Hide Artifacts: Hidden Window

Adversaries may use hidden windows to conceal malicious activity from the plain sight of users. In some cases, windows that would typically be displayed when an application carries out an operation can be hidden. This may be utilized by system administrators to avoid disrupting user work environments when carrying out administrative tasks.

On Windows, there are a variety of features in scripting languages in Windows, such as PowerShell, Jscript, and Visual Basic to make windows hidden. One example of this is powershell.exe -WindowStyle Hidden. [1]

Similarly, on macOS the configurations for how applications run are listed in property list (plist) files. One of the tags in these files can be apple.awt.UIElement, which allows for Java applications to prevent the application's icon from appearing in the Dock. A common use for this is when applications run in the system tray, but don't also want to show up in the Dock.

Adversaries may abuse these functionalities to hide otherwise visible windows from users so as not to alert the user to adversary activity on the system.[2]

ID: T1564.003
Sub-technique of:  T1564
Tactic: Defense Evasion
Platforms: Windows, macOS
Permissions Required: User
Data Sources: Command: Command Execution, File: File Modification, Process: Process Creation, Script: Script Execution
Contributors: Travis Smith, Tripwire
Version: 1.0
Created: 13 March 2020
Last Modified: 29 March 2020

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0331 Agent Tesla

Agent Tesla has used ProcessWindowStyle.Hidden to hide windows.[3]

G0073 APT19

APT19 used -W Hidden to conceal PowerShell windows by setting the WindowStyle parameter to hidden. [4]

G0007 APT28

APT28 has used the WindowStyle parameter to conceal PowerShell windows.[5] [6]

G0022 APT3

APT3 has been known to use -WindowStyle Hidden to conceal PowerShell windows.[7]

G0050 APT32

APT32 has used the WindowStyle parameter to conceal PowerShell windows. [8] [9]

S0373 Astaroth

Astaroth loads its module with the XSL script parameter vShow set to zero, which opens the application with a hidden window. [10]

S0360 BONDUPDATER

BONDUPDATER uses -windowstyle hidden to conceal a PowerShell window that downloads a payload.[11]

G0052 CopyKittens

CopyKittens has used -w hidden and -windowstyle hidden to conceal PowerShell windows. [12]

G0079 DarkHydrus

DarkHydrus has used -WindowStyle Hidden to conceal PowerShell windows. [13]

G0009 Deep Panda

Deep Panda has used -w hidden to conceal PowerShell windows by setting the WindowStyle parameter to hidden. [14]

G0078 Gorgon Group

Gorgon Group has used -W Hidden to conceal PowerShell windows by setting the WindowStyle parameter to hidden. [15]

S0037 HAMMERTOSS

HAMMERTOSS has used -WindowStyle hidden to conceal PowerShell windows.[16]

G0126 Higaisa

Higaisa used a payload that creates a hidden window.[17]

S0431 HotCroissant

HotCroissant has the ability to hide the window for operations performed on a given file.[18]

S0260 InvisiMole

InvisiMole has executed legitimate tools in hidden windows.[19]

S0387 KeyBoy

KeyBoy uses -w Hidden to conceal a PowerShell window that downloads a payload. [20]

S0437 Kivars

Kivars has the ability to conceal its activity through hiding active windows.[21]

G0059 Magic Hound

Magic Hound malware has a function to determine whether the C2 server wishes to execute the newly dropped file in a hidden window.[22]

S0500 MCMD

MCMD can modify processes to prevent them from being visible on the desktop.[23]

S0455 Metamorfo

Metamorfo has hidden its GUI using the ShowWindow() WINAPI call.[24]

S0441 PowerShower

PowerShower has added a registry key so future powershell.exe instances are spawned with coordinates for a window position off-screen by default.[25]

S0491 StrongPity

StrongPity has the ability to hide the console window for its document search module from the user.[26]

S0386 Ursnif

Ursnif droppers have used COM properties to execute malware in hidden windows.[27]

S0466 WindTail

WindTail can instruct the OS to execute an application without a dock icon or menu.[28]

Mitigations

ID Mitigation Description
M1038 Execution Prevention

Limit or restrict program execution using anti-virus software. On MacOS, allowlist programs that are allowed to have the plist tag. All other programs should be considered suspicious.

Detection

Monitor processes and command-line arguments for actions indicative of hidden windows. In Windows, enable and configure event logging and PowerShell logging to check for the hidden window style. In MacOS, plist files are ASCII text files with a specific format, so they're relatively easy to parse. File monitoring can check for the apple.awt.UIElement or any other suspicious plist tag in plist files and flag them.

References

  1. Wheeler, S. et al.. (2019, May 1). About PowerShell.exe. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  2. Thomas Reed. (2017, January 18). New Mac backdoor using antiquated code. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
  3. Jazi, H. (2020, April 16). New AgentTesla variant steals WiFi credentials. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  4. Ahl, I. (2017, June 06). Privileges and Credentials: Phished at the Request of Counsel. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  5. Lee, B., Falcone, R. (2018, June 06). Sofacy Group’s Parallel Attacks. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  6. Sherstobitoff, R., Rea, M. (2017, November 7). Threat Group APT28 Slips Office Malware into Doc Citing NYC Terror Attack. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  7. Moran, N., et al. (2014, November 21). Operation Double Tap. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  8. Carr, N.. (2017, May 14). Cyber Espionage is Alive and Well: APT32 and the Threat to Global Corporations. Retrieved June 18, 2017.
  9. Dahan, A. (2017). Operation Cobalt Kitty. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  10. Salem, E. (2019, February 13). ASTAROTH MALWARE USES LEGITIMATE OS AND ANTIVIRUS PROCESSES TO STEAL PASSWORDS AND PERSONAL DATA. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
  11. Sardiwal, M, et al. (2017, December 7). New Targeted Attack in the Middle East by APT34, a Suspected Iranian Threat Group, Using CVE-2017-11882 Exploit. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  12. ClearSky Cyber Security and Trend Micro. (2017, July). Operation Wilted Tulip: Exposing a cyber espionage apparatus. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  13. Falcone, R., et al. (2018, July 27). New Threat Actor Group DarkHydrus Targets Middle East Government. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  14. Alperovitch, D. (2014, July 7). Deep in Thought: Chinese Targeting of National Security Think Tanks. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  1. Falcone, R., et al. (2018, August 02). The Gorgon Group: Slithering Between Nation State and Cybercrime. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  2. FireEye Labs. (2015, July). HAMMERTOSS: Stealthy Tactics Define a Russian Cyber Threat Group. Retrieved September 17, 2015.
  3. PT ESC Threat Intelligence. (2020, June 4). COVID-19 and New Year greetings: an investigation into the tools and methods used by the Higaisa group. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  4. Knight, S.. (2020, April 16). VMware Carbon Black TAU Threat Analysis: The Evolution of Lazarus. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  5. Hromcova, Z. and Cherpanov, A. (2020, June). INVISIMOLE: THE HIDDEN PART OF THE STORY. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
  6. Parys, B. (2017, February 11). The KeyBoys are back in town. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  7. Bermejo, L., et al. (2017, June 22). Following the Trail of BlackTech’s Cyber Espionage Campaigns. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  8. Lee, B. and Falcone, R. (2017, February 15). Magic Hound Campaign Attacks Saudi Targets. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  9. Secureworks. (2019, July 24). MCMD Malware Analysis. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  10. Erlich, C. (2020, April 3). The Avast Abuser: Metamorfo Banking Malware Hides By Abusing Avast Executable. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  11. Lancaster, T. (2018, November 5). Inception Attackers Target Europe with Year-old Office Vulnerability. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
  12. Mercer, W. et al. (2020, June 29). PROMETHIUM extends global reach with StrongPity3 APT. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  13. Holland, A. (2019, March 7). Tricks and COMfoolery: How Ursnif Evades Detection. Retrieved June 10, 2019.
  14. Wardle, Patrick. (2018, December 20). Middle East Cyber-Espionage analyzing WindShift's implant: OSX.WindTail (part 1). Retrieved October 3, 2019.