Registry Run Keys / Startup Folder
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.  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_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnceEx 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.  For example, it is possible to load a DLL at logon using a "Depend" key with RunOnceEx:
reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnceEx\0001\Depend /v 1 /d "C:\temp\evil[.]dll" 
The following Registry keys can be used to set startup folder items for persistence:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders
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.
ADVSTORESHELL achieves persistence by adding itself to the
|Agent Tesla||Agent Tesla adds itself to the Registry as a startup program to establish persistence. |
APT18 establishes persistence via the
An APT19 HTTP malware variant establishes persistence by setting the Registry key
|APT29||APT29 added Registry Run keys to establish persistence. |
|APT3||APT3 places scripts in the startup folder for persistence. |
|APT32||APT32 established persistence using Registry Run keys, both to execute PowerShell and VBS scripts as well as to execute their backdoor directly.   |
|APT33||APT33 has deployed a tool known as DarkComet to the Startup folder of a victim. |
APT37's has added persistence via the Registry key
|APT39||APT39 has maintained persistence using the startup folder. |
|Astaroth||Astaroth creates a startup item for persistence. |
|Backdoor.Oldrea||Backdoor.Oldrea adds Registry Run keys to achieve persistence. |
|BACKSPACE||BACKSPACE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut to itself in the CSIDL_STARTUP directory. |
|BADNEWS||BADNEWS installs a registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|BadPatch||BadPatch establishes a foothold by adding a link to the malware executable in the startup folder. |
BBSRAT has been loaded through DLL side-loading of a legitimate Citrix executable that is set to persist through the Registry Run key location
Bisonal adds itself to the Registry key
|BlackEnergy||The BlackEnergy 3 variant drops its main DLL component and then creates a .lnk shortcut to that file in the startup folder. |
|Briba||Briba creates run key Registry entries pointing to malicious DLLs dropped to disk. |
|BRONZE BUTLER||BRONZE BUTLER has used a batch script that adds a Registry Run key to establish malware persistence. |
|Carbanak||Carbanak stores a configuration files in the startup directory to automatically execute commands in order to persist across reboots. |
Cardinal RAT establishes Persistence by setting the
|ChChes||ChChes establishes persistence by adding a Registry Run key. |
|Cobalt Group||Cobalt Group has used Registry Run keys for persistence. The group has also set a Startup path to launch the PowerShell shell command and download Cobalt Strike. |
|Cobian RAT||Cobian RAT creates an autostart Registry key to ensure persistence. |
|Comnie||Comnie achieves persistence by adding a shortcut of itself to the startup path in the Registry. |
|CORESHELL||CORESHELL has established persistence by creating autostart extensibility point (ASEP) Registry entries in the Run key and other Registry keys, as well as by creating shortcuts in the Internet Explorer Quick Start folder. |
One persistence mechanism used by CozyCar is to set itself to be executed at system startup by adding a Registry value under one of the following Registry keys:
|CrossRAT||CrossRAT uses run keys for persistence on Windows|
Dark Caracal's version of Bandook adds a registry key to
|DarkComet||DarkComet adds several Registry entries to enable automatic execution at every system startup.  |
|Darkhotel||Darkhotel has been known to establish persistence by adding programs to the Run Registry key. |
|DownPaper||DownPaper uses PowerShell to add a Registry Run key in order to establish persistence. |
|Dragonfly 2.0||Dragonfly 2.0 added the registry value ntdll to the Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
DustySky achieves persistence by creating a Registry entry in
If establishing persistence by installation as a new service fails, one variant of Elise establishes persistence for the created .exe file by setting the following Registry key:
|Emissary||Variants of Emissary have added Run Registry keys to establish persistence. |
