Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion: System Checks

Adversaries may employ various system checks to detect and avoid virtualization and analysis environments. This may include changing behaviors based on the results of checks for the presence of artifacts indicative of a virtual machine environment (VME) or sandbox. If the adversary detects a VME, they may alter their malware to disengage from the victim or conceal the core functions of the implant. They may also search for VME artifacts before dropping secondary or additional payloads. Adversaries may use the information learned from Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion during automated discovery to shape follow-on behaviors.

Specific checks will vary based on the target and/or adversary, but may involve behaviors such as Windows Management Instrumentation, PowerShell, System Information Discovery, and Query Registry to obtain system information and search for VME artifacts. Adversaries may search for VME artifacts in memory, processes, file system, hardware, and/or the Registry. Adversaries may use scripting to automate these checks into one script and then have the program exit if it determines the system to be a virtual environment.

Checks could include generic system properties such as host/domain name and samples of network traffic. Adversaries may also check the network adapters addresses, CPU core count, and available memory/drive size.

Other common checks may enumerate services running that are unique to these applications, installed programs on the system, manufacturer/product fields for strings relating to virtual machine applications, and VME-specific hardware/processor instructions.[1] In applications like VMWare, adversaries can also use a special I/O port to send commands and receive output.

Hardware checks, such as the presence of the fan, temperature, and audio devices, could also be used to gather evidence that can be indicative a virtual environment. Adversaries may also query for specific readings from these devices.[2]

ID: T1497.001
Sub-technique of:  T1497
Platforms: Linux, Windows, macOS
Data Sources: Command: Command Execution, Process: OS API Execution, Process: Process Creation
Defense Bypassed: Anti-virus, Host forensic analysis, Signature-based detection, Static File Analysis
Contributors: Deloitte Threat Library Team
Version: 2.0
Created: 06 March 2020
Last Modified: 21 April 2021

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0373 Astaroth

Astaroth can check for Windows product ID's used by sandboxes and usernames and disk serial numbers associated with analyst environments.[3]

S0438 Attor

Attor can detect whether it is executed in some virtualized or emulated environment by searching for specific artifacts, such as communication with I/O ports and using VM-specific instructions.[4]

S0337 BadPatch

BadPatch attempts to detect if it is being run in a Virtual Machine (VM) using a WMI query for disk drive name, BIOS, and motherboard information. [5]

S0527 CSPY Downloader

CSPY Downloader can search loaded modules, PEB structure, file paths, Registry keys, and memory to determine if it is being debugged or running in a virtual environment.[6]

G0012 Darkhotel

Darkhotel malware has used a series of checks to determine if it's being analyzed; checks include the length of executable names, if a filename ends with .Md5.exe, and if the program is executed from the root of the C:\ drive, as well as checks for sandbox-related libraries.[7][8]

S0354 Denis

Denis ran multiple system checks, looking for processor and register characteristics, to evade emulation and analysis.[9]

S0024 Dyre

Dyre can detect sandbox analysis environments by inspecting the process list and Registry.[10][11]

S0396 EvilBunny

EvilBunny's dropper has checked the number of processes and the length and strings of its own file name to identify if the malware is in a sandbox environment.[12]

G0120 Evilnum

Evilnum has used a component called TerraLoader to check certain hardware and file information to detect sandboxed environments. [13]

S0182 FinFisher

FinFisher obtains the hardware device list and checks if the MD5 of the vendor ID is equal to a predefined list in order to check for sandbox/virtualized environments.[14]

G0101 Frankenstein

Frankenstein has used WMI queries to check if various security applications were running, including VMWare and Virtualbox.[15]

S0588 GoldMax

GoldMax will check if it is being run in a virtualized environment by comparing the collected MAC address to c8:27:cc:c2:37:5a.[16][17]

S0531 Grandoreiro

Grandoreiro can detect VMWare via its I/O port and Virtual PC via the vpcext instruction.[18]

S0237 GravityRAT

GravityRAT uses WMI to check the BIOS and manufacturer information for strings like "VMWare", "Virtual", and "XEN" and another WMI request to get the current temperature of the hardware to determine if it's a virtual machine environment. [19]

S0260 InvisiMole

InvisiMole can check for artifacts of VirtualBox, Virtual PC and VMware environment, and terminate itself if they are detected.[20]

S0532 Lucifer

Lucifer can check for specific usernames, computer names, device drivers, DLL's, and virtual devices associated with sandboxed environments and can enter an infinite loop and stop itself if any are detected.[21]

S0576 MegaCortex

MegaCortex has checked the number of CPUs in the system to avoid being run in a sandbox or emulator.[22]

S0439 Okrum

Okrum's loader can check the amount of physical memory and terminates itself if the host has less than 1.5 Gigabytes of physical memory in total.[23]

S0264 OopsIE

OopsIE performs several anti-VM and sandbox checks on the victim's machine. One technique the group has used was to perform a WMI query SELECT * FROM MSAcpi_ThermalZoneTemperature to check the temperature to see if it’s running in a virtual environment.[2]

S0352 OSX_OCEANLOTUS.D

OSX_OCEANLOTUS.D has a variant that checks a number of system parameters to see if it is being run on real hardware or in a virtual machine environment.[24]

S0013 PlugX

PlugX checks if VMware tools is running in the background by searching for any process named "vmtoolsd". [25]

S0428 PoetRAT

PoetRAT checked the size of the hard drive to determine if it was being run in a sandbox environment. In the event of sandbox detection, it would delete itself by overwriting the malware scripts with the contents of "License.txt" and exiting.[26]

S0192 Pupy

Pupy has a module that checks a number of indicators on the system to determine if its running on a virtual machine.[27]

S0332 Remcos

Remcos searches for Sandboxie and VMware on the system.[28]

S0270 RogueRobin

RogueRobin uses WMI to check BIOS version for VBOX, bochs, qemu, virtualbox, and vm to check for evidence that the script might be executing within an analysis environment. [29][30]

S0240 ROKRAT

ROKRAT checks for sandboxing libraries.[31][32]

S0226 Smoke Loader

Smoke Loader scans processes to perform anti-VM checks. [33]

S0559 SUNBURST

SUNBURST checked the domain name of the compromised host to verify it was running in a real environment.[34]

S0242 SynAck

SynAck checks its directory location in an attempt to avoid launching in a sandbox.[35][36]

S0595 ThiefQuest

ThiefQuest uses a function named is_debugging to perform anti-debugging logic. The function invokes sysctl checking the returned value of P_TRACED. ThiefQuest also calls ptrace with the PTRACE_DENY_ATTACH flag to prevent debugging.

S0094 Trojan.Karagany

Trojan.Karagany can detect commonly used and generic virtualization platforms based primarily on drivers and file paths.[37]

S0333 UBoatRAT

UBoatRAT checks for virtualization software such as VMWare, VirtualBox, or QEmu on the compromised machine.[38]

S0248 yty

yty has some basic anti-sandbox detection that tries to detect Virtual PC, Sandboxie, and VMware. [39]

Mitigations

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

Detection

Virtualization/sandbox related system checks will likely occur in the first steps of an operation but may also occur throughout as an adversary learns the environment. 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 lateral movement, based on the information obtained. Detecting actions related to virtualization and sandbox identification may be difficult depending on the adversary's implementation and monitoring required. Monitoring for suspicious processes being spawned that gather a variety of system information or perform other forms of Discovery, especially in a short period of time, may aid in detection.

References

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