User Execution: Malicious Image

Adversaries may rely on a user running a malicious image to facilitate execution. Amazon Web Services (AWS) Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Images, and Azure Images as well as popular container runtimes such as Docker can be backdoored. Backdoored images may be uploaded to a public repository via Upload Malware, and users may then download and deploy an instance or container from the image without realizing the image is malicious, thus bypassing techniques that specifically achieve Initial Access. This can lead to the execution of malicious code, such as code that executes cryptocurrency mining, in the instance or container.[1]

Adversaries may also name images a certain way to increase the chance of users mistakenly deploying an instance or container from the image (ex: Match Legitimate Name or Location).

ID: T1204.003
Sub-technique of:  T1204
Tactic: Execution
Platforms: Containers, IaaS
Permissions Required: User
Data Sources: Application Log: Application Log Content, Command: Command Execution, Container: Container Creation, Container: Container Start, Image: Image Creation, Instance: Instance Creation, Instance: Instance Start
Contributors: Center for Threat-Informed Defense (CTID); Vishwas Manral, McAfee
Version: 1.0
Created: 30 March 2021
Last Modified: 12 April 2021


ID Mitigation Description
M1047 Audit

Audit images deployed within the environment to ensure they do not contain any malicious components.

M1045 Code Signing

Utilize a trust model such as Docker Content Trust with digital signatures to ensure runtime verification of the integrity and publisher of specific image tags.[2][3]

M1031 Network Intrusion Prevention

Network prevention intrusion systems and systems designed to scan and remove malicious downloads can be used to block activity.

M1017 User Training

Train users to be aware of the existence of malicious images and how to avoid deploying instances and containers from them.


Monitor the local image registry to make sure malicious images are not added. Track the deployment of new containers, especially from newly built images. Monitor the behavior of containers within the environment to detect anomalous behavior or malicious activity after users deploy from malicious images.