Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Shortcut Modification

Adversaries may create or edit shortcuts to run a program during system boot or user login. Shortcuts or symbolic links are ways of referencing other files or programs that will be opened or executed when the shortcut is clicked or executed by a system startup process.

Adversaries could use shortcuts to execute their tools for persistence. They may create a new shortcut as a means of indirection that may use Masquerading to look like a legitimate program. Adversaries could also edit the target path or entirely replace an existing shortcut so their tools will be executed instead of the intended legitimate program.

ID: T1547.009
Sub-technique of:  T1547
Tactics: Persistence, Privilege Escalation
Platforms: Windows
Permissions Required: Administrator, User
Data Sources: File: File Creation, File: File Modification, Process: Process Creation
Contributors: Bobby, Filar, Elastic; David French, Elastic; Travis Smith, Tripwire
Version: 1.1
Created: 24 January 2020
Last Modified: 13 April 2021

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
G0016 APT29

APT29 drops a Windows shortcut file for execution.[1]

G0087 APT39

APT39 has modified LNK shortcuts. [2]

S0373 Astaroth

Astaroth's initial payload is a malicious .LNK file. [3][4]


BACKSPACE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut to itself in the CSIDL_STARTUP directory.[5]

S0534 Bazar

Bazar can establish persistence by writing shortcuts to the Windows Startup folder.[6][7]

S0089 BlackEnergy

The BlackEnergy 3 variant drops its main DLL component and then creates a .lnk shortcut to that file in the startup folder.[8]

S0244 Comnie

Comnie establishes persistence via a .lnk file in the victim’s startup path.[9]

G0012 Darkhotel

Darkhotel has dropped an mspaint.lnk shortcut to disk which launches a shell script that downloads and executes a file.[10]

G0074 Dragonfly 2.0

Dragonfly 2.0 manipulated .lnk files to gather user credentials in conjunction with Forced Authentication.[11]

S0363 Empire

Empire can persist by modifying a .LNK file to include a backdoor.[12]


FELIXROOT creates a .LNK file for persistence.[13]

S0168 Gazer

Gazer can establish persistence by creating a .lnk file in the Start menu or by modifying existing .lnk files to execute the malware through cmd.exe.[14][15]

G0078 Gorgon Group

Gorgon Group malware can create a .lnk file and add a Registry Run key to establish persistence.[16]

S0531 Grandoreiro

Grandoreiro can write or modify browser shortcuts to enable launching of malicious browser extensions.[17]

S0170 Helminth

Helminth establishes persistence by creating a shortcut.[18]

S0260 InvisiMole

InvisiMole can use a .lnk shortcut for the Control Panel to establish persistence.[19]

S0265 Kazuar

Kazuar adds a .lnk file to the Windows startup folder.[20]


A version of KONNI drops a Windows shortcut on the victim’s machine to establish persistence.[21]

G0032 Lazarus Group

A Lazarus Group malware sample adds persistence on the system by creating a shortcut in the user’s Startup folder.[22]

G0065 Leviathan

Leviathan has used JavaScript to create a shortcut file in the Startup folder that points to its main backdoor.[23][24]

S0339 Micropsia

Micropsia creates a shortcut to maintain persistence.[25]

S0439 Okrum

Okrum can establish persistence by creating a .lnk shortcut to itself in the Startup folder.[26]

S0172 Reaver

Reaver creates a shortcut file and saves it in a Startup folder to establish persistence.[27]

S0153 RedLeaves

RedLeaves attempts to add a shortcut file in the Startup folder to achieve persistence.[28][29]

S0270 RogueRobin

RogueRobin establishes persistence by creating a shortcut (.LNK file) in the Windows startup folder to run a script each time the user logs in.[30][31]

S0085 S-Type

S-Type may create the file %HOMEPATH%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup\Realtek {{Unique Identifier}}.lnk, which points to the malicious msdtc.exe file already created in the %CommonFiles% directory.[32]

S0053 SeaDuke

SeaDuke is capable of persisting via a .lnk file stored in the Startup directory.[33]


SHIPSHAPE achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the Startup folder.[5]


SPACESHIP achieves persistence by creating a shortcut in the current user's Startup folder.[5]

S0058 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.[34]

S0004 TinyZBot

TinyZBot can create a shortcut in the Windows startup folder for persistence.[35]


ID Mitigation Description
M1018 User Account Management

Limit permissions for who can create symbolic links in Windows to appropriate groups such as Administrators and necessary groups for virtualization. This can be done through GPO: Computer Configuration > [Policies] > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Local Policies > User Rights Assignment: Create symbolic links. [36]


Since a shortcut's target path likely will not change, modifications to shortcut files that do not correlate with known software changes, patches, removal, etc., may be suspicious. Analysis should attempt to relate shortcut file change or creation events to other potentially suspicious events based on known adversary behavior such as process launches of unknown executables that make network connections.

Monitor for LNK files created with a Zone Identifier value greater than 1, which may indicate that the LNK file originated from outside of the network.[37]


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  3. Doaty, J., Garrett, P.. (2018, September 10). We’re Seeing a Resurgence of the Demonic Astaroth WMIC Trojan. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
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  18. Falcone, R. and Lee, B.. (2016, May 26). The OilRig Campaign: Attacks on Saudi Arabian Organizations Deliver Helminth Backdoor. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  19. Hromcova, Z. and Cherpanov, A. (2020, June). INVISIMOLE: THE HIDDEN PART OF THE STORY. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
  1. Levene, B, et al. (2017, May 03). Kazuar: Multiplatform Espionage Backdoor with API Access. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  2. Rascagneres, P. (2017, May 03). KONNI: A Malware Under The Radar For Years. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  3. Sherstobitoff, R. (2018, February 12). Lazarus Resurfaces, Targets Global Banks and Bitcoin Users. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  4. Axel F, Pierre T. (2017, October 16). Leviathan: Espionage actor spearphishes maritime and defense targets. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  5. FireEye. (2018, March 16). Suspected Chinese Cyber Espionage Group (TEMP.Periscope) Targeting U.S. Engineering and Maritime Industries. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  6. Rascagneres, P., Mercer, W. (2017, June 19). Delphi Used To Score Against Palestine. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  7. Hromcova, Z. (2019, July). OKRUM AND KETRICAN: AN OVERVIEW OF RECENT KE3CHANG GROUP ACTIVITY. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  8. Grunzweig, J. and Miller-Osborn, J. (2017, November 10). New Malware with Ties to SunOrcal Discovered. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  9. PwC and BAE Systems. (2017, April). Operation Cloud Hopper: Technical Annex. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  10. Accenture Security. (2018, April 23). Hogfish Redleaves Campaign. Retrieved July 2, 2018.
  11. Falcone, R., et al. (2018, July 27). New Threat Actor Group DarkHydrus Targets Middle East Government. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  12. Lee, B., Falcone, R. (2019, January 18). DarkHydrus delivers new Trojan that can use Google Drive for C2 communications. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  13. Gross, J. (2016, February 23). Operation Dust Storm. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  14. Grunzweig, J.. (2015, July 14). Unit 42 Technical Analysis: Seaduke. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  15. Baumgartner, K., Golovkin, M.. (2015, May). The MsnMM Campaigns: The Earliest Naikon APT Campaigns. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  16. Cylance. (2014, December). Operation Cleaver. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  17. UCF. (n.d.). Unauthorized accounts must not have the Create symbolic links user right.. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  18. French, D., Filar, B.. (2020, March 21). A Chain Is No Stronger Than Its Weakest LNK. Retrieved November 30, 2020.