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Exploit.MSIL.ShellCode.gen

Class Exploit
Platform MSIL
Family ShellCode
Full name HEUR:Exploit.MSIL.ShellCode.gen
Examples 41A97E2A0684DF5ED09FA695B64F2E3C
C8C0DB1B5974B5C2537BA3D8287414AF
BDD6EE04E2DCA0F2D45A6162D53DF0B2
51F880AE7C8573C5C73F33C0BCCEFAEE
CCF8E96F15C60F76C2F11784B5137AD8
Updated at 2023-12-27 16:24:02
Tactics &
techniques MITRE*

TA0002 Execution

The adversary is trying to run malicious code.


Execution consists of techniques that result in adversary-controlled code running on a local or remote system. Techniques that run malicious code are often paired with techniques from all other tactics to achieve broader goals, like exploring a network or stealing data. For example, an adversary might use a remote access tool to run a PowerShell script that does Remote System Discovery.


T1059.005 Command and Scripting Interpreter: Visual Basic

Adversaries may abuse Visual Basic (VB) for execution. VB is a programming language created by Microsoft with interoperability with many Windows technologies such as Component Object Model and the Native API through the Windows API. Although tagged as legacy with no planned future evolutions, VB is integrated and supported in the .NET Framework and cross-platform .NET Core.(Citation: VB .NET Mar 2020)(Citation: VB Microsoft)

Derivative languages based on VB have also been created, such as Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and VBScript. VBA is an event-driven programming language built into Microsoft Office, as well as several third-party applications.(Citation: Microsoft VBA)(Citation: Wikipedia VBA) VBA enables documents to contain macros used to automate the execution of tasks and other functionality on the host. VBScript is a default scripting language on Windows hosts and can also be used in place of JavaScript on HTML Application (HTA) webpages served to Internet Explorer (though most modern browsers do not come with VBScript support).(Citation: Microsoft VBScript)

Adversaries may use VB payloads to execute malicious commands. Common malicious usage includes automating execution of behaviors with VBScript or embedding VBA content into Spearphishing Attachment payloads (which may also involve Mark-of-the-Web Bypass to enable execution).(Citation: Default VBS macros Blocking )

The adversary is trying to run malicious code.


Execution consists of techniques that result in adversary-controlled code running on a local or remote system. Techniques that run malicious code are often paired with techniques from all other tactics to achieve broader goals, like exploring a network or stealing data. For example, an adversary might use a remote access tool to run a PowerShell script that does Remote System Discovery.


T1203 Exploitation for Client Execution

Adversaries may exploit software vulnerabilities in client applications to execute code. Vulnerabilities can exist in software due to unsecure coding practices that can lead to unanticipated behavior. Adversaries can take advantage of certain vulnerabilities through targeted exploitation for the purpose of arbitrary code execution. Oftentimes the most valuable exploits to an offensive toolkit are those that can be used to obtain code execution on a remote system because they can be used to gain access to that system. Users will expect to see files related to the applications they commonly used to do work, so they are a useful target for exploit research and development because of their high utility.

Several types exist:

### Browser-based Exploitation

Web browsers are a common target through Drive-by Compromise and Spearphishing Link. Endpoint systems may be compromised through normal web browsing or from certain users being targeted by links in spearphishing emails to adversary controlled sites used to exploit the web browser. These often do not require an action by the user for the exploit to be executed.

### Office Applications

Common office and productivity applications such as Microsoft Office are also targeted through Phishing. Malicious files will be transmitted directly as attachments or through links to download them. These require the user to open the document or file for the exploit to run.

### Common Third-party Applications

Other applications that are commonly seen or are part of the software deployed in a target network may also be used for exploitation. Applications such as Adobe Reader and Flash, which are common in enterprise environments, have been routinely targeted by adversaries attempting to gain access to systems. Depending on the software and nature of the vulnerability, some may be exploited in the browser or require the user to open a file. For instance, some Flash exploits have been delivered as objects within Microsoft Office documents.

