User Access Logging (UAL)

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Location: %SystemRoot%\System32\Logfiles\SUM\ folder.

Yield Information related to user access and activity. On Domain Controllers, yield information on sessions opening on domain-joined computers (if the given DC was reached for authentication / Group Policy retrieval).

User Access Logging (UAL) is a feature introduced, and enabled by default, in Windows Server 2012 that consolidates data on client activity. Among other information, user access on specific Windows Server roles (such as Active Directory Domain Services on Domain Controller) are logged by the UAL. The specific activity triggering an entry to be logged for a given role is not documented.

The information is stored locally in up to five Extensible Storage Engine (ESE) database files (.mdb):

  • Current.mdb which contains data for the last 24-hour.

  • Up to three <GUID>.mdb files, which contain data for an entire year (first to last day), going back to 2 years. The data in the Current.mdb database is copied each day to the corresponding (<GUID>.mdb) database for the current year.

  • Systemidentity.mdb which contains metadata on the local server, including a mapping on roles' GUIDs and names.

Historical data going back to 2 years (2020 as of 2022) may thus be retrieved in the UAL database files.

Information of interest

The CLIENTS table of the aforementioned database files contain multiple information of interest:

  • Accessed Windows Server role GUID and description. Among others, the following roles can be encountered:

    • Active Directory Domain Services (GUID: ad495fc3-0eaa-413d-ba7d-8b13fa7ec598).

    • File Server (GUID: 10a9226f-50ee-49d8-a393-9a501d47ce04).

    • Active Directory Certificate Services (GUID: c50fcc83-bc8d-4df5-8a3d-89d7f80f074b).

  • The client domain and username.

  • Total number of access.

  • First, last, and daily access timestamps.

  • Client IPv4 or IPv6 address. On Domain Controllers, the hostname associated the IP address at that time may be retrievable as machine accounts of domain-joined computers also authenticate on AD DS.

Each entry in the CLIENTS table is composed of a unique set of a Windows Server role, a client's domain / username, and a source IP address.

The DNS table of the aforementioned database files contain information about DNS resolutions: hostname, associated IP address, and timestamp of last resolution.


Live forensics

The PowerShell cmdlets of the UserAccessLogging module can be used to retrieve UAL data on a live system:

# Enumerates the roles installed on the system.

# Retrieves UAL data for user access (data stored in the CLIENTS table).

# Retrieves UAL data for client access by device for a given service, ordered by date (data stored in the CLIENTS table).
# The cmdlets returns the date that the client accessed the service and how many times the client accessed the service during that day.

# Retrieves information on DNS resolutions (data stored in the DNS table).

Triaged UAL database files

A direct copy of the UAL database files is not possible as the files are being locked due to continued access. The files should be copied through a shadow copy volume or using utilities implementing raw disk reads (such as Velociraptor or RawCopy).

# Example of low level file copy bypassing file locking using RawCopy.
RawCopy64.exe /FileNamePath:"<C:\Windows\System32\LogFiles\Sum\Current.mdb | UAL_DB_FILE>" /OutputPath:"<OUTPUT_DIRECTORY>"

As the databases copied will not be in a "clean state", the database files will have to be repaired. This can be accomplished using the esentutl utility:

# The following commands should be executed in the directory containing the UAL database files.

esentutl.exe /r sru /i

esentutl.exe /p <Current.mdb | UAL_DB_FILE>

The Eric Zimmerman's SumECmd.exe tool or the KStrike Python script can be used to parse UAL database files:

# Parses the specified individual UAL database file. <Current.mdb | UAL_DB_FILE>

# Parses the UAL database files (Current.mdb, SystemIdentity.mdb, etc.) in the specified directory.
# The results will be aggregated in single CSV files per category (client access, DNS requests, etc.).


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