Monday, June 22, 2015

A first look at Windows 10 prefetch files

Windows 10 prefetch files (*.pf) show a different file format compared to previous ones.  At first glance you'll spot no textual strings inside, and this was the initial reason that make me try to understand how they changed.

quick&dirty journey

I guess that neither you nor I will run into Windows 10 DFIR cases for a while. That's what I thought when Claudia Meda (@KlodiaMaida) contacted me, showing me a couple of Windows 10 prefetch files. She then provided me some interesting clues that tickled the curious george monkey in me. Officially I do not have spare time, since it's already allocated, so I illegally used the non-existent spare time of spare time: please don't betray me... so I hope you'll tolerate any shortcuts in my quick&dirty journey into the entrails of windows (disgusting, isn't it?).

first lead

First, what a nude prefetch file has to say? Check the first bytes in the next figure, which shows a prefetch file for calc... sorry, now it's calculator (sad, I'll miss you dear calc!). They should remind you some other "prefetch folder" related file: can't you find your memo?

All kidding aside, what the MAM signature recalls is also used by the SuperFetch file format, which on Windows 7 exhibits the very similar MEMO MEM0 signature. A great old (gosh, 2011!) post addressing the SuperFetch file format (and so MEM[0|O] format) is "Windows SuperFetch file format – partial specification" by ReWolf, a worth reading. From there, you can get that the MEM files are, in the first instance, compressed containers and that the Windows API in charge to decompress them is RtlDecompressBuffer.

an actionable lead

I launched windbg inside a Windows 10 virtualized guest (Pro Insider Preview 10.0.10074) and I put a couple of bp on RtlDecompressBuffer and RtlDecompressBufferEx functions: the target process is the SuperFetch process, the svchosted sysmain.dll. To be short, I landed on the moon, which in the case is the sysmain!SmDecompressBuffer method: in the next picture you can see some green boxes (I signed following the decompression branch) and some yellow boxes (checksum check, more on this later).

The routine core is represented in the next picture, where you can (could, if I correctly re-sized the image) easily spot the call to the target method RtlDecompressBufferEx.

When applied to our MAM case, in the end you get three bytes with the magic signature 0x4d4d41, one byte that identifies the compression algorithm used and, eventually, the presence of a checksum: the next 4 bytes are the uncompressed size of the original buffer, then if checksum is in place, you'll get 4 more bytes preceding after [errata 22.06.2015] the uncompressed size that contain the checksum. The remaining data is what must be decompressed with RtlDecompressBufferEx. Which algorithm in used?

The followings are the compression package types and procedures as they are in ntifs.h.

//  Compression package types and procedures.
#define COMPRESSION_FORMAT_NONE          (0x0000)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_FORMAT_DEFAULT       (0x0001)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_FORMAT_LZNT1         (0x0002)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_FORMAT_XPRESS        (0x0003)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_FORMAT_XPRESS_HUFF   (0x0004)   // winnt

#define COMPRESSION_ENGINE_STANDARD      (0x0000)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_ENGINE_MAXIMUM       (0x0100)   // winnt
#define COMPRESSION_ENGINE_HIBER         (0x0200)   // winnt

So considering that the MAM signature usually is followed by 0x4 (or 0x84), the algorithm is COMPRESSION_FORMAT_XPRESS_HUFF.


To replicate and double checking that findings, I created a small Python Windows native script: with native I pinpoint that you can't use on other OSes different from Windows, since it uses native api calls. Moreover you need Windows 8.1 at least, since the RtlDecompressBufferEx was introduced starting from that OS version. You could use the script to decompress prefetch files, if in need: but you'll get a better solutions at the end of the post. I tweeted about this script some days ago, pointing to a gist I made and that you can find at


In the first instance I ignored the checksum assembly branch, but then I realized that SuperFetch Windows 10 files show the same MAM signature: by applying the previous script, decompression fails. Previously I introduced the fact that a checksum could be present in the prefetch file, when in the third byte (algorithm) you get the most significant bit set: in those cases you see 0x84 as the byte value.

Reconsidering the checksum branch, here is it what happens: the (prefetch|superfetch) file will have 4 more bytes set to the calculated checksum, those bytes stored after the decompresion size (so, bytes 8-11, starting to count from 0): that bytes must be skipped during the decompression phase.

The checksum is a simple CRC32, calculated on the whole file, zeroing out the current file checksum: you can then realize why in the dis-assembly  RtlComputeCrc32 is called three times. I'll updated my Python script to consider that checksum, both on the gist and on the hotoloti github repository.


No, I'm not drunk. yajul (it sounds nice) means Yet Another Joachim Uber Library. Joachim Metz published and currently maintains, among many others, the "Windows Prefetch File (PF) format" document, where he describes the various formats those file use: if you couple it with his "Windows SuperFetch database format", you'll get all the intimate details of Prefetch and SuperFetch files, compression containers included.

Moreover, his libssca (Prefetch files) and libagdb (SuperFetch files) libraries, with the help of libfwnt, are able to correctly handle the decompression and parsing of MAM compression containers (well, the libraries handles all the variants), and that is damned cool!

