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Daily Blog #52: Understanding the artifacts LNK Files

Hello Reader,
               Time to continue the series of understanding the artifacts building up to a deeper understanding of proving usage. Today we are going to go into a well known artifact LNK files and them move through Jump lists, MRU keys and the other artifacts we use to establish use and explain how to stitch them together. Along the way we will detail the nuances that can change your opinion or possibly lead to misinterpretation.

LNK files are one the simplest artifacts and many, many, many people have written about them. Here are some of my favorite LNK write ups if you are reading this and are not familiar with them:

http://www.forensicswiki.org/wiki/LNK
http://www.forensicfocus.com/link-file-evidentiary-value
http://windowsir.blogspot.com/2013/06/there-are-four-lights-lnk-parsing-tools.html

The funny thing about artifacts as simple as LNK files is that they reveal as much information to the examiner as they care to know. When I do interviews for a position at G-C I ask a series of questions relating to artifacts and what they mean to the examiner. This isn't a trick question, which I explain to the interviewee, but rather a gauge to determine how far down the rabbit hole the examiner has gone. As an example for LNK files I would ask the following to an interviewee:

'What can you determine from a LNK file'

I can determine the rough expertise of an examiner by how many of the following points they answer with. I then take this in combination with other artifact questions/scenarios and the level of depth they answer to determine their level of forensic experience rather than focus on their resume.

Beginner Answer:
A LNK file reveals what files and/or programs a user accessed.

Intermediate Answer:
A LNK files reveals what files and/or programs a user accessed and the network path and MAC address of the where the access took place.

Experienced Answer:
A LNK file reveals what files and/or programs a user accessed and the network path and MAC address of where the access took place. In addition it contains the timestamps captured from the file and/or program being accessed that represents the file at the time the access took place.

Senior Answer:
A LNK file reveals what files and/or programs a user accessed and the full path\network path and MAC address of where the access took place. In addition it contains the timestamps captured from the file and/or program being accessed that represents the file at the time the access took place. It also contains the volume serial number of the device which you can use to match the LNK back to the volume the file came from if not a network data source. In addition LNK files contain shell items allowing the examiner to determine the type of folder being accessed (volume/network/file/uri).

Expert Answer:
A LNK file contains two sets of timestamps relevant to the examiner. The first set of MAC times belong to the LNK file itself, it reveals by creation date when the file was first accessed as recorded by this LNK file. The modification time records the last time the LNK file was updated and should reflect the last successful access. The second set of dates is maintained within the LNK file and represents the MAC times of the file being accessed based on the last successful access to the file from the LNK file. In order to determine prior states of the file you can examine the restore points (XP), shadow copies (win 7) and carved LNK files to find all the other versions of this LNK file that also reference this file and volume serial number/shell item uniquely. Each updated set of internal MAC times represents another successful access of the file through the LNK File and should be counted towards usage.

Now if you noticed I didn't say the Expert Answer had to go into depth on the technical structure as to what all can be contained within a LNK file, that isn't as important to me as the ability to properly interpret what the data means in the context of analysis. I assume that anyone who can give me an expert answer already has the technical knowledge of the file format to give additional facts when needed, but I find that people who give just technical information are missing the larger picture of what they data means in their analysis and what they can prove with it.

So with that said, tomorrow we will continue on with usage artifacts. Do you think I missed something or do you have an even better answer? Leave it in the comments, I'm always interested in additional views on analyzing familiar artifacts! 

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