Emotet has been observed adding the downloaded payload to the
Empire can modify the registry run keys
EvilBunny has created Registry keys for persistence in
|EvilGrab||EvilGrab adds a Registry Run key for ctfmon.exe to establish persistence. |
|FELIXROOT||FELIXROOT adds a shortcut file to the startup folder for persistence. |
|FIN10||FIN10 has established persistence by using the Registry option in PowerShell Empire to add a Run key.  |
|FIN6||FIN6 has used Registry Run keys to establish persistence for its downloader tools known as HARDTACK and SHIPBREAD. |
|FIN7||FIN7 malware has created Registry Run and RunOnce keys to establish persistence, and has also added items to the Startup folder.  |
|Final1stspy||Final1stspy creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
FinFisher establishes persistence by creating the Registry key
|FLASHFLOOD||FLASHFLOOD achieves persistence by making an entry in the Registry's Run key. |
|Gazer||Gazer can establish persistence by creating a .lnk file in the Start menu.  |
|gh0st RAT||gh0st RAT adds a Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|Gold Dragon||Gold Dragon establishes persistence in the Startup folder. |
|Gorgon Group||Gorgon Group malware can create a .lnk file and add a Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|Helminth||Helminth establishes persistence by creating a shortcut in the Start Menu folder. |
|Hi-Zor||Hi-Zor creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|Honeybee||Honeybee uses a batch file that configures the ComSysApp service to autostart in order to establish persistence. |
HTTPBrowser has established persistence by setting the
Some InnaputRAT variants establish persistence by modifying the Registry key
Ixeshe can achieve persistence by adding itself to the
|JCry||JCry has created payloads in the Startup directory to maintain persistence. |
|Kasidet||Kasidet creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence.  |
|Kazuar||Kazuar adds a sub-key under several Registry run keys. |
|Ke3chang||Several Ke3chang backdoors achieved persistence by adding a Run key. |
|KONNI||A version of KONNI drops a Windows shortcut into the Startup folder to establish persistence. |
|Lazarus Group||Lazarus Group malware attempts to maintain persistence by saving itself in the Start menu folder or by adding a Registry Run key.   |
LoJax has modified the Registry key
|Magic Hound||Magic Hound malware has used Registry Run keys to establish persistence. |
|Matroyshka||Matroyshka can establish persistence by adding Registry Run keys.  |
Mivast creates the following Registry entry:
Mosquito establishes persistence under the Registry key
MuddyWater has added Registry Run key
|NanHaiShu||NanHaiShu modifies the %regrun% Registry to point itself to an autostart mechanism. |
|NanoCore||NanoCore creates a RunOnce key in the Registry to execute its VBS scripts each time the user logs on to the machine. |
|NavRAT||NavRAT creates a Registry key to ensure a file gets executed upon reboot in order to establish persistence. |
The "SCOUT" variant of NETEAGLE achieves persistence by adding itself to the
|NETWIRE||NETWIRE creates a Registry start-up entry to establish persistence. |
njRAT has added persistence via the Registry key
NOKKI has established persistence by writing the payload to the Registry key
|Patchwork||Patchwork has added the path of its second-stage malware to the startup folder to achieve persistence. One of its file stealers has also persisted by adding a Registry Run key.  |
|Pisloader||Pisloader establishes persistence via a Registry Run key. |
PLAINTEE gains persistence by adding the Registry key
|PlugX||PlugX adds Run key entries in the Registry to establish persistence.   |
|PoisonIvy||PoisonIvy creates run key Registry entries pointing to a malicious executable dropped to disk. |
|PowerDuke||PowerDuke achieves persistence by using various Registry Run keys. |
|POWERSOURCE||POWERSOURCE achieves persistence by setting a Registry Run key, with the path depending on whether the victim account has user or administrator access. |
|POWERTON||POWERTON can install a Registry Run key for persistence. |
|Prikormka||Prikormka adds itself to a Registry Run key with the name guidVGA or guidVSA. |
|Pteranodon||Pteranodon copies itself to the Startup folder to establish persistence. |
|PUNCHBUGGY||PUNCHBUGGY has been observed using a Registry Run key.  |