The adversary is trying to run malicious code.


Execution consists of techniques that result in adversary-controlled code running on a local or remote system. Techniques that run malicious code are often paired with techniques from all other tactics to achieve broader goals, like exploring a network or stealing data. For example, an adversary might use a remote access tool to run a PowerShell script that does Remote System Discovery.


T1204.002 User Execution: Malicious File

An adversary may rely upon a user opening a malicious file in order to gain execution. Users may be subjected to social engineering to get them to open a file that will lead to code execution. This user action will typically be observed as follow-on behavior from Spearphishing Attachment. Adversaries may use several types of files that require a user to execute them, including .doc, .pdf, .xls, .rtf, .scr, .exe, .lnk, .pif, and .cpl.

Adversaries may employ various forms of Masquerading and Obfuscated Files or Information to increase the likelihood that a user will open and successfully execute a malicious file. These methods may include using a familiar naming convention and/or password protecting the file and supplying instructions to a user on how to open it.(Citation: Password Protected Word Docs)

While Malicious File frequently occurs shortly after Initial Access it may occur at other phases of an intrusion, such as when an adversary places a file in a shared directory or on a user's desktop hoping that a user will click on it. This activity may also be seen shortly after Internal Spearphishing.

TA0003 Persistence

The adversary is trying to maintain their foothold.


Persistence consists of techniques that adversaries use to keep access to systems across restarts, changed credentials, and other interruptions that could cut off their access. Techniques used for persistence include any access, action, or configuration changes that let them maintain their foothold on systems, such as replacing or hijacking legitimate code or adding startup code.


T1547.001 Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Registry Run Keys / Startup Folder

Adversaries may achieve persistence by adding a program to a startup folder or referencing it with a Registry run key. Adding an entry to the "run keys" in the Registry or startup folder will cause the program referenced to be executed when a user logs in.(Citation: Microsoft Run Key) These programs will be executed under the context of the user and will have the account's associated permissions level.

The following run keys are created by default on Windows systems:

* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnce
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnce

Run keys may exist under multiple hives.(Citation: Microsoft Wow6432Node 2018)(Citation: Malwarebytes Wow6432Node 2016) The HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnceEx is also available but is not created by default on Windows Vista and newer. Registry run key entries can reference programs directly or list them as a dependency.(Citation: Microsoft Run Key) For example, it is possible to load a DLL at logon using a "Depend" key with RunOnceEx: reg add HKLMSOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnceEx001Depend /v 1 /d "C:tempevil[.]dll" (Citation: Oddvar Moe RunOnceEx Mar 2018)

Placing a program within a startup folder will also cause that program to execute when a user logs in. There is a startup folder location for individual user accounts as well as a system-wide startup folder that will be checked regardless of which user account logs in. The startup folder path for the current user is C:Users\[Username]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup. The startup folder path for all users is C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartUp.

The following Registry keys can be used to set startup folder items for persistence:

* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerUser Shell Folders
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerShell Folders
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerShell Folders
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerUser Shell Folders

The following Registry keys can control automatic startup of services during boot:

* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServicesOnce
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServicesOnce
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServices
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServices

Using policy settings to specify startup programs creates corresponding values in either of two Registry keys:

* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPoliciesExplorerRun
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPoliciesExplorerRun

Programs listed in the load value of the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionWindows run automatically for the currently logged-on user.

By default, the multistring BootExecute value of the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESystemCurrentControlSetControlSession Manager is set to autocheck autochk *. This value causes Windows, at startup, to check the file-system integrity of the hard disks if the system has been shut down abnormally. Adversaries can add other programs or processes to this registry value which will automatically launch at boot.

Adversaries can use these configuration locations to execute malware, such as remote access tools, to maintain persistence through system reboots. Adversaries may also use Masquerading to make the Registry entries look as if they are associated with legitimate programs.

TA0004 Privilege Escalation

The adversary is trying to gain higher-level permissions.


