Hijack Execution Flow: DLL Side-Loading
Other sub-techniques of Hijack Execution Flow (11)
Adversaries may execute their own malicious payloads by hijacking the library manifest used to load DLLs. Adversaries may take advantage of vague references in the library manifest of a program by replacing a legitimate library with a malicious one, causing the operating system to load their malicious library when it is called for by the victim program.
Programs may specify DLLs that are loaded at runtime. Programs that improperly or vaguely specify a required DLL may be open to a vulnerability in which an unintended DLL is loaded. Side-loading vulnerabilities specifically occur when Windows Side-by-Side (WinSxS) manifests  are not explicit enough about characteristics of the DLL to be loaded. Adversaries may take advantage of a legitimate program that is vulnerable by replacing the legitimate DLL with a malicious one. 
Adversaries likely use this technique as a means of masking actions they perform under a legitimate, trusted system or software process.
APT32 ran legitimately-signed executables from Symantec and McAfee which load a malicious DLL. The group also side-loads its backdoor by dropping a library and a legitimate, signed executable (AcroTranscoder).
During the T9000 installation process, it drops a copy of the legitimate Microsoft binary igfxtray.exe. The executable contains a side-loading weakness which is used to load a portion of the malware.
Use the program sxstrace.exe that is included with Windows along with manual inspection to check manifest files for side-loading vulnerabilities in software.
|Restrict File and Directory Permissions||
Install software in write-protected locations.
Update software regularly to include patches that fix DLL side-loading vulnerabilities.
Monitor processes for unusual activity (e.g., a process that does not use the network begins to do so). Track DLL metadata, such as a hash, and compare DLLs that are loaded at process execution time against previous executions to detect differences that do not correlate with patching or updates.
- Microsoft. (2018, May 31). About Side-by-Side Assemblies. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
- Amanda Steward. (2014). FireEye DLL Side-Loading: A Thorn in the Side of the Anti-Virus Industry. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
- Grunzweig, J., Lee, B. (2016, January 22). New Attacks Linked to C0d0so0 Group. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
- Chen, X., Scott, M., Caselden, D.. (2014, April 26). New Zero-Day Exploit targeting Internet Explorer Versions 9 through 11 Identified in Targeted Attacks. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
- Scott, M.. (2014, June 10). Clandestine Fox, Part Deux. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
- Dahan, A. (2017, May 24). OPERATION COBALT KITTY: A LARGE-SCALE APT IN ASIA CARRIED OUT BY THE OCEANLOTUS GROUP. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
- Dahan, A. (2017). Operation Cobalt Kitty. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
- Dumont, R. (2019, March 20). Fake or Fake: Keeping up with OceanLotus decoys. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
- Fraser, N., et al. (2019, August 7). Double DragonAPT41, a dual espionage and cyber crime operation APT41. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
- Settle, A., et al. (2016, August 8). MONSOON - Analysis Of An APT Campaign. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
- Levene, B. et al.. (2018, March 7). Patchwork Continues to Deliver BADNEWS to the Indian Subcontinent. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
- Lee, B. Grunzweig, J. (2015, December 22). BBSRAT Attacks Targeting Russian Organizations Linked to Roaming Tiger. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- Chen, J. et al. (2019, November). Operation ENDTRADE: TICK’s Multi-Stage Backdoors for Attacking Industries and Stealing Classified Data. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
- FinFisher. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2017.
- Allievi, A.,Flori, E. (2018, March 01). FinFisher exposed: A researcher’s tale of defeating traps, tricks, and complex virtual machines. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
- Sabo, S. (2018, February 15). Musical Chairs Playing Tetris. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
- Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit Threat Intelligence. (2015, August 5). Threat Group-3390 Targets Organizations for Cyberespionage. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
- Falcone, R. and Lancaster, T.. (2019, May 28). Emissary Panda Attacks Middle East Government Sharepoint Servers. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
- PwC and BAE Systems. (2017, April). Operation Cloud Hopper: Technical Annex. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- Matsuda, A., Muhammad I. (2018, September 13). APT10 Targeting Japanese Corporations Using Updated TTPs. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
- Erlich, C. (2020, April 3). The Avast Abuser: Metamorfo Banking Malware Hides By Abusing Avast Executable. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
- Sierra, E., Iglesias, G.. (2018, April 24). Metamorfo Campaigns Targeting Brazilian Users. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
- CheckPoint. (2020, May 7). Naikon APT: Cyber Espionage Reloaded. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
- Lunghi, D., et al. (2017, December). Untangling the Patchwork Cyberespionage Group. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
- Stewart, A. (2014). DLL SIDE-LOADING: A Thorn in the Side of the Anti-Virus Industry. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
- Lancaster, T. and Idrizovic, E.. (2017, June 27). Paranoid PlugX. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit Threat Intelligence. (2015, July 30). Sakula Malware Family. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
- Cybereason Nocturnus. (2019, June 25). Operation Soft Cell: A Worldwide Campaign Against Telecommunications Providers. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
- Grunzweig, J. and Miller-Osborn, J.. (2016, February 4). T9000: Advanced Modular Backdoor Uses Complex Anti-Analysis Techniques. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
- Counter Threat Unit Research Team. (2017, June 27). BRONZE UNION Cyberespionage Persists Despite Disclosures. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
- Legezo, D. (2018, June 13). LuckyMouse hits national data center to organize country-level waterholing campaign. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
- Hulcoop, A., et al. (2016, November 17). It’s Parliamentary KeyBoy and the targeting of the Tibetan Community. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
- Moore, S. et al. (2020, April 30). Anomali Suspects that China-Backed APT Pirate Panda May Be Seeking Access to Vietnam Government Data Center. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
- Anthe, C. et al. (2016, December 14). Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Volume 21. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
- Microsoft. (2017, November 9). Backdoor:Win32/Wingbird.A!dha. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
- Axel F. (2017, April 27). APT Targets Financial Analysts with CVE-2017-0199. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
- Huss, D., et al. (2017, February 2). Oops, they did it again: APT Targets Russia and Belarus with ZeroT and PlugX. Retrieved April 5, 2018.