Defense Evasion

Jump to: navigation, search

Tactic Description

Defense evasion consists of techniques an adversary may use to evade detection or avoid other defenses. Sometimes these actions are the same as or variations of techniques in other categories that have the added benefit of subverting a particular defense or mitigation. Defense evasion may be considered a set of attributes the adversary applies to all other phases of the operation.


Below is a list of all the Defense Evasion techniques in ATT&CK:

NameTacticsTechnical Description
Binary PaddingDefense EvasionSome security tools inspect files with static signatures to determine if they are known malicious. Adversaries may add data to files to increase the size beyond what security tools are capable of handling or to change the file hash to avoid hash-based blacklists.
Bypass User Account ControlDefense Evasion
Privilege Escalation
Windows User Account Control (UAC) allows a program to elevate its privileges to perform a task under administrator-level permissions by prompting the user for confirmation. The impact to the user ranges from denying the operation under high enforcement to allowing the user to perform the action if they are in the local administrators group and click through the prompt or allowing them to enter an administrator password to complete the action.1

If the UAC protection level of a computer is set to anything but the highest level, certain Windows programs are allowed to elevate privileges or execute some elevated COM objects without prompting the user through the UAC notification box.23 An example of this is use of rundll32.exe to load a specifically crafted DLL which loads an auto-elevated COM object and performs a file operation in a protected directory which would typically require elevated access. Malicious software may also be injected into a trusted process to gain elevated privileges without prompting a user.4 Adversaries can use these techniques to elevate privileges to administrator if the target process is unprotected.

Many methods have been discovered to bypass UAC. The Github readme page for UACMe contains an extensive list of methods5 that have been discovered and implemented within UACMe, but this is not a comprehensive list of published bypasses due to the UACMe project being discontinued in 2016. Additional methods have been discovered and are being used in the wild, such as using eventvwr.exe to auto-elevate and execute a specified binary or script.67

Another bypass is possible through some Lateral Movement techniques if credentials for an account with administrator privileges are known, since UAC is a single system security mechanism, and the privilege or integrity of a process running on one system will be unknown on lateral systems and default to high integrity.8
Code SigningDefense EvasionCode signing provides a level of authenticity on a binary from the developer and a guarantee that the binary has not been tampered with.9 However, adversaries are known to use code signing certificates to masquerade malware and tools as legitimate binaries. The certificates used during an operation may be created, forged, or stolen by the adversary.1011 Code signing certificates may be used to bypass security policies that require signed code to execute on a system.
Component FirmwareDefense Evasion
Some adversaries may employ sophisticated means to compromise computer components and install malicious firmware that will execute adversary code outside of the operating system and main system firmware or BIOS. This technique may be similar to Basic Input/Output System but conducted upon other system components that may not have the same capability or level of integrity checking. Malicious device firmware could provide both a persistent level of access to systems despite potential typical failures to maintain access and hard disk re-images, as well as a way to evade host software-based defenses and integrity checks.
Component Object Model HijackingDefense Evasion
The Microsoft Component Object Model (COM) is a system within Windows to enable interaction between software components through the operating system.12 Adversaries can use this system to insert malicious code that can be executed in place of legitimate software through hijacking the COM references and relationships as a means for persistence. Hijacking a COM object requires a change in the Windows Registry to replace a reference to a legitimate system component which may cause that component to not work when executed. When that system component is executed through normal system operation the adversary's code will be executed instead.13 An adversary is likely to hijack objects that are used frequently enough to maintain a consistent level of persistence, but are unlikely to break noticeable functionality within the system as to avoid system instability that could lead to detection.
DLL InjectionDefense Evasion
Privilege Escalation
DLL injection is used to run code in the context of another process by causing the other process to load and execute code. Running code in the context of another process provides adversaries many benefits, such as access to the process's memory and permissions. It also allows adversaries to mask their actions under a legitimate process. A more sophisticated kind of DLL injection, reflective DLL injection, loads code without calling the normal Windows API calls, potentially bypassing DLL load monitoring. Numerous methods of DLL injection exist on Windows, including modifying the Registry, creating remote threads, Windows hooking APIs, and DLL pre-loading.1415
DLL Search Order HijackingDefense Evasion
Privilege Escalation
Windows systems use a common method to look for required DLLs to load into a program.16 Adversaries may take advantage of the Windows DLL search order and programs that ambiguously specify DLLs to gain privilege escalation and persistence.

