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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. [1] 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_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

The 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. [2] 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" [3]

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_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\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.

ID: T1060
Tactic: Persistence
Platform: Windows
System Requirements: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE keys require administrator access to create and modify
Permissions Required: User, Administrator
Data Sources: Windows Registry, File monitoring
CAPEC ID: CAPEC-270
Contributors: Oddvar Moe, @oddvarmoe
Version: 1.0

Procedure Examples

Name Description
ADVSTORESHELL ADVSTORESHELL achieves persistence by adding itself to the HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run Registry key. [55] [56] [57]
Agent Tesla Agent Tesla adds itself to the Registry as a startup program to establish persistence. [76]
APT18 APT18 establishes persistence via the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run key. [137] [138]
APT19 An APT19 HTTP malware variant establishes persistence by setting the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\Windows Debug Tools-%LOCALAPPDATA%\. [125]
APT29 APT29 added Registry Run keys to establish persistence. [113]
APT3 APT3 places scripts in the startup folder for persistence. [144]
APT32 APT32 established persistence using Registry Run keys, both to execute PowerShell and VBS scripts as well as to execute their backdoor directly. [141] [142] [143]
APT33 APT33 has deployed a tool known as DarkComet to the Startup folder of a victim. [150]
APT37 APT37's has added persistence via the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\CurrentVersion\Run\. [117] [118]
APT39 APT39 has maintained persistence using the startup folder. [149]
Astaroth Astaroth creates a startup item for persistence. [101]
Backdoor.Oldrea Backdoor.Oldrea adds Registry Run keys to achieve persistence. [18]
BACKSPACE BACKSPACE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut to itself in the CSIDL_STARTUP directory. [37]
BADNEWS BADNEWS installs a registry Run key to establish persistence. [46]
BadPatch BadPatch establishes a foothold by adding a link to the malware executable in the startup folder. [67]
BBSRAT BBSRAT has been loaded through DLL side-loading of a legitimate Citrix executable that is set to persist through the Registry Run key location HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\ssonsvr.exe.
Bisonal Bisonal adds itself to the Registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\CurrentVersion\Run\ for persistence. [91]
BlackEnergy The BlackEnergy 3 variant drops its main DLL component and then creates a .lnk shortcut to that file in the startup folder. [16]
Briba Briba creates run key Registry entries pointing to malicious DLLs dropped to disk. [9]
BRONZE BUTLER BRONZE BUTLER has used a batch script that adds a Registry Run key to establish malware persistence. [131]
Carbanak Carbanak stores a configuration files in the startup directory to automatically execute commands in order to persist across reboots. [36]
Cardinal RAT Cardinal RAT establishes Persistence by setting the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Windows\Load Registry key to point to its executable. [26]
ChChes ChChes establishes persistence by adding a Registry Run key. [42]
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. [132]
Cobian RAT Cobian RAT creates an autostart Registry key to ensure persistence. [85]
Comnie Comnie achieves persistence by adding a shortcut of itself to the startup path in the Registry. [15]
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. [35]
CozyCar 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:
HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\
HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\
HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\Run
HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\Run [43]
CrossRAT CrossRAT uses run keys for persistence on Windows
Dark Caracal Dark Caracal's version of Bandook adds a registry key to HKEY_USERS\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run for persistence. [130]
DarkComet DarkComet adds several Registry entries to enable automatic execution at every system startup. [50] [51]
Darkhotel Darkhotel has been known to establish persistence by adding programs to the Run Registry key. [146]
DownPaper DownPaper uses PowerShell to add a Registry Run key in order to establish persistence. [17]
Dragonfly 2.0 Dragonfly 2.0 added the registry value ntdll to the Registry Run key to establish persistence. [140]
DustySky DustySky achieves persistence by creating a Registry entry in HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. [31]
Elise 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: HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\svchost : %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Network\svchost.exe. Other variants have set the following Registry keys for persistence: HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\imejp : [self] and HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\IAStorD. [10] [11]
Emissary Variants of Emissary have added Run Registry keys to establish persistence. [38]
