Decrypting NotPetya/Petya: Tools for Recovering Your MFT After an Attack


Making the world a better place has always been a core goal of CrowdStrike. In this blog post, we are making our findings, and tools, for decrypting NotPetya/Petya available to the general public. With the aid of the supplied tools, almost all of the Master File Table (MFT) can be successfully recovered within minutes.

Decryption of the MFT

The MFT is inarguably one of the most crucial data structures of an NTFS file system. It contains the list of files in the file system together with metadata such as dates, file size, location on disk, etc. Without the MFT, any attempt to recover files is almost impossible. Decryption of the MFT is only possible by exploiting several weaknesses in the NotPetya/Petya implementation of the Salsa20 cipher. Basically, it’s a combination of a known-plaintext attack and a many-time pad attack. Note that this attack does not mean Salsa20 is broken, it only affects this specific implementation.

How Can I Decrypt the MFT?

To recover the MFT, first, it needs to be extracted from an infected hard disk. This can be done by either having a forensic disk image, by attaching the infected hard drive to a non-infected system, or by booting the infected computer from a live CD[1].

Assuming the first case, i.e., a forensic disk image with the name disk.dd has been acquired, the following set of commands will extract the MFT to the file mft.raw:

# mmls disk.ddDOS Partition Table

Offset Sector: 0

Units are in 512-byte sectors

  Slot   Start     End       Length    Description

000: Meta 000000000000000000000000000001Primary Table (#0)


002:000:000000000204802029588470202956800NTFS / exFAT (0x07)


# icat -o 2048 disk.dd 0 > mft.raw

The first command, mmls, returns the partition layout. Commonly, the start sector of the main NTFS partition is either 63 or 2048. The next command, icat, outputs the MFT of the NTFS partition to mft.raw.

Once the encrypted MFT has been extracted, it can be decrypted with the tool from the CrowdStrike repository.

python --mft mft.raw

Depending on the size of the MFT and how many records are encrypted, decryption takes about 2-30 minutes.

The command line options for are:

-h, --help         show this help message and exit

--mft MFT, -m MFT  MFT filename

--strict, -s    Do a strict decryption: only output MFT records that

                   can be decrypted with high confidence. Others are marked
                   as bad.

The script outputs the decrypted MFT under the file name [mft].decrypted_strict or [mft].decrypted_relaxed, depending on the supplied option. By default, the relaxed decryption is chosen. It tries to decrypt a given ciphertext even if the confidence is relatively low. For a forensically sound analysis the threshold is chosen in a way to maximize confidence in the results. This can be done by selecting the “–strict” option.

Manual Analysis of Decrypted MFT Records

In rare cases, it might be necessary to recover the first or last few MFT records. This can be done with the aid of the log file decryptPetya.log. To that end, the log file outputs the most probable plaintext for a given ciphertext. The following log excerpt gives an example:

data index 1020 (keystream index 56986) not solved

potential values:



0x8279 0.0124


guessed while decrypting record 27983 at sector 55966 (offset 0x1b54000)

In the default use case, already fills in the most probable byte. In this case, the most probable byte 0x00 with a certainty of 0.9876 is automatically written to the decrypted record.

Further Analysis of the MFT

Once satisfied with the MFT, it can be further analyzed, for example with tools like, or patched into the HDD.

Technical Details

What mistakes did the Petya author make (and were later copied by the NotPetya authors) that allow for a decryption of the MFT?

Previous reporting on Petya and NotPetya variants showed that they share a faulty implementation of the Salsa20 cipher [2]. The code bears remarkable resemblance to an open-source implementation that can be found on GitHub [3]. While the source code of this implementation is correct, the Petya authors made several mistakes during the transition to 16-bit code. These mistakes make all Petya/NotPetya versions vulnerable to a known-plaintext attack that allows for the decryption of large parts of the MFT.

Salsa20 Stream Position Weakness

This section describes a weakness in the way the stream position is used by NotPetya/Petya. Instead of using the byte offset in the stream of data to be encrypted, NotPetya/Petya uses the number of the respective sector, which has significant consequences for the security of the scheme.

