FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis


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GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)

GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE)

What You Will Learn

Master Windows Forensics – “You Can’t Protect the Unknown.”

All organizations must prepare for cybercrime occurring on computer systems and within corporate networks. Demand has never been greater for analysts who can investigate crimes such as fraud, insider threats, industrial espionage, employee misuse, and computer intrusions. Government agencies increasingly require trained media exploitation specialists to recover vital intelligence from Windows systems, as well as law enforcement investigators to get to the root of a crime. To help solve these cases, SANS is training a new cadre of the world’s best digital forensic professionals, incident responders, and media exploitation experts capable of piecing together what happened on computer systems second by second.

FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis focuses on building in-depth digital forensics knowledge of Microsoft Windows operating systems. You can’t protect what you don’t know about, and understanding forensic capabilities and available artifacts is a core component of information security. You will learn how to recover, analyze, and authenticate forensic data on Windows systems, track individual user activity on your network, and organize findings for use in incident response, internal investigations, intellectual property theft inquiries, and civil or criminal litigation. You’ll be able to validate security tools, enhance vulnerability assessments, identify insider threats, track hackers, and improve security policies. Whether you know it or not, Windows is silently recording an unbelievable amount of data about you and your users. FOR500 teaches you how to mine this mountain of data and use it to your advantage.

Proper analysis requires real data for students to examine. This continually updated course trains digital forensic analysts through a series of new hands-on laboratory exercises that incorporate evidence found on the latest technologies, including Microsoft Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10, Office and Microsoft 365, Google Workspace (G Suite), Cloud Storage, SharePoint, Exchange, and Outlook. Students will leave the course armed with the latest tools and techniques and prepared to investigate even the most complicated systems they might encounter. Nothing is left out – attendees learn to analyze everything from legacy Windows 7 systems to just-discovered Windows 10 artifacts.

FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis will teach you to:

  • Conduct in-depth forensic analysis of Windows operating systems and media exploitation on Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10, and Windows Server products.
  • Identify artifact and evidence locations to answer crucial questions, including application execution, file access, data theft, external device usage, cloud services, device geolocation, file download, anti-forensics, and detailed system and user activity.
  • Become tool-agnostic by focusing your capabilities on analysis instead of how to use a particular tool.
  • Extract critical answers and build an in-house forensic capability via a variety of free, open-source, and commercial tools provided within the SANS Windows SIFT Workstation.

FOR500 starts with an intellectual property theft and corporate espionage case that took over six months to create. You work in the real world, so your training should include real-world practice data. Our instructor course development team used incidents from their own investigations and experiences to create an incredibly rich and detailed scenario designed to immerse students in an actual investigation. The case demonstrates the latest artifacts and technologies an investigator might encounter while analyzing Windows systems. The detailed workbook shows the tools and techniques that each investigator should employ step by step to solve a forensic case. The tools can be used long after the end of class.

Please note that this is an analysis-focused course; FOR500 does not cover the basics of evidentiary handling, the “chain of custody,” or introductory drive acquisition. The course authors update FOR500 aggressively to stay current with the latest artifacts and techniques discovered. This course is perfect for you if you are interested in in-depth and current Microsoft Windows Operating System forensics and analysis for any incident that occurs. If you have not updated your Windows forensic analysis skills in the past three years or more, this course is essential.

You Will Be Able To

  • Perform proper Windows forensic analysis by applying key techniques focusing on Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, and Windows10
  • Use state-of-the-art forensic tools and analysis methods to detail nearly every action a suspect accomplished on a Windows system, including who placed an artifact on the system and how, program execution, file/folder opening, geolocation, browser history, profile USB device usage, cloud storage usage, and more
  • Uncover the exact time that a specific user last executed a program through Registry and Windows artifact analysis, and understand how this information can be used to prove intent in cases such as intellectual property theft, hacker-breached systems, and traditional crimes
  • Determine the number of times files have been opened by a suspect through browser forensics, shortcut file analysis (LNK), email analysis, and Windows Registry parsing
  • Audit cloud storage usage, including detailed user activity, identifying deleted files and even documenting files available only in the cloud
  • Identify keywords searched by a specific user on a Windows system to pinpoint the data and information that the suspect was interested in finding, and accomplish detailed damage assessments
  • Use Windows Shellbag analysis tools to articulate every folder and directory a user or attacker interacted with while accessing local, removable, and network drives
  • Determine each time a unique and specific USB device was attached to the Windows system, the files and folders accessed on it, and what user plugged it in by parsing Windows artifacts such as Registry hives and Event Log files
  • Learn Event Log analysis techniques and use them to determine when and how users logged into a Windows system, whether via a remote session, at the keyboard, or simply by unlocking a screensaver
  • Determine where a crime was committed using Registry data and pinpoint the geolocation of a system by examining connected networks and wireless access points
  • Use browser forensic tools to perform detailed web browser analysis, parse raw SQLite and ESE databases, and leverage session recovery artifacts to identify web activity, even if privacy cleaners and in-private browsing software are used
  • Specifically determine how individuals used a system, who they communicated with, and files that were downloaded, modified, and deleted

Windows Forensics Course Topics:

  • Windows Operating Systems Focus (Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10, Server 2008/2012/2016/2019)
  • Windows File Systems (NTFS, FAT, exFAT)
  • Advanced Evidence Acquisition Tools and Techniques
  • Registry Forensics
  • Shell Item Forensics
    • Shortcut Files (LNK) – Evidence of File Opening
    • Shellbags – Evidence of Folder Opening
    • JumpLists – Evidence of File Opening and Program Execution
  • Windows Artifact Analysis
    • Browser and Webmail Analysis
    • Microsoft Office Document Analysis
    • System Resource Usage Database
    • Windows 10 Timeline Database
    • Windows Recycle Bin Analysis
    • File and Picture Metadata Tracking and Examination
    • Myriad Application Execution Artifacts, including Several New to Windows 10
  • Cloud Storage File and Metadata Examinations

    • OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, Dropbox, Google Drive, Google Workspace, and Box
  • Email Forensics (Host, Server, Web), including Microsoft 365 and G Suite
  • Microsoft Unified Audit Logging
  • Event Log Analysis
  • Chrome, Edge, Internet Explorer, and Firefox Browser Forensics
  • Microsoft 365 SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, and Email
  • Google Workspace (G Suite) Applications and Logging
  • Deleted Registry Key and File Recovery
  • Recovering Missing Data from Registry and ESE Database .log Files
  • String Searching and File Carving
  • Examination of Cases Involving Windows 7 through Windows 10
  • Media Analysis and Exploitation to:
    • Track User Communications Using a Windows Device (Email, Chat, Webmail)
    • Identify If and How a Suspect Downloaded Specific Files to or from a Device
    • Determine the Exact Time and Number of Times a Suspect Executed a Program
    • Show When Any File Was First and Last Opened by a Suspect
    • Determine If a Suspect Had Knowledge of a Specific File
    • Show the Exact Physical Location of the System
    • Track and Analyze Removable Media and USB Mass Storage Class Devices
    • Show How the Suspect Logged on to the Machine via the Console, RDP, or Network
    • Recover and Examine Browser Artifacts, including Those from Private Browsing Mode
    • Discover the Use of Anti-Forensics, including File Wiping, Time Manipulation, and Application Removal
  • The Course Is Fully Updated to Include the Latest Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, and Server 2008/2012/2016/2019 Artifacts, Tools, and Techniques

What You Will Receive

GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner

The GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner (GCFE) certification validates a practitioner’s knowledge of computer forensic analysis, with an emphasis on core skills required to collect and analyze data from Windows computer systems. GCFE certification holders have the knowledge, skills, and ability to conduct typical incident investigations including e-Discovery, forensic analysis and reporting, evidence acquisition, browser forensics and tracing user and application activities on Windows systems.

  • Windows Forensics and Data Triage
  • Windows Registry Forensics, USB Devices, Shell Items, Email Forensics and Log Analysis
  • Advanced Web Browser Forensics (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer)



There are no prerequisite courses required to take this course. The artifacts and tool-agnostic techniques you will learn will lead to the successful analysis of any cyber incident and crime involving a Windows Operating System.

Laptop Requirements


A properly configured system is required for each student participating in this course. Before coming to class, carefully read and follow these instructions exactly.

You can use any 64-bit version of Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux as your core operating system provided you can install and run VMware virtualization products. Students are provided with a digital forensic lab built into a VMware Virtual Machine. You must have a minimum of 8 gigabytes (GB) of RAM or higher for the class virtual machine to function, but 16 GB of RAM is highly recommend for the best experience.

It is critical that your CPU and operating system support 64-bit applications so that our 64-bit guest virtual machine can run on your laptop. VMware provides a free tool for Windows and Linux that will detect whether your host supports 64-bit guest virtual machines. For further troubleshooting, this article also provides good instructions for Windows users to determine more about CPU and OS capabilities. For Macs, please use this support page from Apple to determine 64-bit capability.

Please download and install VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion, or VMware Player on your system prior to the start of the class. Your version of VMware cannot be more than one version behind the latest available version of the software. If you do not own a licensed copy of VMware Workstation or Fusion, you can download a free 30-day trial copy from VMware.