Emotet Emotet has been observed adding the downloaded payload to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run key to maintain persistence. [97] [98] [99]
Empire Empire can modify the registry run keys HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run for persistence. [8]
EvilBunny EvilBunny has created Registry keys for persistence in [HKLM|HKCU]\…\CurrentVersion\Run. [111]
EvilGrab EvilGrab adds a Registry Run key for ctfmon.exe to establish persistence. [42]
FELIXROOT FELIXROOT adds a shortcut file to the startup folder for persistence. [63]
FIN10 FIN10 has established persistence by using the Registry option in PowerShell Empire to add a Run key. [128] [8]
FIN6 FIN6 has used Registry Run keys to establish persistence for its downloader tools known as HARDTACK and SHIPBREAD. [129]
FIN7 FIN7 malware has created Registry Run and RunOnce keys to establish persistence, and has also added items to the Startup folder. [147] [148]
Final1stspy Final1stspy creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [27]
FinFisher FinFisher establishes persistence by creating the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Run. [87] [88]
FLASHFLOOD FLASHFLOOD achieves persistence by making an entry in the Registry's Run key. [37]
Gazer Gazer can establish persistence by creating a .lnk file in the Start menu. [19] [20]
gh0st RAT gh0st RAT adds a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [81]
Gold Dragon Gold Dragon establishes persistence in the Startup folder. [40]
Gorgon Group Gorgon Group malware can create a .lnk file and add a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [145]
Helminth Helminth establishes persistence by creating a shortcut in the Start Menu folder. [52]
Hi-Zor Hi-Zor creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [72]
Honeybee Honeybee uses a batch file that configures the ComSysApp service to autostart in order to establish persistence. [134]
HTTPBrowser HTTPBrowser has established persistence by setting the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run key value for wdm to the path of the executable. It has also used the Registry entry HKEY_USERS\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run vpdn “%ALLUSERPROFILE%\%APPDATA%\vpdn\VPDN_LU.exe” to establish persistence. [47] [48]
InnaputRAT Some InnaputRAT variants establish persistence by modifying the Registry key HKU\\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run:%appdata%\NeutralApp\NeutralApp.exe. [49]
Ixeshe Ixeshe can achieve persistence by adding itself to the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run Registry key. [109]
JCry JCry has created payloads in the Startup directory to maintain persistence. [110]
JHUHUGIT JHUHUGIT has used a Registry Run key to establish persistence by executing JavaScript code within the rundll32.exe process. [22]
Kasidet Kasidet creates a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [89] [90]
Kazuar Kazuar adds a sub-key under several Registry run keys. [59]
Ke3chang Several Ke3chang backdoors achieved persistence by adding a Run key. [133]
KONNI A version of KONNI drops a Windows shortcut into the Startup folder to establish persistence. [66]
Lazarus Group Lazarus Group malware attempts to maintain persistence by saving itself in the Start menu folder or by adding a Registry Run key. [119] [120] [121]
Leviathan Leviathan has used JavaScript to create a shortcut file in the Startup folder that points to its main backdoor. [123] [124]
LoJax LoJax has modified the Registry key ‘HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\BootExecute’ from ‘autocheck autochk to ‘autocheck autoche in order to execute its payload during Windows startup. [112]
Magic Hound Magic Hound malware has used Registry Run keys to establish persistence. [135]
Matroyshka Matroyshka can establish persistence by adding Registry Run keys. [12] [13]
Mivast Mivast creates the following Registry entry: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\Micromedia. [24]
Mosquito Mosquito establishes persistence under the Registry key HKCU\Software\Run auto_update. [23]
MuddyWater MuddyWater has added Registry Run key KCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\SystemTextEncoding to establish persistence. [114] [115] [116]
NanHaiShu NanHaiShu modifies the %regrun% Registry to point itself to an autostart mechanism. [65]
NanoCore NanoCore creates a RunOnce key in the Registry to execute its VBS scripts each time the user logs on to the machine. [68]
NavRAT NavRAT creates a Registry key to ensure a file gets executed upon reboot in order to establish persistence. [53]
NETEAGLE The "SCOUT" variant of NETEAGLE achieves persistence by adding itself to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run Registry key. [37]
NETWIRE NETWIRE creates a Registry start-up entry to establish persistence. [78]
njRAT njRAT has added persistence via the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\CurrentVersion\Run\. [105] [106]
NOKKI NOKKI has established persistence by writing the payload to the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. [79]
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. [126] [127]
Pisloader Pisloader establishes persistence via a Registry Run key. [14]
PLAINTEE PLAINTEE gains persistence by adding the Registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce. [71]
PlugX PlugX adds Run key entries in the Registry to establish persistence. [82] [42] [83]
PoisonIvy PoisonIvy creates run key Registry entries pointing to a malicious executable dropped to disk. [21]