NotPetya/Petya uses a modified version of Salsa20, a symmetric stream cipher that maps a 256-bit key, a 64-bit nonce, and a 64-bit stream position to a 512-bit block of the key stream. The main encryption function is called s20_crypt(). Due to the position argument, this algorithm provides a unique ability to seek to an arbitrary offset in the key stream in constant time. The algorithm relies on a pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) to produce a keystream that is applied in a byte-wise XOR operation to the plaintext. The following figure gives an overview of the Salsa20 algorithm:

Salsa20 algorithmThe Salsa20 PRNG function, called s20_expand(), is initialized with four input parameters:

1.)   A constant (-1nvalid s3ct-id), in contrast to the original algorithm’s constant (expand 32-byte k)

2.)   A 32-byte randomly generated key

3.)   An 8-byte randomly generated nonce

4.)   An 8–byte integer representing the stream position, but is in fact the sector number of the data to be encrypted

The relevant disassembled code of s20_crypt() is depicted below:

92E4 push 0 ; doWrite
92E6 mov ax, [bp+var_10]
92E9 push ax ; int
92EA push large [bp+sector] ; sector number
92EE lea cx, [bp+sectorData]
92F2 push cx ; buffer
92F3 mov dl, [bp+arg_0]
92F6 push dx ; unk
92F7 mov [bp+var_A3E], ax
92FB call disk_read_or_write ; disk interrupt
92FE add sp, 0Ch
9301 mov eax, dword ptr [bp+var_10]
9305 shl eax, 9
9309 push eax ; length
930B lea ax, [bp+sectorData]
930F push ax ; buffer
9310 push large [bp+sector] ; sector number
9314 push di ; nonce
9315 push [bp+key] ; key
9318 call s20_crypt

As shown in red, the same variable is used to read a sector from disk and as stream offset for the s20_crypt() function. The sector number is then used as input to the PRNG function s20_expand(), as shown in the following disassembly listing:

97EC mov eax, [bp+sector]
97F0 shr eax, 6
97F4 push eax ; __int32
97F6 lea ax, [bp+n]
97F9 push ax ; int
97FA call s20_rev_little_endian
97FD add sp, 6
9800 lea ax, [bp+keystream]
9803 push ax ; keystream
9804 lea ax, [bp+localNonce]
9807 push ax ; n
9808 push si ; key
9809 call s20_expand_key

The fact that the sector number is used instead of the actual stream position (in bytes) makes all NotPetya/Petya versions vulnerable to a known-plaintext attack. Consider the example with the following parameters:

32-byte key:

26 7A 2D 2E 96 70 A3 14 62 70 17 31 35 A8 F1 1D

72 52 4F 42 07 13 A0 31 D6 AE 34 56 9F 4D 10 53


B8 8A 03 1B 87 1D BB FE

Next encrypted sector number: 0x00600061

The s20_expand_key() function is invoked with sector number divided by 64, i.e., 0x18001.

This results in the following key stream:

000000   AC 1E 1D 43 CF B7 FD 48 91 72 7A CD 06 33 BB C6

000010   2E FF CA 4F F9 DB 09 F6 21 5F 87 96 BD 49 9E 66

000020   74 FF D7 83 CF B2 E0 EC C1 7A 6B 9D EA 64 3B 82

000030   42 90 65 06 E9 E1 10 87 DF BC FA 0B 4F FD E0 39

The index of the key stream is calculated by the modulus operator of the sector number:

0x00600061 % 0x40 = 0x21

Hence, the actual XOR stream starts at index 0x21 of the key stream:

000000   FF D7 83 CF B2 E0 EC C1 7A 6B 9D EA 64 3B 82 42

000010   90 65 06 E9 E1 10 87 DF BC FA 0B 4F FD E0 39 77


Next, the sector 0x00600062 is encrypted. Since the sector number is only increased by one, the resulting XOR key stream is:

000000  D7 83 CF B2 E0 EC C1 7A 6B 9D EA 64 3B 82 42 90

000010  65 06 E9 E1 10 87 DF BC FA 0B 4F FD E0 39 77 CE


Therefore, if NotPetya/Petya encrypts sector i, and the resulting 64-byte key state is FF D7 83 CF […], the key state for sector i+1 would be D7 83 CF B2 […]. This insight can be used to attack the NotPetya/Petya cryptography with a known-plaintext attack. The reason behind this is the keystream can be trivially extracted once a piece of plaintext is known. Let x denote the plaintext and k the keystream, then E(x) = x ⊕ k. If x is known, the key can be recovered by applying XOR once again: E(x) ⊕ x = (x ⊕ k) ⊕ x = k. This procedure exploits the commutative and associative properties of XOR. Once the keystream is known, other parts of the ciphertext can be decrypted.

