New Technology File System (NTFS)
The New Technology File System (NTFS) is a file system developed and introduced by Microsoft in 1995 with Windows NT. As a replacement for the FAT file system, it quickly became the standard for Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.
The features of NTFS include:
- Improved performance, reliability and disk space utilization
- Security access control lists
- File system journaling
NTFS keeps track of lots of time stamps. Each file has a time stamp for 'Create', 'Modify', 'Access', and 'Entry Modified'. The latter refers to the time when the MFT entry itself was modified. These four values are commonly abbreviated as the 'MACE' values. Note that other attributes in each MFT record may also contain timestamps that are of forensic value.
Additional information on how NTFS timestamps work when files are moved or copied is available here: Microsoft KB 299648
Changes in Windows Vista
In Windows Vista, NTFS no longer tracks the Last Access time of a file by default. This feature can be enabled by the user if desired via setting the registry key 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem\NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate' to '0'.
Alternate Data Streams
The NTFS file system includes a feature referred to as Alternate Data Streams (ADSs). This feature has also been referred to as "multiple data streams", "alternative data streams", etc. ADSs were included in NTFS in order to support the resource forks employed by the Hierarchal File System (HFS) employed by Macintosh systems.
As of Windows XP SP2, files downloaded via Internet Explorer, Outlook, and Windows Messenger were automatically given specific "zoneid" ADSs. The Windows Explorer shell would then display a warning when the user attempted to execute these files (by double-clicking them).
Sysadmins should be aware that prior to Vista, there are no tools native to the Windows platform that would allow you to view the existence of arbitrary ADSs. While ADSs can be created and their contents executed or viewed, it wasn't until the "/r" switch was introduced with the "dir" command on Vista that arbitrary ADSs would be visible. Prior to this, tools such as LADS could be used to view the existence of these files.
Examiners should be aware that most forensic analysis applications, including EnCase and ProDiscover, will display ADSs found in acquired images in red.