Privilege Escalation consists of techniques that adversaries use to gain higher-level permissions on a system or network. Adversaries can often enter and explore a network with unprivileged access but require elevated permissions to follow through on their objectives. Common approaches are to take advantage of system weaknesses, misconfigurations, and vulnerabilities. Examples of elevated access include:


* SYSTEM/root level

* local administrator

* user account with admin-like access

* user accounts with access to specific system or perform specific function


These techniques often overlap with Persistence techniques, as OS features that let an adversary persist can execute in an elevated context.


T1547.001 Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Registry Run Keys / Startup Folder

Adversaries may achieve persistence by adding a program to a startup folder or referencing it with a Registry run key. Adding an entry to the "run keys" in the Registry or startup folder will cause the program referenced to be executed when a user logs in.(Citation: Microsoft Run Key) These programs will be executed under the context of the user and will have the account's associated permissions level.

The following run keys are created by default on Windows systems:

* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnce
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnce

Run keys may exist under multiple hives.(Citation: Microsoft Wow6432Node 2018)(Citation: Malwarebytes Wow6432Node 2016) The HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnceEx is also available but is not created by default on Windows Vista and newer. Registry run key entries can reference programs directly or list them as a dependency.(Citation: Microsoft Run Key) For example, it is possible to load a DLL at logon using a "Depend" key with RunOnceEx: reg add HKLMSOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunOnceEx001Depend /v 1 /d "C:tempevil[.]dll" (Citation: Oddvar Moe RunOnceEx Mar 2018)

Placing a program within a startup folder will also cause that program to execute when a user logs in. There is a startup folder location for individual user accounts as well as a system-wide startup folder that will be checked regardless of which user account logs in. The startup folder path for the current user is C:Users\[Username]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup. The startup folder path for all users is C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartUp.

The following Registry keys can be used to set startup folder items for persistence:

* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerUser Shell Folders
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerShell Folders
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerShell Folders
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerUser Shell Folders

The following Registry keys can control automatic startup of services during boot:

* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServicesOnce
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServicesOnce
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServices
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunServices

Using policy settings to specify startup programs creates corresponding values in either of two Registry keys:

* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPoliciesExplorerRun
* HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPoliciesExplorerRun

Programs listed in the load value of the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionWindows run automatically for the currently logged-on user.

By default, the multistring BootExecute value of the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESystemCurrentControlSetControlSession Manager is set to autocheck autochk *. This value causes Windows, at startup, to check the file-system integrity of the hard disks if the system has been shut down abnormally. Adversaries can add other programs or processes to this registry value which will automatically launch at boot.

Adversaries can use these configuration locations to execute malware, such as remote access tools, to maintain persistence through system reboots. Adversaries may also use Masquerading to make the Registry entries look as if they are associated with legitimate programs.

TA0005 Defense Evasion

The adversary is trying to avoid being detected.


Defense Evasion consists of techniques that adversaries use to avoid detection throughout their compromise. Techniques used for defense evasion include uninstalling/disabling security software or obfuscating/encrypting data and scripts. Adversaries also leverage and abuse trusted processes to hide and masquerade their malware. Other tactics’ techniques are cross-listed here when those techniques include the added benefit of subverting defenses.


T1070.004 Indicator Removal: File Deletion

Adversaries may delete files left behind by the actions of their intrusion activity. Malware, tools, or other non-native files dropped or created on a system by an adversary (ex: Ingress Tool Transfer) may leave traces to indicate to what was done within a network and how. Removal of these files can occur during an intrusion, or as part of a post-intrusion process to minimize the adversary's footprint.

There are tools available from the host operating system to perform cleanup, but adversaries may use other tools as well.(Citation: Microsoft SDelete July 2016) Examples of built-in Command and Scripting Interpreter functions include del on Windows and rm or unlink on Linux and macOS.

The adversary is trying to avoid being detected.