PowerDuke PowerDuke achieves persistence by using various Registry Run keys. [44]
POWERSOURCE POWERSOURCE achieves persistence by setting a Registry Run key, with the path depending on whether the victim account has user or administrator access. [64]
PowerSploit PowerSploit's New-UserPersistenceOption Persistence argument can be used to establish via the HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run Registry key. [4] [5]
POWERTON POWERTON can install a Registry Run key for persistence. [100]
Prikormka Prikormka adds itself to a Registry Run key with the name guidVGA or guidVSA. [54]
Pteranodon Pteranodon copies itself to the Startup folder to establish persistence. [58]
PUNCHBUGGY PUNCHBUGGY has been observed using a Registry Run key. [29] [30]
Pupy Pupy adds itself to the startup folder or adds itself to the Registry key SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run for persistence. [6]
Putter Panda A dropper used by Putter Panda installs itself into the ASEP Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run with a value named McUpdate. [136]
Reaver Reaver creates a shortcut file and saves it in a Startup folder to establish persistence. [41]
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. [42] [75]
Remcos Remcos can add itself to the Registry key HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run for persistence. [7]
Remexi Remexi utilizes Run Registry keys in the HKLM hive as a persistence mechanism. [102]
Revenge RAT Revenge RAT creates a Registry key at HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Shell to survive a system reboot. [103]
RogueRobin RogueRobin created a shortcut in the Windows startup folder to launch a PowerShell script each time the user logs in to establish persistence. [33]
Rover Rover persists by creating a Registry entry in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\. [73]
RTM RTM tries to add a Registry Run key under the name "Windows Update" to establish persistence. [45]
RunningRAT RunningRAT adds itself to the Registry key Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run to establish persistence upon reboot. [40]
S-Type S-Type may create a .lnk file to itself that is saved in the Start menu folder. It may also create the Registry key HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\ IMJPMIJ8.1{3 characters of Unique Identifier}. [61]
Sakula Most Sakula samples maintain persistence by setting the Registry Run key SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\ in the HKLM or HKCU hive, with the Registry value and file name varying by sample. [39]
SeaDuke SeaDuke is capable of persisting via the Registry Run key or a .lnk file stored in the Startup directory. [84]
Seasalt Seasalt creates a Registry entry to ensure infection after reboot under HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\currentVersion\Run. [25]
ServHelper ServHelper may attempt to establish persistence via the HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\ run key. [104]
SHIPSHAPE SHIPSHAPE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the Startup folder. [37]
Smoke Loader Smoke Loader adds a Registry Run key for persistence and adds a script in the Startup folder to deploy the payload. [60]
SNUGRIDE SNUGRIDE establishes persistence through a Registry Run key. [86]
SPACESHIP SPACESHIP achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the current user's Startup folder. [37]
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. [80]
Sykipot Sykipot has been known to establish persistence by adding programs to the Run Registry key. [74]
Threat Group-3390 A Threat Group-3390 tool can add the binary’s path to the Registry key Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run to add persistence. [139]
TINYTYPHON TINYTYPHON installs itself under Registry Run key to establish persistence. [46]
TinyZBot TinyZBot can create a shortcut in the Windows startup folder for persistence. [32]
TrickBot TrickBot establishes persistence in the Startup folder. [28]
Trojan.Karagany Trojan.Karagany can create a link to itself in the Startup folder to automatically start itself upon system restart. [18]
Truvasys Truvasys adds a Registry Run key to establish persistence. [77]
Turla A Turla Javascript backdoor added a local_update_check value under the Registry key HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run to establish persistence. Additionally, a Turla custom executable containing Metasploit shellcode is saved to the Startup folder to gain persistence. [23] [122]
TURNEDUP TURNEDUP is capable of writing to a Registry Run key to establish. [34]
Ursnif Ursnif has used Registry Run keys to establish automatic execution at system startup. [107] [108]
USBStealer USBStealer registers itself under a Registry Run key with the name "USB Disk Security." [62]
Vasport Vasport copies itself to disk and creates an associated run key Registry entry to establish. [92]
Xbash Xbash can create a Startup item for persistence if it determines it is on a Windows system. [96]
Zebrocy Zebrocy creates an entry in a Registry Run key for the malware to execute on startup. [93] [94] [95]
Zeus Panda Zeus Panda adds persistence by creating Registry Run keys. [69] [70]

Mitigations

This type of attack technique cannot be easily mitigated with preventive controls since it is based on the abuse of system features.

Detection

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. [151] 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.

References

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