Cobalt Strike

Cobalt Strike is a commercial, full-featured, remote access tool that bills itself as "adversary simulation software designed to execute targeted attacks and emulate the post-exploitation actions of advanced threat actors". Cobalt Strike’s interactive post-exploit capabilities cover the full range of ATT&CK tactics, all executed within a single, integrated system.[1]

In addition to its own capabilities, Cobalt Strike leverages the capabilities of other well-known tools such as Metasploit and Mimikatz.[1]

ID: S0154
Platforms: Windows
Contributors: Martin Sohn Christensen, Improsec; Josh Abraham
Version: 1.6
Created: 14 December 2017
Last Modified: 24 April 2021

Techniques Used

Domain ID Name Use
Enterprise T1548 .002 Abuse Elevation Control Mechanism: Bypass User Account Control

Cobalt Strike can use a number of known techniques to bypass Windows UAC.[1]

Enterprise T1134 .001 Access Token Manipulation: Token Impersonation/Theft

Cobalt Strike can steal access tokens from exiting processes.[1]

.003 Access Token Manipulation: Make and Impersonate Token

Cobalt Strike can make tokens from known credentials.[1]

.004 Access Token Manipulation: Parent PID Spoofing

Cobalt Strike can spawn processes with alternate PPIDs.[2]

Enterprise T1087 .002 Account Discovery: Domain Account

Cobalt Strike can determine if the user on an infected machine is in the admin or domain admin group.[3]

Enterprise T1071 Application Layer Protocol

Cobalt Strike can conduct peer-to-peer communication over Windows named pipes encapsulated in the SMB protocol. All protocols use their standard assigned ports.[1][4]

.001 Web Protocols

Cobalt Strike can use a custom command and control protocol that can be encapsulated in HTTP or HTTPS. All protocols use their standard assigned ports.[1][4]

.004 DNS

Cobalt Strike can use a custom command and control protocol that can encapsulated in DNS. All protocols use their standard assigned ports.[1][4]

Enterprise T1197 BITS Jobs

Cobalt Strike can download a hosted "beacon" payload using BITSAdmin.[5][4]

Enterprise T1059 .001 Command and Scripting Interpreter: PowerShell

Cobalt Strike can execute a payload on a remote host with PowerShell. This technique does not write any data to disk.[1][3] Cobalt Strike can also use PowerSploit and other scripting frameworks to perform execution.[6][2][4]

.003 Command and Scripting Interpreter: Windows Command Shell

Cobalt Strike uses a command-line interface to interact with systems.[6][4]

.005 Command and Scripting Interpreter: Visual Basic

Cobalt Strike can use VBA to perform execution.[6][2][4]

.006 Command and Scripting Interpreter: Python

Cobalt Strike can use Python to perform execution.[6][2][4]

.007 Command and Scripting Interpreter: JavaScript

The Cobalt Strike System Profiler can use JavaScript to perform reconnaissance actions.[4]

Enterprise T1543 .003 Create or Modify System Process: Windows Service

Cobalt Strike can install a new service.[6]

Enterprise T1005 Data from Local System

Cobalt Strike can collect data from a local system.[6]

Enterprise T1140 Deobfuscate/Decode Files or Information

Cobalt Strike can deobfuscate shellcode using a rolling XOR.[4]

Enterprise T1573 .001 Encrypted Channel: Symmetric Cryptography

Cobalt Strike has the ability to use AES-256 symmetric encryption in CBC mode with HMAC-SHA-256 to encrypt task commands and XOR to encrypt shell code and configuration data.[4]

.002 Encrypted Channel: Asymmetric Cryptography

Cobalt Strike can use RSA asymmetric encryption with PKCS1 padding to encrypt data sent to the C2 server.[4]

Enterprise T1203 Exploitation for Client Execution

Cobalt Strike can exploit Oracle Java vulnerabilities for execution, including CVE-2011-3544, CVE-2013-2465, CVE-2012-4681, and CVE-2013-2460.[4]

Enterprise T1068 Exploitation for Privilege Escalation

Cobalt Strike can exploit vulnerabilities such as MS14-058.[6]

Enterprise T1562 .001 Impair Defenses: Disable or Modify Tools

Cobalt Strike has the ability to use Smart Applet attacks to disable the Java SecurityManager sandbox.[4]

Enterprise T1070 .006 Indicator Removal on Host: Timestomp

Cobalt Strike can timestomp any files or payloads placed on a target machine to help them blend in.[1]

Enterprise T1105 Ingress Tool Transfer

Cobalt Strike can deliver additional payloads to victim machines.[4]

Enterprise T1056 .001 Input Capture: Keylogging

Cobalt Strike can track key presses with a keylogger module.[1][7]

Enterprise T1185 Man in the Browser

Cobalt Strike can perform browser pivoting and inject into a user's browser to inherit cookies, authenticated HTTP sessions, and client SSL certificates.[1]

Enterprise T1112 Modify Registry

Cobalt Strike can modify Registry values within HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\\Excel\Security\AccessVBOM\ to enable the execution of additional code.[4]

Enterprise T1106 Native API

Cobalt Strike's "beacon" payload is capable of running shell commands without cmd.exe and PowerShell commands without powershell.exe[1][4]

Enterprise T1046 Network Service Scanning

Cobalt Strike can perform port scans from an infected host.[1][4]

Enterprise T1135 Network Share Discovery

Cobalt Strike can query shared drives on the local system.[6]

Enterprise T1095 Non-Application Layer Protocol

Cobalt Strike can be configured to use TCP for C2 communications.[4]

Enterprise T1027 Obfuscated Files or Information

Cobalt Strike can hash functions to obfuscate calls to the Windows API.[4]

.005 Indicator Removal from Tools

Cobalt Strike includes a capability to modify the "beacon" payload to eliminate known signatures or unpacking methods.[1]

Enterprise T1137 .001 Office Application Startup: Office Template Macros

Cobalt Strike has the ability to use an Excel Workbook to execute additional code by enabling Office to trust macros and execute code without user permission.[4]

Enterprise T1003 .002 OS Credential Dumping: Security Account Manager

Cobalt Strike can recover hashed passwords.[1]

Enterprise T1057 Process Discovery

Cobalt Strike's "beacon" payload can collect information on process details.[1][4]

Enterprise T1055 Process Injection

Cobalt Strike can inject a variety of payloads into processes dynamically chosen by the adversary.[1]

.001 Dynamic-link Library Injection

Cobalt Strike has the ability to load DLLs via reflective injection.[4]

.012 Process Hollowing

Cobalt Strike can use process hollowing for execution.[6]

Enterprise T1572 Protocol Tunneling

Cobalt Strike uses a custom command and control protocol that is encapsulated in HTTP, HTTPS, or DNS. In addition, it conducts peer-to-peer communication over Windows named pipes encapsulated in the SMB protocol. All protocols use their standard assigned ports.[1]

Enterprise T1090 .001 Proxy: Internal Proxy

Cobalt Strike can be configured to have commands relayed over a peer-to-peer network of infected hosts. This can be used to limit the number of egress points, or provide access to a host without direct internet access.[1]

Enterprise T1012 Query Registry

Cobalt Strike can query HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\\Excel\Security\AccessVBOM\ to determine if the security setting for restricting default programmatic access is enabled.[4]

Enterprise T1021 .001 Remote Services: Remote Desktop Protocol

Cobalt Strike can start a VNC-based remote desktop server and tunnel the connection through the already established C2 channel.[1]

.002 Remote Services: SMB/Windows Admin Shares

Cobalt Strike can use Window admin shares (C$ and ADMIN$) for lateral movement.[6]

.003 Remote Services: Distributed Component Object Model

Cobalt Strike can deliver "beacon" payloads for lateral movement by leveraging remote COM execution.[8]

.004 Remote Services: SSH

Cobalt Strike can SSH to a remote service.[6]

.006 Remote Services: Windows Remote Management

Cobalt Strike can use WinRM to execute a payload on a remote host.[1]

Enterprise T1018 Remote System Discovery

Cobalt Strike uses the native Windows Network Enumeration APIs to interrogate and discover targets in a Windows Active Directory network.[1][4]

Enterprise T1029 Scheduled Transfer

Cobalt Strike can set its "beacon" payload to reach out to the C2 server on an arbitrary and random interval. In addition it will break large data sets into smaller chunks for exfiltration.[1]

Enterprise T1113 Screen Capture

Cobalt Strike's "beacon" payload is capable of capturing screenshots.[1][7]

Enterprise T1553 .002 Subvert Trust Controls: Code Signing

Cobalt Strike can use self signed Java applets to execute signed applet attacks.[4]

Enterprise T1016 System Network Configuration Discovery

Cobalt Strike can determine the IP addresses of domain controllers.[3]

Enterprise T1049 System Network Connections Discovery

Cobalt Strike can produce a sessions report from compromised hosts.[4]

Enterprise T1569 .002 System Services: Service Execution

Cobalt Strike can use PsExec to execute a payload on a remote host. It can also use Service Control Manager to start new services.[1][6]

Enterprise T1550 .002 Use Alternate Authentication Material: Pass the Hash

Cobalt Strike can perform pass the hash.[6]

Enterprise T1078 .002 Valid Accounts: Domain Accounts

Cobalt Strike can use known credentials to run commands and spawn processes as a domain user account.[1][2]

.003 Valid Accounts: Local Accounts

Cobalt Strike can use known credentials to run commands and spawn processes as a local user account.[1][2]

Enterprise T1047 Windows Management Instrumentation

Cobalt Strike can use WMI to deliver a payload to a remote host.[1]

Groups That Use This Software

ID Name References
G0079 DarkHydrus


G0073 APT19


G0037 FIN6


G0052 CopyKittens


G0065 Leviathan


G0050 APT32


G0096 APT41


G0016 APT29


G0114 Chimera


G0080 Cobalt Group

[26][27][28][29] [30][31][32][33]

G0102 Wizard Spider


G0129 Mustang Panda



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  1. FireEye. (2020, December 13). Highly Evasive Attacker Leverages SolarWinds Supply Chain to Compromise Multiple Global Victims With SUNBURST Backdoor. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  2. Cycraft. (2020, April 15). APT Group Chimera - APT Operation Skeleton key Targets Taiwan Semiconductor Vendors. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
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  8. Klijnsma, Y.. (2017, November 28). Gaffe Reveals Full List of Targets in Spear Phishing Attack Using Cobalt Strike Against Financial Institutions. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
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