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Privilege Escalation

Privilege escalation is the result of actions that allows an adversary to obtain a higher level of permissions on a system or network. Certain tools or actions require a higher level of privilege to work and are likely necessary at many points throughout an operation. Adversaries can enter a system with unprivileged access and must take advantage of a system weakness to obtain local administrator or SYSTEM/root level privileges. A user account with administrator-like access can also be used. User accounts with permissions to access specific systems or perform specific functions necessary for adversaries to achieve their objective may also be considered an escalation of privilege.
ID: TA0004


Techniques: 28
T1134Access Token Manipulation

Windows uses access tokens to determine the ownership of a running process. A user can manipulate access tokens to make a running process appear as though it belongs to someone other than the user that started the process. When this occurs, the process also takes on the security context associated with the new token. For example, Microsoft promotes the use of access tokens as a security best practice. Administrators should log in as a standard user but run their tools with administrator privileges using the built-in access token manipulation command runas.

T1015Accessibility Features

Windows contains accessibility features that may be launched with a key combination before a user has logged in (for example, when the user is on the Windows logon screen). An adversary can modify the way these programs are launched to get a command prompt or backdoor without logging in to the system.

T1182AppCert DLLs

Dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) that are specified in the AppCertDLLs value in the Registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager are loaded into every process that calls the ubiquitously used application programming interface (API) functions:

T1103AppInit DLLs

Dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) that are specified in the AppInit_DLLs value in the Registry keys HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows or HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows are loaded by user32.dll into every process that loads user32.dll. In practice this is nearly every program, since user32.dll is a very common library. Similar to Process Injection, these values can be abused to obtain persistence and privilege escalation by causing a malicious DLL to be loaded and run in the context of separate processes on the computer.

T1138Application Shimming

The Microsoft Windows Application Compatibility Infrastructure/Framework (Application Shim) was created to allow for backward compatibility of software as the operating system codebase changes over time. For example, the application shimming feature allows developers to apply fixes to applications (without rewriting code) that were created for Windows XP so that it will work with Windows 10. Within the framework, shims are created to act as a buffer between the program (or more specifically, the Import Address Table) and the Windows OS. When a program is executed, the shim cache is referenced to determine if the program requires the use of the shim database (.sdb). If so, the shim database uses Hooking to redirect the code as necessary in order to communicate with the OS. A list of all shims currently installed by the default Windows installer (sdbinst.exe) is kept in:

T1088Bypass User Account Control

Windows User Account Control (UAC) allows a program to elevate its privileges to perform a task under administrator-level permissions by prompting the user for confirmation. The impact to the user ranges from denying the operation under high enforcement to allowing the user to perform the action if they are in the local administrators group and click through the prompt or allowing them to enter an administrator password to complete the action.

T1038DLL Search Order Hijacking

Windows systems use a common method to look for required DLLs to load into a program. Adversaries may take advantage of the Windows DLL search order and programs that ambiguously specify DLLs to gain privilege escalation and persistence.

T1157Dylib Hijacking

macOS and OS X use a common method to look for required dynamic libraries (dylib) to load into a program based on search paths. Adversaries can take advantage of ambiguous paths to plant dylibs to gain privilege escalation or persistence.

T1068Exploitation for Privilege Escalation

Exploitation of a software vulnerability occurs when an adversary takes advantage of a programming error in a program, service, or within the operating system software or kernel itself to execute adversary-controlled code. Security constructs such as permission levels will often hinder access to information and use of certain techniques, so adversaries will likely need to perform Privilege Escalation to include use of software exploitation to circumvent those restrictions.

T1181Extra Window Memory Injection

Before creating a window, graphical Windows-based processes must prescribe to or register a windows class, which stipulate appearance and behavior (via windows procedures, which are functions that handle input/output of data). Registration of new windows classes can include a request for up to 40 bytes of extra window memory (EWM) to be appended to the allocated memory of each instance of that class. This EWM is intended to store data specific to that window and has specific application programming interface (API) functions to set and get its value.

T1044File System Permissions Weakness

Processes may automatically execute specific binaries as part of their functionality or to perform other actions. If the permissions on the file system directory containing a target binary, or permissions on the binary itself, are improperly set, then the target binary may be overwritten with another binary using user-level permissions and executed by the original process. If the original process and thread are running under a higher permissions level, then the replaced binary will also execute under higher-level permissions, which could include SYSTEM.


Windows processes often leverage application programming interface (API) functions to perform tasks that require reusable system resources. Windows API functions are typically stored in dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) as exported functions. Hooking involves redirecting calls to these functions and can be implemented via:

T1183Image File Execution Options Injection

Image File Execution Options (IFEO) enable a developer to attach a debugger to an application. When a process is created, a debugger present in an application’s IFEO will be prepended to the application’s name, effectively launching the new process under the debugger (e.g., "C:\dbg\ntsd.exe -g notepad.exe").

T1160Launch Daemon

Per Apple’s developer documentation, when macOS and OS X boot up, launchd is run to finish system initialization. This process loads the parameters for each launch-on-demand system-level daemon from the property list (plist) files found in /System/Library/LaunchDaemons and /Library/LaunchDaemons . These LaunchDaemons have property list files which point to the executables that will be launched .

