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Tracking removable storage with the Windows Security Log

By Elliot Anderson  |  September 23, 2023

With data breaches and Snowden-like information grabs, I’m getting increased requests for how to track data moving to and from removable storage, such as flash drives.  The good news is that the Windows Security Log does offer a way to audit removable storage access.  I’ll show you how it works, and since Netsurion's Open XDR has some enhanced capabilities in this area, I’ll briefly compare native auditing to Open XDR.

Removable storage auditing in Windows works similar to and logs the exact same events as File System auditing.  The difference is in controlling what activity is audited.

To review, with File System auditing, there are 2 levels of audit policy.  First you enable the Audit File System audit subcategory at the computer level.  Then you choose which folders you wish to audit and enable object level auditing on those folders for the users/groups, permissions and success/failure results that need to be monitored.   For instance, you can audit Read access on C:documents for the SalesReps group.

However Removable Storage auditing is much simpler to enable and far less flexible.  After enabling the Removable Storage audit subcategory (see below) Windows begins auditing all access requests for all removable storage.  It’s equivalent to enabling auditing Full Control for Everyone.

Local Security Policy

As you can see, auditing removable storage is an all or nothing proposition.  Once enabled, Windows logs the same Event ID 4663 as for File System auditing.  For example, the event below shows that user rsmith wrote a file called checkoutrece.pdf to a removable storage device Windows arbitrarily named DeviceHarddiskVolume4 with the program named Explorer (the Windows desktop).

Microsoft Windows Security Auditing

How do we know this is a removable storage event and not just normal File System auditing?  After all, it’s the same event ID as used for normal file system auditing.  Notice the Task Category above which says Removable Storage.  The information under Subject tells you who performed the action.  Object Name gives you the name of the file, relative path on the removable storage device and the arbitrary name Windows assigned the device the first time it was connected to this system.  Process information indicates the program used to perform the access.  To understand what type of access (e.g. Delete, Write, Read) was performed look at the Accesses field which lists the permissions actually used.

If you wish to track information being copied from your network to removable storage devices you should enable Audit Removable Storage via group policy on all your endpoints.  Then monitor for Event ID 4663 where Task Category is Removable Storage and Accesses is wither WriteData or AppendData.

As you can see Microsoft took the most expedient route possible to providing an audit trail of removable storage access.  There are events for tracking the connection of devices – only the file level access events of the files on the device.  These events also do not provide the ability to see the device model, manufacturer or serial number.  That device information is known to Windows – it just isn’t logged by these events since they captured at the same point in the operating system that other file access events are logged.  On the other hand, Netsurion's Open XDR logs both connection events and information about each device. In fact, Open XDR event allows you selectively block or allow access to specific devices based on policy you specify.

By Elliot Anderson
Tracking removable storage with the Windows Security Log

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