processing is created
is quite simple; you’ll be prompted to add new evidence after choosing Start Case
and opening an existing
I only tested Registry
Decoder with the acquisition database acquired from a Lurid-infected Windows XP
VM via Registry Decoder Live.
Initial processing can take
some time depending on the number of restore points or volume shadows.
Once initial processing is
complete however, Registry Decoder is nimble and effective.
I mimicked some of Andrew’s
use cases in this analysis of a Lurid
victim. From runtime analysis of the Lurid sample I had (md5: 84d24967cb5cbacf4052a3001692dd54)
I knew a few key attributes to test Registry Decoder with. Services and
registry keys created include WmdmPmSp
As the search functionality is a strong suit, I selected CORE from the current
snapshot acquired and searched WmdmPmSp
. Right-click search results and
select Switch to File View
navigate to the Browser
key values, etc. as seen in Figure 2.
|Figure 2: Registry Decoder search results|
I made use of the timeline
functionality and was amply rewarded. Imagine a scenario where have a ballpark
time window for a malware compromise or unauthorized access. You can filter the
timeline window accordingly and produce output that is compliant to the
SleuthKit’s mactime format. It’s not human readable currently (next release) so
read it in with Autopsy or TSK. Timeline gathering and results are combined in
Figure 3. It clearly identified exactly when Lurid wrote to HKLM\SYSTEM\CONTROLSET001\SERVICES\WmdmPmSp.
|Figure 3: Registry Decoder timeline results|
I also tested USBSTOR (unrelated to Lurid) on both acquisitions
(Windows 7 and Windows XP) and the results were accurate and immediate in both
cases as seen Figure 4.
|Figure 4: Registry Decoder USBSTOR results|
Explore the Plugins options
included with Registry Decoder, the possibilities are endless. SYSTEM will
provide you a nice summary overview as you begin, IE Typed URLs is great for
inappropriate browser use, Services with Perform Diff enabled is excellent for
malware hunting, System Runs will give you instant gratification regarding
what’s configured to run on startup, ACMRU queries the registry keys that have
been typed into the Windows Search dialog box, and on and on and on. J
I’m extremely excited about this tool and imagining its
use at scale to be of incredible use for enterprise incident responders and
forensic examiners. I’ve been chatting with Andrew at length while writing this
and he continuously mentions pending features including some visualization
options and the aforementioned Volatility interaction. I can’t wait; check out
Registry Decoder out for yourself ASAP.
Ping me via email if you have questions (russ at
holisticinfosec dot org).
Andrew Case, Registry Decoder
developer and project lead