T1050New Service

When operating systems boot up, they can start programs or applications called services that perform background system functions. A service's configuration information, including the file path to the service's executable, is stored in the Windows Registry.

T1034Path Interception

Path interception occurs when an executable is placed in a specific path so that it is executed by an application instead of the intended target. One example of this was the use of a copy of cmd in the current working directory of a vulnerable application that loads a CMD or BAT file with the CreateProcess function.

T1150Plist Modification

Property list (plist) files contain all of the information that macOS and OS X uses to configure applications and services. These files are UT-8 encoded and formatted like XML documents via a series of keys surrounded by < >. They detail when programs should execute, file paths to the executables, program arguments, required OS permissions, and many others. plists are located in certain locations depending on their purpose such as /Library/Preferences (which execute with elevated privileges) and ~/Library/Preferences (which execute with a user's privileges).

T1013Port Monitors

A port monitor can be set through the API call to set a DLL to be loaded at startup. This DLL can be located in C:\Windows\System32 and will be loaded by the print spooler service, spoolsv.exe, on boot. The spoolsv.exe process also runs under SYSTEM level permissions. Alternatively, an arbitrary DLL can be loaded if permissions allow writing a fully-qualified pathname for that DLL to HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Print\Monitors. The Registry key contains entries for the following:

T1055Process Injection

Process injection is a method of executing arbitrary code in the address space of a separate live process. Running code in the context of another process may allow access to the process's memory, system/network resources, and possibly elevated privileges. Execution via process injection may also evade detection from security products since the execution is masked under a legitimate process.

T1053Scheduled Task

Utilities such as at and schtasks, along with the Windows Task Scheduler, can be used to schedule programs or scripts to be executed at a date and time. A task can also be scheduled on a remote system, provided the proper authentication is met to use RPC and file and printer sharing is turned on. Scheduling a task on a remote system typically required being a member of the Administrators group on the the remote system.

T1058Service Registry Permissions Weakness

Windows stores local service configuration information in the Registry under HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services. The information stored under a service's Registry keys can be manipulated to modify a service's execution parameters through tools such as the service controller, sc.exe, PowerShell, or Reg. Access to Registry keys is controlled through Access Control Lists and permissions.

T1166Setuid and Setgid

When the setuid or setgid bits are set on Linux or macOS for an application, this means that the application will run with the privileges of the owning user or group respectively . Normally an application is run in the current user’s context, regardless of which user or group owns the application. There are instances where programs need to be executed in an elevated context to function properly, but the user running them doesn’t need the elevated privileges. Instead of creating an entry in the sudoers file, which must be done by root, any user can specify the setuid or setgid flag to be set for their own applications. These bits are indicated with an "s" instead of an "x" when viewing a file's attributes via ls -l. The chmod program can set these bits with via bitmasking, chmod 4777 [file] or via shorthand naming, chmod u+s [file].

T1178SID-History Injection

The Windows security identifier (SID) is a unique value that identifies a user or group account. SIDs are used by Windows security in both security descriptors and access tokens. An account can hold additional SIDs in the SID-History Active Directory attribute , allowing inter-operable account migration between domains (e.g., all values in SID-History are included in access tokens).

T1165Startup Items

Per Apple’s documentation, startup items execute during the final phase of the boot process and contain shell scripts or other executable files along with configuration information used by the system to determine the execution order for all startup items . This is technically a deprecated version (superseded by Launch Daemons), and thus the appropriate folder, /Library/StartupItems isn’t guaranteed to exist on the system by default, but does appear to exist by default on macOS Sierra. A startup item is a directory whose executable and configuration property list (plist), StartupParameters.plist, reside in the top-level directory.


The sudoers file, /etc/sudoers, describes which users can run which commands and from which terminals. This also describes which commands users can run as other users or groups. This provides the idea of least privilege such that users are running in their lowest possible permissions for most of the time and only elevate to other users or permissions as needed, typically by prompting for a password. However, the sudoers file can also specify when to not prompt users for passwords with a line like user1 ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL .

T1206Sudo Caching

The sudo command "allows a system administrator to delegate authority to give certain users (or groups of users) the ability to run some (or all) commands as root or another user while providing an audit trail of the commands and their arguments." Since sudo was made for the system administrator, it has some useful configuration features such as a timestamp_timeout that is the amount of time in minutes between instances of sudo before it will re-prompt for a password. This is because sudo has the ability to cache credentials for a period of time. Sudo creates (or touches) a file at /var/db/sudo with a timestamp of when sudo was last run to determine this timeout. Additionally, there is a tty_tickets variable that treats each new tty (terminal session) in isolation. This means that, for example, the sudo timeout of one tty will not affect another tty (you will have to type the password again).

T1078Valid Accounts

Adversaries may steal the credentials of a specific user or service account using Credential Access techniques or capture credentials earlier in their reconnaissance process through social engineering for means of gaining Initial Access.

T1100Web Shell

A Web shell is a Web script that is placed on an openly accessible Web server to allow an adversary to use the Web server as a gateway into a network. A Web shell may provide a set of functions to execute or a command-line interface on the system that hosts the Web server. In addition to a server-side script, a Web shell may have a client interface program that is used to talk to the Web server (see, for example, China Chopper Web shell client).