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Thumbs.db is a file created by windows when thumbnail view is used. It is a hidden file not viewed by most users and not updated when files are moved from a folder which images have passed through or deleted. This gives a secondary chance that someone will leave behind at least partial evidence of an image in their windows folders.

The thumbnails in Thumbs.db are stored in a OLE 2 Compound Document format. It's the same format that MS Office uses.

There is a forensic application developed under the open source project over at sourceforge called vinetto at that can extract them. It does require a python enviornment. Additionally there are several other java solutions based around the Jakarta project that is apart of Apache. Additional resources about thumbs.db can be found in a white paper at

MiTeC Windows File Analyzer [1] is a tool for forensic analysis of Thumbnail Databases, Prefetch files, shortcuts, IExplore Index.DAT files and Recycle Bin contents on a Windows system. It will print a report of analyzed files.

Windows Vista

Thumbs.db no longer exists in Vista. This data has been moved to \Users\\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer