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Timestomping definition

Timestomping is a technique used in cybersecurity and digital forensics, where attackers modify the timestamps of files and directories on a computer system to hide their actions or impede investigations. Timestamp manipulation makes it difficult for investigators to determine the actual sequence of events, forcing them to use alternative forensic methods to detect tampering and reveal the truth. Security professionals need to have a thorough understanding of timestomping to prevent these deceptive tactics.

See also: active attack, computer forensics

How timestomping works

  • Attackers identify the specific files they want to manipulate, usually associated with the activities or sensitive data they want to hide.
  • The attacker exploits vulnerabilities in the system to gain the sufficient permissions needed to modify the timestamps.
  • The attacker can change various timestamp values — such as the creation, modification, or last access times. They use specialized tools or directly manipulate the file system to alter the timestamps of the selected files to the chosen values.
  • By changing the timestamps, the attacker obscures the actual time when the files were created, modified, or accessed. Doing so makes it harder for investigators to establish a reliable timeline of events.
  • The modified timestamps can create false narratives or mislead investigators, diverting attention away from the attacker's actions.
  • Timestomping poses challenges for digital forensics experts who rely on accurate timestamps to reconstruct events. Investigators must use other forensic techniques and artifacts to detect tampering and establish the true sequence of events.