Exploiting the Stream Position Weakness

In the above section, we showed that if we have certain knowledge about underlying plaintext, we can easily calculate the original keystream by XORing the ciphertext with the plaintext. Due to the repetitive nature of the keystream, this knowledge can be exploited to derive large portions of the keystream. First, the MFT needs to be decrypted. It is an almost ideal data structure for a known-plaintext attack. In the general case, the MFT comprises a contiguous list of MFT records. Each MFT record has the following structure:

Offset Size Description
0x00 4 Record signature
0x04 2 Offset to update sequence
0x06 2 Number of entries in Fixup array
0x08 8 $LogFile sequence number (LSN)
0x10 2 Sequence number
0x12 2 Hard link count
0x14 2 Offset to first attribute
0x16 2 Flags: 0x01: record in use

       0x02: directory

0x18 4 Actual size of MFT entry
0x1c 4 Allocated size of MFT entry
0x20 8 Reference to the base FILE record
0x28 2 Next attribute ID
0x2a 2
0x2c 4 MFT record number
0x30 Varies Attributes and fix-up values

Typically, each record is 1,024 bytes long, i.e., two sectors. With the above knowledge, it becomes apparent that there is a significant overlap in keystream bytes for all records. The following figure shows the overlap:

Record/Index 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 []
0 A B C D E F G
1 C D E F G
2 E F G

While the first keystream bytes have only a very few overlapping samples, the situation changes for records with a larger index, and more overlapping samples can be collected. Toward the end of the MFT, the earlier records fade out and the remaining records accumulate again to relatively few samples.

Two different approaches were evaluated to exploit the keystream reuse:

  1.     MFT Header, where it is assumed that the first few bytes of the MFT header are constant; and
  2.     Byte histogram, where the probability is calculated that a plaintext byte occurs for a given sector.

The idea is to iterate over the MFT and emulate the sector progression of the NotPetya/Petya implementation. For each MFT record, the potential keystream bytes in a data structure are collected. If the same keystream byte is found, the respective certainty is updated. After the MFT has been parsed, the data structure is analyzed and only the candidates that meet certain conditions are set as keystream bytes.

MFT Header Attack

In the overwhelming majority of records, the first eight bytes are 46 49 4C 45 30 00 03 00. Under this assumption, the keystream can be directly derived. However, as only the first eight bytes of the plaintext can be recovered, this attack cannot decrypt records toward the end of the MFT. Moreover, at most, four samples can be collected for each keystream index.

Therefore, we refined this method to allow for a wider range of possible bytes, called byte histogram.

Byte Histogram Attack

The fact that most elements in the MFT record have a fixed size can be exploited. From this fact it follows that the same data types appear at the same offset within each record. To get a ground truth about the presence of a byte at a given offset, the histogram for each offset in the MFT record was calculated over a set of 1.1 million records collected from various, real-world Windows installations. Only histograms that have at most 10 different values or that are significantly biased towards a certain value were selected.

With this approach more potential keystream samples can be collected from each MFT record.


The approach was evaluated on a Windows XP analysis VM. The VM was infected with NotPetya and a snapshot taken of the infected, but not yet encrypted system. The MFT was extracted and then the VM started to let NotPetya do its work. After that, the encrypted MFT was extracted as well. The clean MFT contained 27,984 records.

Decryption of the MFT

We applied both attacks to the encrypted MFT and compared it with the ground truth. The following results were achieved:

Attack Keystream bytes Recovered
Correct Wrong
MFT Header 55,914 0 27,452   (98.10%)
Byte Histo 56,945 0 27,975   (99.97%)

While the MFT Header approach could correctly recover about 56,000 keystream bytes, the byte histo method could recover almost 56,000 bytes. Both attacks have zero errors, which is good news for the forensic analysis of the MFT, as the resulting data is very reliable. Regarding the decryption of the MFT, 532 records could not be decrypted with the MFT Header method, and only 9 records could not be decrypted with the byte histo method!

Additionally, the certainty at each location was recorded and showed significant differences, as the following excerpt shows:

Attack Keystream Index 0 Keystream Index 100
Plaintext Key Certainty Plaintext Key Certainty
MFT Header 0x46 32 1.0000 0x46 80 4.0
Byte Histo 0x46 32 0.9996 0x46









The results clearly indicate that the byte histo approach can collect more potential plaintext samples per keystream index and thus add up to more confidence in the resulting keystream. When a location cannot be solved, the byte histo approach can show more fine-grained alternative suggestions for the semi-automated recovery of MFT records.

Conclusion and Outlook

The decryption of computers encrypted with NotPetya/Petya is a challenging task. In this blog post, we showed that it is possible to decrypt the MFT, which is a precondition to decrypting the whole disk. In the future, we aim to decrypt the complete file system, a task with its own challenges.

[1] For a list of suitable live CDs, see






Stop Breaches with CrowdStrike Falcon request a live demo