Process Injection: Ptrace System Calls

Adversaries may inject malicious code into processes via ptrace (process trace) system calls in order to evade process-based defenses as well as possibly elevate privileges. Ptrace system call injection is a method of executing arbitrary code in the address space of a separate live process.

Ptrace system call injection involves attaching to and modifying a running process. The ptrace system call enables a debugging process to observe and control another process (and each individual thread), including changing memory and register values.[1] Ptrace system call injection is commonly performed by writing arbitrary code into a running process (ex: malloc) then invoking that memory with PTRACE_SETREGS to set the register containing the next instruction to execute. Ptrace system call injection can also be done with PTRACE_POKETEXT/PTRACE_POKEDATA, which copy data to a specific address in the target processes’ memory (ex: the current address of the next instruction). [1][2]

Ptrace system call injection may not be possible targeting processes with high-privileges, and on some system those that are non-child processes.[3]

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 ptrace system call injection may also evade detection from security products since the execution is masked under a legitimate process.

ID: T1055.008
Sub-technique of:  T1055
Tactics: Defense Evasion, Privilege Escalation
Platforms: Linux
Data Sources: Process: OS API Execution, Process: Process Access
Defense Bypassed: Anti-virus, Application control
Version: 1.0
Created: 14 January 2020
Last Modified: 20 June 2020


ID Mitigation Description
M1040 Behavior Prevention on Endpoint

Some endpoint security solutions can be configured to block some types of process injection based on common sequences of behavior that occur during the injection process.

M1026 Privileged Account Management

Utilize Yama (ex: /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope) to mitigate ptrace based process injection by restricting the use of ptrace to privileged users only. Other mitigation controls involve the deployment of security kernel modules that provide advanced access control and process restrictions such as SELinux, grsecurity, and AppArmor.


Monitoring for Linux specific calls such as the ptrace system call should not generate large amounts of data due to their specialized nature, and can be a very effective method to detect some of the common process injection methods.[4] [5] [6] [7]

Analyze process behavior to determine if a process is performing actions it usually does not, such as opening network connections, reading files, or other suspicious actions that could relate to post-compromise behavior.