Decoding the Windows Event Log using guestfish

The Windows Event Log system is Windows’ centralized way of capturing log messages from the operating system and a wide variety of applications.

In all versions of Windows the messages are stored in binary files and normally you can only read these using Microsoft’s proprietary Event Viewer program. In Windows Vista, Microsoft overhauled the entire messaging system and changed the binary format. Luckily a German computer forensics researcher named Andreas Schuster reverse engineered the format [PDF] and wrote a small GPL’d program called EvtxParser [download dir] which can decode it.

We can use guestfish (or libguestfs) along with EvtxParser to easily look at the events in any Windows Vista / 2008 / 7 virtual machine.

Firstly download EvtxParser. You don’t need to install it (indeed, it doesn’t come with any build system so you can’t install it without some effort). You do need to install a few supporting Perl modules though:

# yum install perl-Digest-CRC perl-DateTime \
    perl-Carp-Assert perl-CPAN tidy
# cpan install Data::Hexify

Also the Perl scripts in the EvtxParser zip file aren’t all executable, so chmod them:

$ chmod +x *.pl

Now grab some *.evtx files from your Windows Vista (or later) system. They are stored in the /Windows/System32/winevt/Logs/ directory:

# guestfish --ro -i -d WindowsGuest
><fs> ll win:/Windows/System32/winevt/Logs
total 10540
drwxrwxrwx 1 root root   28672 Oct  1  2010 .
drwxrwxrwx 1 root root       0 Jul 14  2009 ..
-rwxrwxrwx 2 root root 1118208 Dec 23 18:22 Application.evtx
-rwxrwxrwx 2 root root   69632 Sep 19  2010 HardwareEvents.evtx
-rwxrwxrwx 2 root root   69632 Sep 19  2010 Internet Explorer.evtx
-rwxrwxrwx 2 root root   69632 Sep 19  2010 Key Management Service.evtx
-rwxrwxrwx 2 root root   69632 Sep 19  2010 Media Center.evtx
[and many more]
><fs> download win:/Windows/System32/winevt/Logs/System.evtx /tmp/System.evtx
><fs> exit

You can directly dump the files you have downloaded as XML to reveal the events inside them.

$ ./evtxdump.pl /tmp/System.evtx | tidy -xml -indent -quiet | less

This gives me a 40,000 line XML document(!) As a representative sample, the last event is the shutdown event from when I shut the VM off last time:

  <Event xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/win/2004/08/events/event">
    <System>
      <Provider Name="Service Control Manager"
      Guid="{555908d1-a6d7-4695-8e1e-26931d2012f4}"
      EventSourceName="Service Control Manager" />
      <EventID Qualifiers="16384">7036</EventID>
      <Version>0</Version>
      <Level>4</Level>
      <Task>0</Task>
      <Opcode>0</Opcode>
      <Keywords>0x8080000000000000</Keywords>
      <TimeCreated SystemTime="2010-12-23T18:22:58.4980Z" />
      <EventRecordID>1452</EventRecordID>
      <Correlation />
      <Execution ProcessID="456" ThreadID="1748" />
      <Channel>System</Channel>
      <Computer>win7x32</Computer>
      <Security />
    </System>
    <EventData>
      <Data Name="param1">Power</Data>
      <Data Name="param2">stopped</Data>
      <Binary>50006F007700650072002F0031000000</Binary>
    </EventData>
  </Event>

A tip for reading these: the key field is the EventID. For example, EventID 1074 is a user-initiated clean shutdown.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Decoding the Windows Event Log using guestfish

  1. Alan

    Is there an open-source parser for older XP event log files?

    • rich

      I’ve not found an open source one.

      There is a closed source one, which I cannot find now, and also various Windows tools that appear to use the Windows API (ie. not access the *.evt/evtx files directly).

  2. Pingback: New in libguestfs: virt-log | Richard WM Jones

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