I want to personally thank Joachim for his prompt support when I reached him with my findings: among other things I got very good suggestions and observations on my short research. I want to share with you an interesting link he provided to me, link to a work made by Jeff Bush on Microsoft Compression Formats.


In the end we get that starting from Windows 10, Prefetch and SuperFetch files are compressed with the XPRESS HUFFMAN algorithm, actually a.k.a. the MAM format. Which is not new: Windows 8.1 uses it to compress SuperFetch files, but not Prefetch files. Moreover from what I see checksum is present only for SuperFetch files and never for Prefetch files.

It remains unclear why Prefetch and SuperFetch files are compressed. Usually compression means space saving (IO reduction?) and computational effort, but it could mean obfuscation too: if you have any clue, I'd be happy to get it.

Anyway with the excellent work made by Joachim we'll be able to understand and to handle those file without any problem. Last but not least, his work his Open Source: not bad, especially in the DFIR world, isn't it?

If you'd need my Python script you can download it from hotoloti or from the gist.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

iOS 8.3: the end of iOS Forensics?

The latest iOS update (iOS 8.3) is a real nightmare for digital forensics specialists. This article will try to clarify what can you really obtain from an iOS device with iOS 8.3.

As we already know from Jonathan Zdziarski blog, with the introduction of iOS 8 is no longer possible to obtain a so called "Advanced Logical" acquisition based on lockdown service.

However, when we find a device without passocode it is still possible to obtain a backup, although it may be password protected if the user has previously set a password for the local backup.

In the same way we can perform a backup if we find a turned on and locked device, but only if we are able to find a pairing lockdown certificate and the device has been unlocked at least once by the user before the seizure. The same problem about an eventual backup password previously set by the device owner applies to this case too.

The real nightmare is when, and this is the most common case, we have to acquire a device that was turned off.

In this case, also with the lockdown certificate, it is not possible to obtain a backup before unlocking at least once the device. In practical it means that we need to know the passcode to create a backup.

Moreover iOS 8.3 added a new security measure that prevents external tools (not only forensics tools but also iDevice browsing tools like iFunBox) from accessing third party applications sandbox. It means that the only way to read third party contents is to create a backup....but as we already noticed to create a backup you need an unlocked device or a locked device not turned off and a lockdown certificate.

So the question is: what can we really obtain from a locked and turned off device?

It depends, of course, if we are able or not to find a lockdown certificate.

If we haven't got a lockdown certificate we can only recover information about the device and in particular:

  • Device class (iPhone, iPad, iPod)
  • Device name
  • Device color
  • Hardware model
  • iOS version
  • Unique Device ID (UDID)
  • Wi-Fi Address
We can use the tool ideviceinfo that is available in libimobiledvice.

If we have a lockdown certificate there are some more information that we can recover by using the AFC protocol. In particular:

  • Device information
    • IMEI (for devices with telephony capability)
    • Bluetooth Address
    • Language
    • Date and time
    • Timezone
    • Battery charge level
    • Total NAND memory size
    • Empty space size
  • Backup configuration
    • Local vs. iCloud
    • For local backup we can verify if it is password protected
    • Last backup date
  • Installed application list
  • Application distribution on Springboard
  • File contained inside applications that are using iTunes File Sharing. During our test we were able to successfully recover files from:
    • Adobe Reader
    • iZip
    • WinZip
    • File App
    • Office Plus
    • Smart Office
    • USB Disk
  • iBooks folder, containing all the books (both ePub or PDF) saved by the user in the application
  • Downloads folder, containing downloaded files or, in some cases, applications updates
  • iTunes_Control folder
    • iTunes subfolder, containing the iDevice iTunes library list
    • Music subfolder, containing audio files loaded into iTunes library. Files that were originally loaded into iTunes from a PC/MAC are also available
  • Videos loaded into the Device from a PC/MAC
For other folders we can obtain the file name list. For example you can recover it from the DCIM folder and know, at least, if and how many images are stored in the iDevice.

In our test we were able to obtain filename list from:
  • DCIM
  • PhotoStramsData
  • PhotoData
  • Purchases
  • Radio
In the end a short recap:
  • Unlocked device
    • You can always create a local backup
    • If the user has previously set a backup password you need to crack it
  • Locked device
    • Turned on and with lockdown certificate
      • You can create a local backup
      • The same problem as the previous case applies if the user has previously set a backup password
      • Be sure that the device keep charging during the backup process
    • Turned off device and with lockdown certificate
      • Use AFC protocol and recover the most information that you can, as explained in this article
    • Turned on/off device without a lockdown certificate
      • Only device information (name, UDID, etc.)
So, in the end, a suggestion: if you find a turned on device try to isolate it and DO NOT TURN IT OFF before searching for a lockdown certificate on a synced PC/MAC.

For more information on this topic we suggest our book "Learning iOS Forensics", published by PacktPub in March 2015 and authored by Mattia Epifani and Pasquale Stirparo.