  • CPU: 64-bit Intel i5/i7 (4th generation+) x64 bit 2.0+ GHz processor or more recent processor is mandatory for this class (Important a 64-bit system processor is MANDATORY.)
  • 8 GB of RAM or higher is mandatory for this class (Important – 8 GB of RAM or higher of RAM is mandatory and minimum. For the best experience, 16GB of RAM is recommended.)
  • USB 3.0
  • 300+ GB host system hard drive minimum
  • 200 GB minimum of free space on your host hard drive: Free space is absolutely critical to host the virtual machines and evidence files provided with the class
  • Students must have Local Administrator access within their host operating system and access to the BIOS settings


A USB removable storage device is necessary to complete one optional exercise in the course. The storage size of the USB media should be larger than the RAM size of the student laptop.


Host Operating System: Fully patched and updated Windows, Mac OSX (10.10+), or a recent version of the Linux operating system (released 2016 or later) that also can install and run VMware virtualization products (VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion, or VMware Player). Please note: It is necessary to fully update your host operating system prior to the class to ensure that you have the right drivers and patches installed to utilize the latest USB 3.0 devices. Those who use a Linux host must also be able to access ExFAT partitions using the appropriate kernel or FUSE modules.

Note: Apple systems using the M1 processor cannot perform the necessary virtualization at this time and cannot be used for this course.


  1. Microsoft Office (any version) with Excel or OpenOffice with Calc installed on your host. You can download Office Trial Software online (free for 30 days)
  2. Install VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion, or VMware Player (your version should be no more than one version behind the latest available from VMware)
  3. Download and install 7Zip on your host (Mac users should ensure they have a capable unarchiving tool such as Keka)


  1. Bring the proper system hardware (64bit/8+GB Ram) and operating system configuration
  2. Install VMware (Workstation, Player, or Fusion), MS Office, and 7zip and make sure everything works before class.

If you have additional questions about the laptop specifications, please contact

Author Statement

“After 30 years in law enforcement, three capabilities immediately rise to the top of my list when I think of what makes a great digital forensic analyst: superior technical skill, sound investigative methodology, and the ability to overcome obstacles. This course was designed to impart these critical skills to students. Unlike many other training courses that focus on teaching a single tool, FOR500 provides training on many tools. While there are some exceptional tools available, forensic analysts need a variety of tools in their arsenal to be able to pick and choose the best one for each task. However, forensic analysts are not great because of the tools they use, but because they artfully apply the right investigative methodology to each analysis. A carpenter can be a master with all his tools and still not know how to build a house. FOR500 teaches analysts to apply digital forensic methodologies to a variety of case types and situations, enabling them to apply the right methodology to achieve the best outcome in the real world. Finally, the course presents the problem-solving skills necessary to be a truly successful forensic analyst. Almost immediately after starting your forensic career, you will learn that each forensic analysis presents its own unique challenges. A technique that worked flawlessly for previous examinations may not work for the next one. A good forensic analyst must be able to overcome obstacles through advanced troubleshooting and problem-solving. FOR500 gives students the foundation to solve future problems, overcome obstacles, and become great forensic analysts. No matter if you are new to the forensic community or have been doing forensics for years, FOR500 is a must-have course.” – Ovie Carroll

“Former students have contacted me regularly about how they were able to use their digital forensic skills in very real situations that were part of the nightly news cycle. The skills you learn in this class are used directly to stop evil. Graduates of FOR500 are the front-line troops deployed when you need accurate digital forensic, incident response, and media exploitation analysis. From analyzing terrorist laptops and data breaches to investigating insider intellectual property theft and fraud, SANS digital forensic graduates are battling and winning the war on crime and terror. Graduates have directly contributed to solving some of the toughest cases out there because they have learned how to properly conduct analyses and run investigations. It brings me great comfort knowing that this course places the correct methodology and knowledge in the hands of responders who thwart the plans of criminals or foreign attacks. Graduates are doing just that on a daily basis. I am proud that FOR500 helped prepare them to solve cases and fight crime.” – Rob Lee

“Digital forensics has never been more in demand than it is today. Zettabytes of data are created yearly, and forensic examiners will increasingly be called in to separate the wheat from the chaff. For better or worse, digital artifacts are recorded for almost every action, and the bar has been raised for investigators working to repel computer intrusions, stop intellectual property theft, and put bad actors in jail. We wrote this course as the forensics training we wish would have been available early in our careers. Keeping up with the cutting edge of forensics is daunting, but with frequent updates I am confident this course provides the most up-to-date training available, whether you are just starting out or are looking to add new skills to your forensic arsenal.” – Chad Tilbury

“Ovie has been great as an instructor for this course. His knowledge and passion to share his insight with us has excited me in learning and reviewing the case materials again even after lessons. I stayed back to spend extra time to read and learn so that I could prepare in anticipation of what he is offering us the next morning. He conducts start-of-the-day recaps and end-of-the-day pop quizzes to tie in knowledge that would have otherwise been just ‘another artifact’ that was taught. He showed us how to think critically, to tell the story, and to always ask questions.” – Yao Guang Tan