Implementing functionality that is already available in an available tool is something that has always taught me a lot, thus I keep on doing it when I encounter something I want to fully understand. In this case it concerns the ‘hiberfil.sys’ file on Windows. As usual I first stumbled upon the issue and started writing scripts to later find out someone had written a nice article about it, which you can read here (1). For the sake of completeness I’m going to repeat some of the information in that article and hopefully expand upon it, I mean it’d be nice if I could use this entry as a reference page in the future for when I stumble again upon hibernation files. Our goal for today is going to be to answer the following question:
What’s a hiberfil.sys file, does it have slack space and if so how do we find and analyze it?
To answer that question will hopefully be answered in the following paragraphs; we are going to look at the hibernation process, hibernation file, it’s file format structure, how to interpret it and finally analyze the found slack space. As usual you can skip the post and go directly to the code.
When you put your computer to ‘sleep’ there are actually several ways in which it can be performed by the operating system one of those being the hibernation one. The hibernation process puts the contents of your memory into the hiberfil.sys file so that the state of all your running applications is preserved. By default when you enable hibernation the hiberfil.sys is created and filled with zeros. To enable hibernation you can run the following command in an elevated command shell:
powercfg.exe -H on
If you want to also control the size you can do:
powercfg.exe -H -Size 100
An interesting fact to note is that Windows 7 sets the size of the hibernation file size to 75% of your memory size by default. According to Microsoft documentation (2) this means that hibernation process could fail if it’s not able to compress the memory contents to fit in the hibernation file. This of course is useful information since it indicates that the contest of the hibernation file is compressed which usually will make basic analysis like ‘strings’ pretty useless.
if you use strings always go for ‘strings -a <inputfile>’ read this post if you are wondering why.
The hibernation file usually resides in the root directory of the system drive, but it’s not fixed. If an administrators wants to change the location he can do so by editing the following registry key as explained by this (3) msdn article:
Key Name: HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\
Value Name: PagingFiles
Data: C:\pagefile.sys 150 500
In the Data field, change the path and file name of the pagefile, along with the minimum and maximum file size values (in megabytes).
So if you are performing an incident response or forensic investigation make sure you check this registry key before you draw any conclusion if the hiberfil.sys file is absent from it’s default location. Same goes for creating memory images using hibernation, make sure you get the 100% and write it to a location which doesn’t destroy evidence or where the evidence has already been collected.
Where does the slack space come from you might ask? That’s an interesting question since you would assume that each time the computer goes into hibernation mode it would create a new hiberfil.sys file, but it doesn’t. Instead it will overwrite the current file with the contents it wants to save. This is what causes slack space, since if the new data is smaller in size than the already available files the data at the end of the file will still be available even if it’s not referenced by the new headers written to the file.
From a forensic standpoint that’s pretty interesting since the unreferenced but available data might contain important information to help the investigation along. If you are working with tools that automatically import / parse or analyse the hiberfil.sys file you should check / ask / test how they handle slack space. In a best case scenario they will inform you about the slack space and try to recover the information, in a less ideal scenario they will inform you that there is slack space but it’s not able to handle the data and in the worst case scenario it will just silently ignore that data and tell you the hibernation file has been processed successfully.