Windows Explorer, explorer.exe, gives the user access to their folders and files. It also provides functionality for other features, such as the Start Menu and Taskbar.

The Winlogon process runs userinit.exe, which launches the value in HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Shell.

userinit.exe exits after spawning explorer.exe. Because of this, the parent process is non-existent.

There will be many child processes for explorer.exe.


  • Image Path: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe

  • Parent Process: Created by userinit.exe and exits

  • Number of Instances: One or more per interactively logged-in user

  • User Account: Logged-in user(s)

  • Start Time: First instance when the first interactive user logon session begins


  • An actual parent process. (userinit.exe calls this process and exits)

  • Image file path other than C:\Windows

  • Running as an unknown user

  • Subtle misspellings to hide rogue processes in plain sight

  • Outbound TCP/IP connections