Steal Application Access Token

Adversaries can steal application access tokens as a means of acquiring credentials to access remote systems and resources.

Application access tokens are used to make authorized API requests on behalf of a user or service and are commonly used as a way to access resources in cloud and container-based applications and software-as-a-service (SaaS).[1] OAuth is one commonly implemented framework that issues tokens to users for access to systems. Adversaries who steal account API tokens in cloud and containerized environments may be able to access data and perform actions with the permissions of these accounts, which can lead to privilege escalation and further compromise of the environment.

In Kubernetes environments, processes running inside a container communicate with the Kubernetes API server using service account tokens. If a container is compromised, an attacker may be able to steal the container’s token and thereby gain access to Kubernetes API commands.[2]

Token theft can also occur through social engineering, in which case user action may be required to grant access. An application desiring access to cloud-based services or protected APIs can gain entry using OAuth 2.0 through a variety of authorization protocols. An example commonly-used sequence is Microsoft's Authorization Code Grant flow.[3][4] An OAuth access token enables a third-party application to interact with resources containing user data in the ways requested by the application without obtaining user credentials.

Adversaries can leverage OAuth authorization by constructing a malicious application designed to be granted access to resources with the target user's OAuth token.[5][6] The adversary will need to complete registration of their application with the authorization server, for example Microsoft Identity Platform using Azure Portal, the Visual Studio IDE, the command-line interface, PowerShell, or REST API calls.[7] Then, they can send a Spearphishing Link to the target user to entice them to grant access to the application. Once the OAuth access token is granted, the application can gain potentially long-term access to features of the user account through Application Access Token.[8]

Application access tokens may function within a limited lifetime, limiting how long an adversary can utilize the stolen token. However, in some cases, adversaries can also steal application refresh tokens[9], allowing them to obtain new access tokens without prompting the user.

ID: T1528
Sub-techniques:  No sub-techniques
Platforms: Azure AD, Containers, Google Workspace, Office 365, SaaS
Contributors: Jack Burns, HubSpot; Jeff Sakowicz, Microsoft Identity Developer Platform Services (IDPM Services); Mark Wee; Ram Pliskin, Microsoft Azure Security Center; Saisha Agrawal, Microsoft Threat Intelligent Center (MSTIC); Shailesh Tiwary (Indian Army); Suzy Schapperle - Microsoft Azure Red Team
Version: 1.2
Created: 04 September 2019
Last Modified: 19 September 2023

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0677 AADInternals

AADInternals can steal users’ access tokens via phishing emails containing malicious links.[10]

G0007 APT28

APT28 has used several malicious applications to steal user OAuth access tokens including applications masquerading as "Google Defender" "Google Email Protection," and "Google Scanner" for Gmail users. They also targeted Yahoo users with applications masquerading as "Delivery Service" and "McAfee Email Protection".[6]

S0683 Peirates

Peirates gathers Kubernetes service account tokens using a variety of techniques.[11]


ID Mitigation Description
M1047 Audit

Administrators should audit all cloud and container accounts to ensure that they are necessary and that the permissions granted to them are appropriate. Additionally, administrators should perform an audit of all OAuth applications and the permissions they have been granted to access organizational data. This should be done extensively on all applications in order to establish a baseline, followed up on with periodic audits of new or updated applications. Suspicious applications should be investigated and removed.

M1021 Restrict Web-Based Content

Administrators can block end-user consent to OAuth applications, disabling users from authorizing third-party apps through OAuth 2.0 and forcing administrative consent for all requests. They can also block end-user registration of applications by their users, to reduce risk. A Cloud Access Security Broker can also be used to ban applications.

Azure offers a couple of enterprise policy settings in the Azure Management Portal that may help:

"Users -> User settings -> App registrations: Users can register applications" can be set to "no" to prevent users from registering new applications. "Enterprise applications -> User settings -> Enterprise applications: Users can consent to apps accessing company data on their behalf" can be set to "no" to prevent users from consenting to allow third-party multi-tenant applications

M1018 User Account Management

Enforce role-based access control to limit accounts to the least privileges they require. A Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) can be used to set usage policies and manage user permissions on cloud applications to prevent access to application access tokens. In Kubernetes applications, set "automountServiceAccountToken: false" in the YAML specification of pods that do not require access to service account tokens.[12]

M1017 User Training

Users need to be trained to not authorize third-party applications they don’t recognize. The user should pay particular attention to the redirect URL: if the URL is a misspelled or convoluted sequence of words related to an expected service or SaaS application, the website is likely trying to spoof a legitimate service. Users should also be cautious about the permissions they are granting to apps. For example, offline access and access to read emails should excite higher suspicions because adversaries can utilize SaaS APIs to discover credentials and other sensitive communications.


ID Data Source Data Component Detects
DS0002 User Account User Account Modification

Administrators should set up monitoring to trigger automatic alerts when policy criteria are met. For example, using a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), admins can create a "High severity app permissions" policy that generates alerts if apps request high severity permissions or send permissions requests for too many users.Security analysts can hunt for malicious apps using the tools available in their CASB, identity provider, or resource provider (depending on platform.) For example, they can filter for apps that are authorized by a small number of users, apps requesting high risk permissions, permissions incongruous with the app’s purpose, or apps with old "Last authorized" fields. A specific app can be investigated using an activity log displaying activities the app has performed, although some activities may be mis-logged as being performed by the user. App stores can be useful resources to further investigate suspicious apps.Administrators can set up a variety of logs and leverage audit tools to monitor actions that can be conducted as a result of OAuth 2.0 access. For instance, audit reports enable admins to identify privilege escalation actions such as role creations or policy modifications, which could be actions performed after initial access.