Determining OS version from an evidence image

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One of the first steps an examiners will need to carry out once they have an evidence image is to log system metadata, including OS version and patch level. This may be of particular importance if the image in question is from a machine that is suspected of having been compromised.


Windows 95/98/ME

Examine the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.DAT registry file, the key Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\, and values Version and VersionNumber. (Backup copies are found in .CAB files in C:\WINDOWS\SYSBCKUP). Or, the file C:\SYSTEM.1ST may do, but it dates from the first installation.

Alternatively, examine the text file C:\MSDOS.SYS, and particularly the WinVer parameter.

WinVer OS
4.00.0950 Windows 95
4.00.1111 Windows 95 OSR2
4.03.1212 Windows 95 OSR2.1
4.03.1214 Windows 95 OSR2.5
4.10.1998 Windows 98
4.10.2222 Windows 98 SE
4.90.3000 Windows ME

Windows NT

Windows 2000/2003/XP/Vista

Information about a running system can be displayed using the command `ver` (and `systeminfo` on some systems).

During a forensic examination, information regarding the version of Windows can be found in a number of places. For example, by default, the Windows directory on Windows XP is "C:\Windows", where on Windows NT and 2000, it was "C:\Winnt". This is not definitive, however, because this directory name is easily modified during installation.

Determining the version of Windows from the Software Registry Hive file - navigate to the Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion key, and examine the values beneath the key; specifically, values such as ProductName, CSDVersion, ProductId (if available), BuildLab, and on Vista, BuildLabEx.

Determining the version of Windows from file version information - locate the file %WinDir%\system32\ntoskrnl.exe and review the file version information/strings from the resource section of the PE file. You can view this information with a hex editor, or extract it using a variety of means. There is a Perl module (Win32::File::VersionInfo) that will allow you to extract this information, and the Perl script illustrates a platform independent means of examining the PE header and ultimately locating the file version information.

In order to determine the difference between Windows XP Professional and Home versions, look for the %WinDir%\system32\prodspec.ini file; it contains information regarding the Product type (either XP Pro or Home). Another way to do this is to look at Microsoft Product Code (first 5 digits of Product ID). Some of these values:

Value (MPC) Version
55034 Windows XP Professional English
55683 Windows XP Professional Russian
55681 Windows XP Home Edition Russian


Information about a running system, including the kernel version, can be displayed using the command `uname -a`. However, this is not much good if you performing dead analysis on a disk image.


A number of Linux distributions create a file in /etc to identify the release or version installed.

Distro Tag
Red Hat /etc/redhat-release
Debian /etc/debian-version



You can get the release and version of BSDs operating system inside the kernel images, even with only a disk image.

OS Kernel path
FreeBSD /boot/kernel/kernel
OpenBSD /bsd
NetBSD /netbsd

You can use strings and grep tools to find this information with strings kernel_path | grep os_name. (e.g.: strings /bsd | grep OpenBSD)