Defense Evasion consists of techniques that adversaries use to avoid detection throughout their compromise. Techniques used for defense evasion include uninstalling/disabling security software or obfuscating/encrypting data and scripts. Adversaries also leverage and abuse trusted processes to hide and masquerade their malware. Other tactics’ techniques are cross-listed here when those techniques include the added benefit of subverting defenses.


T1140 Deobfuscate/Decode Files or Information

Adversaries may use Obfuscated Files or Information to hide artifacts of an intrusion from analysis. They may require separate mechanisms to decode or deobfuscate that information depending on how they intend to use it. Methods for doing that include built-in functionality of malware or by using utilities present on the system.

One such example is the use of certutil to decode a remote access tool portable executable file that has been hidden inside a certificate file.(Citation: Malwarebytes Targeted Attack against Saudi Arabia) Another example is using the Windows copy /b command to reassemble binary fragments into a malicious payload.(Citation: Carbon Black Obfuscation Sept 2016)

Sometimes a user's action may be required to open it for deobfuscation or decryption as part of User Execution. The user may also be required to input a password to open a password protected compressed/encrypted file that was provided by the adversary. (Citation: Volexity PowerDuke November 2016)

The adversary is trying to avoid being detected.


Defense Evasion consists of techniques that adversaries use to avoid detection throughout their compromise. Techniques used for defense evasion include uninstalling/disabling security software or obfuscating/encrypting data and scripts. Adversaries also leverage and abuse trusted processes to hide and masquerade their malware. Other tactics’ techniques are cross-listed here when those techniques include the added benefit of subverting defenses.


T1497.001 Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion: System Checks

Adversaries may employ various system checks to detect and avoid virtualization and analysis environments. This may include changing behaviors based on the results of checks for the presence of artifacts indicative of a virtual machine environment (VME) or sandbox. If the adversary detects a VME, they may alter their malware to disengage from the victim or conceal the core functions of the implant. They may also search for VME artifacts before dropping secondary or additional payloads. Adversaries may use the information learned from Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion during automated discovery to shape follow-on behaviors.(Citation: Deloitte Environment Awareness)

Specific checks will vary based on the target and/or adversary, but may involve behaviors such as Windows Management Instrumentation, PowerShell, System Information Discovery, and Query Registry to obtain system information and search for VME artifacts. Adversaries may search for VME artifacts in memory, processes, file system, hardware, and/or the Registry. Adversaries may use scripting to automate these checks into one script and then have the program exit if it determines the system to be a virtual environment.

Checks could include generic system properties such as host/domain name and samples of network traffic. Adversaries may also check the network adapters addresses, CPU core count, and available memory/drive size.

Other common checks may enumerate services running that are unique to these applications, installed programs on the system, manufacturer/product fields for strings relating to virtual machine applications, and VME-specific hardware/processor instructions.(Citation: McAfee Virtual Jan 2017) In applications like VMWare, adversaries can also use a special I/O port to send commands and receive output.

Hardware checks, such as the presence of the fan, temperature, and audio devices, could also be used to gather evidence that can be indicative a virtual environment. Adversaries may also query for specific readings from these devices.(Citation: Unit 42 OilRig Sept 2018)

TA0007 Discovery

The adversary is trying to figure out your environment.


Discovery consists of techniques an adversary may use to gain knowledge about the system and internal network. These techniques help adversaries observe the environment and orient themselves before deciding how to act. They also allow adversaries to explore what they can control and what’s around their entry point in order to discover how it could benefit their current objective. Native operating system tools are often used toward this post-compromise information-gathering objective.


