How To Check Process Start Time in Windows? An Insider‘s Security Guide

As a cybersecurity specialist with over 15 years of experience securing enterprises worldwide, I often come across cases of malware, hackers, and suspicious processes that have caused massive damage.

While many organizations focus protections on external threats, the reality is that insiders and authorized users have become one of the top threats vectors. This includes malicious activities by employees, contractors and partners abusing access rights to systems and data.

A 2022 IBM report found human errors and insider threats were the top root cause in 37% of data breaches. Shockingly, these threats can remain dormant for over 200 days on average before detection.

This is why constant vigilance is key – which includes monitoring when new processes start up on servers and endpoints across the environment.

In this comprehensive guide, I will equip you with insider tips and techniques to audit process start times and better detect threats.

Why Process Start Times Matter

The Windows process model allows programs and applications to run simultaneously via processes. Now, while most processes originate from legitimate software launches and system functions, some result from cyber threats looking to gain a foothold within systems.

These include:

  • Malware that gets executed after initial infection

  • Trojan horses that masquerade as legitimate software

  • Backdoors planted through exploits to allow future access

  • Privilege escalation attempts to gain higher-level permissions

Over 30% of reported security incidents involve malicious processes. And when not detected quickly, theseProcesses allow adversaries to traverse networks, extract data, and cause more damage.

By analyzing suspicious process start times and correlating them across endpoints, you can catch threats early and contain impact. Next, I‘ll walk you through step-by-step on how to do this.

Step-by-Step Guide: Checking Process Start Times using Process Explorer

Process Explorer by Microsoft Sysinternals is a powerful tool that provides an abundance of detail about running processes on Windows machines.

Follow these steps to set it up for checking process start times:

Download and Install Process Explorer

  1. Download Process Explorer from the official site.

  2. Extract procexp.exe to your preferred location. I recommend putting it on your desktop to easily launch it.

  3. Open procexp.exe. At first launch, the interface can be a bit overwhelming so let me break it down…

Overview of the Process Explorer Interface

When opened, Process Explorer automatically populates details of all running processes including:

  • Process Image Path
  • PID (Process ID)
  • CPU/Memory Usage
  • User Account

Take a moment to review the categories across the top like CPU, Users, Disk etc. Each of these can be used to sort processes and analyze their attributes like thread count, handles, read/write rates etc.

Enable Start Time Column

While extremely powerful, Process Explorer does not show process start times by default. To enable:

  1. Click View > Select Columns.
  2. Go to the Process Performance tab.
  3. Check the box for Start Time and click OK.

You should now see a Start Time column added to the interface!

Sort All Processes by Start Time

Here comes the important part. You can sort running processes either ascending or descending by their start time as follows:

  1. Right click on the Start Time column header
  2. Click Sort Ascending – this will order processes with OLDEST start times first
  3. Alternatively, choose Sort Descending to see newest processes first

With processes now sorted chronologically, you can clearly identify the longest running ones – including those persisting after machine reboots. This establishes a baseline.

Meanwhile, looking at the bottom will highlight NEW process starts – some of which could be suspicious. Let‘s dive deeper into analyzing these…

Identify and Investigate Suspicious Process Start Times

The key is comparing newly spawned processes to your baseline start times and looking for anomalies like:

  • Processes starting with only SYSTEM or LOCAL SERVICE privileges
  • Shadow processes masking their parent process details
  • Processes with random or suspicious executable names
  • Correlating endpoints infected by the same new process

I typically document any abnormalities into a log for further review. This may include:

  • Researching the process name/publisher details
  • Checking reputable threat intel sources
  • Monitoring its network connections
  • Terminating the process and restoring from backup

You can never be too careful when suspicious processes show up without explanation!

Compare Process Start Times Across Users/Endpoints

A key technique that improves detection rates is comparing process timelines across different:

  • Servers – Any deviations in system process start times?
  • Users – Common applications should have similar uptimes.
  • Endpoints – Match infected processes to pinpoint source.

Analytics like visual process tree diagrams also help uncover inter-process relationships and patterns.

As you can see, analyzing process start times meticulously pays dividends for identifying stealthy insider threats!

Next, I‘ll cover some best practices for monitoring start times efficiently.

Best Practices for Process Start Time Monitoring

Here are vital tips that I always recommend based on proven security frameworks:

Establish Baseline of Normal Behavior

Catalog approved applications and standard system processes. Document their typical process names, publishers and historical start times. Any deviations should raise flags.

Define Start Time Anomaly Rules and Thresholds

Customizable rules can automatically flag unusual program starts like:

  • SYSTEM processes starting within 5 minutes
  • Consumer software with under 2 hours uptime
  • Multiple endpoints spawning an identical process

Incorporate Checks in Routine Security Reviews

Add start time verifications in daily, weekly and monthly reviews. Procmon logs and sysmon reports can help identify blindspots.

Complement With Behavioral Monitoring

While start times indicate originating events, behavior analysis evaluates ongoing actions. Combine capabilities for high fidelity detection.

Simulate Attack Scenarios

Ethically infect lab endpoints with malware samples and hacktools (under controlled conditions) to improve monitoring and responses.

Invest in Automated Defenses like EDR tools that can block malicious payloads, provide richer forensics data and accelerate incident response times from months to hours!

So in summary…

Conclusion: Why Insider Perspectives on Process Security Matter

In my extensive experience building cybersecurity programs, the risk of insider threats is severely underestimated. Investing in transparency and detection controls serves as a failsafe against malicious actors hiding in plain sight.

In this guide, I have shared insider techniques to audit process start times as a harbinger of evil. Please try implementing the tactics I use to catch sneaky abnormal behavior early.

I highly recommend locking down and routinely verifying critical system processes. Furthermore, correlating suspicious starts cross-server and cross-endpoint is invaluable.

With some diligence around defining and monitoring behavioral baselines, you can significantly expand visibility and reduce incident response times.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions! Please feel free to connect with me on building more forgeries into business-critical process workflows.

Stay safe out there!

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