Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Device LastRemovalDate & LastArrivalDate Behavior in Windows 8

Many people have asked me the conditions when the LastRemovalDate property gets populated and why its missing in some cases. I had run some test cases to determine the conditions and behavior of windows 8 with device insertions and removals earlier and am now documenting the results here. For those unaware of these timestamps, please read the post here first.

Device activity behavior

Whenever a device is plugged into a windows 8 machine, the LastArrivalDate timestamp gets set (to current date & time). At the same time, the LastRemovalDate gets deleted (if it was set earlier). Now whenever the device is removed from the system (when system is running!) that is the only time the LastRemovalDate will get set (to current date & time). Windows can detect both a clean eject as well as an unclean direct disconnect of the device, and in both cases the LastRemovalDate timestamp gets set.

If a device is attached to a system and then the system is shutdown subsequently with device still attached, then the LastRemovalDate will NOT get updated! So if you are seeing a missing value for LastRemovalDate, this is likely what happened, ie, the device was still plugged into the system when it was shut down. So the windows last shutdown timestamp for that session could be taken as the LastRemovalDate by an analyst.
Now on subsequent reboot(s), this device timestamp (LastRemovalDate) will not get updated and it will remain missing, until the device is seen by windows again and windows witnesses a removal of that device (as noted above).

However, also note that even if the device is NOT removed and re-plugged in, windows will still treat it that way when you reboot the system. So, reboots with a USB disk plugged in will update the LastArrivalDate as if it had been inserted immediately on boot.  This means that if you have a USB disk always connected to the system and never removed, windows will still update the LastArrivalDate each time on a reboot.

How this impacts an analysis?

The forensic analyst must be careful about interpretation here, the LastArrivalDate may not be the last time the device was physically connected by a user, it may have been there (connected) for a long time prior! One way to check is compare this with the system boot time. If they are quite close (within a few seconds or a minute), then its probably connected prior to boot, else it was indeed the last time device was physically connected.

Also because LastRemovalDate is deleted upon subsequent device arrivals, you should never ever see LastRemovalDate that is prior to a LastArrivalDate. If you do, then that probably means the clock on the machine has been altered between insertion and removal of the device!

The table below summarizes activity and behavior of these timestamps.

Activity / Action
Device Plugged in
Device Removed
 (Both Clean Eject & Direct Removal)
Machine Shutdown with device still plugged in
Machine Restarted with device still plugged in (device not removed and re-attached)
    The dash ( - ) indicates no changes occured, values remain what they were earlier.

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