T1497.001 Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion: System Checks

Adversaries may employ various system checks to detect and avoid virtualization and analysis environments. This may include changing behaviors based on the results of checks for the presence of artifacts indicative of a virtual machine environment (VME) or sandbox. If the adversary detects a VME, they may alter their malware to disengage from the victim or conceal the core functions of the implant. They may also search for VME artifacts before dropping secondary or additional payloads. Adversaries may use the information learned from Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion during automated discovery to shape follow-on behaviors.(Citation: Deloitte Environment Awareness)

Specific checks will vary based on the target and/or adversary, but may involve behaviors such as Windows Management Instrumentation, PowerShell, System Information Discovery, and Query Registry to obtain system information and search for VME artifacts. Adversaries may search for VME artifacts in memory, processes, file system, hardware, and/or the Registry. Adversaries may use scripting to automate these checks into one script and then have the program exit if it determines the system to be a virtual environment.

Checks could include generic system properties such as host/domain name and samples of network traffic. Adversaries may also check the network adapters addresses, CPU core count, and available memory/drive size.

Other common checks may enumerate services running that are unique to these applications, installed programs on the system, manufacturer/product fields for strings relating to virtual machine applications, and VME-specific hardware/processor instructions.(Citation: McAfee Virtual Jan 2017) In applications like VMWare, adversaries can also use a special I/O port to send commands and receive output.

Hardware checks, such as the presence of the fan, temperature, and audio devices, could also be used to gather evidence that can be indicative a virtual environment. Adversaries may also query for specific readings from these devices.(Citation: Unit 42 OilRig Sept 2018)

The adversary is trying to figure out your environment.


Discovery consists of techniques an adversary may use to gain knowledge about the system and internal network. These techniques help adversaries observe the environment and orient themselves before deciding how to act. They also allow adversaries to explore what they can control and what’s around their entry point in order to discover how it could benefit their current objective. Native operating system tools are often used toward this post-compromise information-gathering objective.


T1497.003 Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion: Time Based Evasion

Adversaries may employ various time-based methods to detect and avoid virtualization and analysis environments. This may include enumerating time-based properties, such as uptime or the system clock, as well as the use of timers or other triggers to avoid a virtual machine environment (VME) or sandbox, specifically those that are automated or only operate for a limited amount of time.

Adversaries may employ various time-based evasions, such as delaying malware functionality upon initial execution using programmatic sleep commands or native system scheduling functionality (ex: Scheduled Task/Job). Delays may also be based on waiting for specific victim conditions to be met (ex: system time, events, etc.) or employ scheduled Multi-Stage Channels to avoid analysis and scrutiny.(Citation: Deloitte Environment Awareness)

Benign commands or other operations may also be used to delay malware execution. Loops or otherwise needless repetitions of commands, such as Pings, may be used to delay malware execution and potentially exceed time thresholds of automated analysis environments.(Citation: Revil Independence Day)(Citation: Netskope Nitol) Another variation, commonly referred to as API hammering, involves making various calls to Native API functions in order to delay execution (while also potentially overloading analysis environments with junk data).(Citation: Joe Sec Nymaim)(Citation: Joe Sec Trickbot)

Adversaries may also use time as a metric to detect sandboxes and analysis environments, particularly those that attempt to manipulate time mechanisms to simulate longer elapses of time. For example, an adversary may be able to identify a sandbox accelerating time by sampling and calculating the expected value for an environment's timestamp before and after execution of a sleep function.(Citation: ISACA Malware Tricks)

The adversary is trying to figure out your environment.


Discovery consists of techniques an adversary may use to gain knowledge about the system and internal network. These techniques help adversaries observe the environment and orient themselves before deciding how to act. They also allow adversaries to explore what they can control and what’s around their entry point in order to discover how it could benefit their current objective. Native operating system tools are often used toward this post-compromise information-gathering objective.


T1518 Software Discovery

Adversaries may attempt to get a listing of software and software versions that are installed on a system or in a cloud environment. Adversaries may use the information from Software Discovery during automated discovery to shape follow-on behaviors, including whether or not the adversary fully infects the target and/or attempts specific actions.

Adversaries may attempt to enumerate software for a variety of reasons, such as figuring out what security measures are present or if the compromised system has a version of software that is vulnerable to Exploitation for Privilege Escalation.
* © 2024 The MITRE Corporation. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of The MITRE Corporation.
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