Pupy adds itself to the startup folder or adds itself to the Registry key
A dropper used by Putter Panda installs itself into the ASEP Registry key
|Reaver||Reaver creates a shortcut file and saves it in a Startup folder to establish persistence. |
|RedLeaves||RedLeaves attempts to add a shortcut file in the Startup folder to achieve persistence. If this fails, it attempts to add Registry Run keys.  |
Remcos can add itself to the Registry key
|Remexi||Remexi utilizes Run Registry keys in the HKLM hive as a persistence mechanism. |
Revenge RAT creates a Registry key at
|RogueRobin||RogueRobin created a shortcut in the Windows startup folder to launch a PowerShell script each time the user logs in to establish persistence. |
Rover persists by creating a Registry entry in
|RTM||RTM tries to add a Registry Run key under the name "Windows Update" to establish persistence. |
RunningRAT adds itself to the Registry key
S-Type may create a .lnk file to itself that is saved in the Start menu folder. It may also create the Registry key
Most Sakula samples maintain persistence by setting the Registry Run key
|SeaDuke||SeaDuke is capable of persisting via the Registry Run key or a .lnk file stored in the Startup directory. |
Seasalt creates a Registry entry to ensure infection after reboot under
ServHelper may attempt to establish persistence via the
|SHIPSHAPE||SHIPSHAPE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the Startup folder. |
|Smoke Loader||Smoke Loader adds a Registry Run key for persistence and adds a script in the Startup folder to deploy the payload. |
|SNUGRIDE||SNUGRIDE establishes persistence through a Registry Run key. |
|SPACESHIP||SPACESHIP achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the current user's Startup folder. |
|SslMM||To establish persistence, SslMM identifies the Start Menu Startup directory and drops a link to its own executable disguised as an “Office Start,” “Yahoo Talk,” “MSN Gaming Z0ne,” or “MSN Talk” shortcut. |
|Sykipot||Sykipot has been known to establish persistence by adding programs to the Run Registry key. |
A Threat Group-3390 tool can add the binary’s path to the Registry key
|TINYTYPHON||TINYTYPHON installs itself under Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|TinyZBot||TinyZBot can create a shortcut in the Windows startup folder for persistence. |
|TrickBot||TrickBot establishes persistence in the Startup folder. |
|Trojan.Karagany||Trojan.Karagany can create a link to itself in the Startup folder to automatically start itself upon system restart. |
|Truvasys||Truvasys adds a Registry Run key to establish persistence. |
|TURNEDUP||TURNEDUP is capable of writing to a Registry Run key to establish. |
|Ursnif||Ursnif has used Registry Run keys to establish automatic execution at system startup.  |
|USBStealer||USBStealer registers itself under a Registry Run key with the name "USB Disk Security." |
|Vasport||Vasport copies itself to disk and creates an associated run key Registry entry to establish. |
|Xbash||Xbash can create a Startup item for persistence if it determines it is on a Windows system. |
|Zebrocy||Zebrocy creates an entry in a Registry Run key for the malware to execute on startup.   |
|Zeus Panda||Zeus Panda adds persistence by creating Registry Run keys.  |
This type of attack technique cannot be easily mitigated with preventive controls since it is based on the abuse of system features.
Monitor Registry for changes to run keys that do not correlate with known software, patch cycles, etc. Monitor the start folder for additions or changes. Tools such as Sysinternals Autoruns may also be used to detect system changes that could be attempts at persistence, including listing the run keys' Registry locations and startup folders.  Suspicious program execution as startup programs may show up as outlier processes that have not been seen before when compared against historical data.
Changes to these locations typically happen under normal conditions when legitimate software is installed. To increase confidence of malicious activity, data and events should not be viewed in isolation, but as part of a chain of behavior that could lead to other activities, such as network connections made for Command and Control, learning details about the environment through Discovery, and Lateral Movement.
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