SANS Digital Forensics and Incident Response Blog

Windows Scheduler (at job) Forensics

This information may be useful to people responding to compromise incidents involving Windows. Typically these days, when a job is scheduled for execution later, possibly every day, week, or month, it's done via a GUI tool or 'schtasks'. However , you can still use the original command line 'at' tool. This utility also allows such jobs to be scheduled over the network if admin credentials are possessed, which makes it quite useful to an attacker for post exploitation activities. When cleaning up after something like this, it's useful to know a bit about what it does under the hood, including the formats of the associated .job file, and the structure and location of associated log entries.

A scheduled job created by the At commandFigure 1: A scheduled job created by the At command

When the job is scheduled using the 'at' command, a file is created under the Windows\Tasks folder. This file has a .job extension, is named At#.job (jobs not scheduled by the 'at' command will have arbitrary names), and its format is described on msdn. If the job is not set up for repeat execution(weekly, monthly, etc.) then the file is deleted after the job is run. In some cases I've been able to extract the data portion from unallocated space by searching for a characteristic comment string that the 'at' command (I haven't been able to create a search keyword that will find generic .job files that weren't created by 'at'), at least in Windows XP, places on all .job files that it creates, "Created by NetScheduleJobAdd.". Note that this string is in Unicode, and is null-terminated. The 16 bits immediately following the two nulls at the end of this unicode string contain the length (little-endian) of the User Data section in bytes, and they are followed by that section (if the length is non-zero). After this section comes the reserved data size ( another 16 bit little endian value in bytes), followed by the reserved data section. Then there's a 16 bit trigger count, which contains the size of the array of triggers that follows. According to the MS documentation, this value is supposed to be the number of bytes in the array, but as it's one in all the examples I've personally seen, I think it's really supposed to be the number of triggers defined. The trigger value starts with a 2-byte size, which should be 0x30 (little-endian, of course, which means 3000). Then there's a 2-byte reserved field, followed by three more 2-byte little-endian values specifying the year, month, and day when the job is scheduled to execute first. Next come three more 2-byte values which would specify end year, month, & day for repeating jobs, and finally two more two byte values, for the start hour and start minute. There are other fields in the structure, but these are the important ones. (While there's a field specifying the job's author, in all examples I've seen from the At command, it's set to "System".)

Hex dump of the At1.job shown aboveFigure 2. Hex dump of the At1.job shown above

When a scheduled job is actually executed (not when it's scheduled), a log entry is written to the scheduler's log file. The name of this file is defined by the registry key HKLM\Software\Microsoft\SchedulingAgent, but it defaults to SchedLgU.txt. On WinXP, this file is located in the Windows folder, but on Vista, they've moved it to Windows\Tasks. The log entry format looks something like the following (in unicode):

"At#.job" (filename.exe)

Started #/##/2009 #:##:## PM

"At#.job" (filename.exe)

Finished #/##/2009 #:##:## PM

Note that the numbers aren't padded with leading zeros, and that the above lines are two separate 2-line log entries. It's possible that other entries could fall in between the Start and Finish for a given job. Also, these entries are written for any scheduled job, regardless of whether it was created by 'at' or one of the other scheduler utilities. Of course if it was created by something other than 'at', the .job file will probably have a different name.

As always, please feel free to leave commentary if you liked this article or want to call me on the carpet for some inaccuracy.

John McCash, GCFA Silver #2816, is currently a Forensic Investigator employed by a fortune 500 telecommunications equipment provider.


Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:37 PM | Permalink | Reply

H. Carvey

Can you share the structures that you found (ie, "According to the MS documentation''")?

Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

H. Carvey

Never mind''found it!
Something else to keep in mind''check out pg 284 of WFA 2/e demonstrates a simple means of hiding a scheduled task from the Task Scheduler wizard''

Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:54 PM | Permalink | Reply


Harlan ''" The MS documentation I referenced is at the msdn link in the article.

Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:02 PM | Permalink | Reply


For those who don't have Harlan's book, what he's talking about above is that if the hidden bit is set on the .job file (which can be done using the attrib command), the scheduler won't display it, though it will execute normally. It's in the first edition of his book as well, or I'd mystified too.

Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

H. Carvey

I found the same reference you listed''but I'm finding some disparities in the documentation vs. what I'm actually finding on disk''

Posted September 18, 2009 at 3:19 PM | Permalink | Reply


Where are you from? Is it a secret? :)

Posted September 18, 2009 at 3:38 PM | Permalink | Reply


Where I work isn't a secret, but as I'm not a company spokesperson, I don't typically refer to it when posting in public forums. You can probably google me and figure it out.

Posted April 2, 2010 at 11:11 PM | Permalink | Reply


I found this taks on two server of my network, but I can't find the log files.
What could be this?

Posted October 9, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Reply


Can anyone know how to create the .job file (without at command)
Is there any difference creating job file using at command and job file created in other way (if exist)
How to create job file having different name (not started with at ) ?

Posted October 10, 2014 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Reply


In addition to using at, you can use the Task Scheduler GUI and the schtasks command-line utility to create and manage scheduled tasks. Both of these create or manage .job entries that have slight differences. Most obviously, they aren't named at#.job, and don't have the included comment "Created by NetScheduleJobAdd".
I'm glad people are still finding this useful