Adversaries may perform DLL preloading, also called binary planting attacks,17 by placing a malicious DLL with the same name as an ambiguously specified DLL in a location that Windows searches before the legitimate DLL. Often this location is the current working directory of the program. Remote DLL preloading attacks occur when a program sets its current directory to a remote location such as a Web share before loading a DLL.18 Adversaries may use this behavior to cause the program to load a malicious DLL.

Adversaries may also directly modify the way a program loads DLLs by replacing an existing DLL or modifying a .manifest or .local redirection file, directory, or junction to cause the program to load a different DLL to maintain persistence or privilege escalation.192021

If a search order-vulnerable program is configured to run at a higher privilege level, then the adversary-controlled DLL that is loaded will also be executed at the higher level. In this case, the technique could be used for privilege escalation from user to administrator or SYSTEM or from administrator to SYSTEM, depending on the program.

Programs that fall victim to path hijacking may appear to behave normally because malicious DLLs may be configured to also load the legitimate DLLs they were meant to replace.
DLL Side-LoadingDefense EvasionPrograms 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) manifests22 are not explicit enough about characteristics of the DLL to be loaded. Adversaries may take advantage of a legitimate program that is vulnerable to side-loading to load a malicious DLL.23 Adversaries likely use this technique as a means of masking actions they perform under a legitimate, trusted system or software process.
Disabling Security ToolsDefense EvasionAdversaries may disable security tools to avoid possible detection of their tools and activities. This can take the form of killing security software or event logging processes, deleting Registry keys so that tools do not start at run time, or other methods to interfere with security scanning or event reporting.
Exploitation of VulnerabilityCredential Access
Defense Evasion
Lateral Movement
Privilege Escalation
Exploitation of a software vulnerability occurs when an adversary takes advantage of a programming error in a program, service, or within the operating system software or kernel itself to execute adversary-controlled code. Exploiting software vulnerabilities may allow adversaries to run a command or binary on a remote system for lateral movement, escalate a current process to a higher privilege level, or bypass security mechanisms. Exploits may also allow an adversary access to privileged accounts and credentials. One example of this is MS14-068, which can be used to forge Kerberos tickets using domain user permissions.2425
File DeletionDefense EvasionMalware, tools, or other non-native files dropped or created on a system by an adversary may leave traces behind as to what was done within a network and how. Adversaries may remove these files over the course of an intrusion to keep their footprint low or remove them at the end as part of the post-intrusion cleanup process. There are tools available from the host operating system to perform cleanup, but adversaries may use other tools as well. Examples include native cmd functions such as DEL, secure deletion tools such as Windows Sysinternals SDelete, or other third-party file deletion tools.26
File System Logical OffsetsDefense EvasionWindows allows programs to have direct access to logical volumes. Programs with direct access may read and write files directly from the drive by analyzing file system data structures. This technique bypasses Windows file access controls as well as file system monitoring tools.27 Utilities, such as NinjaCopy, exist to perform these actions in PowerShell.28
Indicator BlockingDefense EvasionAn adversary may attempt to block indicators or events from leaving the host machine. In the case of network-based reporting of indicators, an adversary may block traffic associated with reporting to prevent central analysis. This may be accomplished by many means, such as stopping a local process or creating a host-based firewall rule to block traffic to a specific server.
Indicator Removal from ToolsDefense EvasionIf a malicious tool is detected and quarantined or otherwise curtailed, an adversary may be able to determine why the malicious tool was detected (the indicator), modify the tool by removing the indicator, and use the updated version that is no longer detected by the target's defensive systems or subsequent targets that may use similar systems. A good example of this is when malware is detected with a file signature and quarantined by anti-virus software. An adversary who can determine that the malware was quarantined because of its file signature may use Software Packing or otherwise modify the file so it has a different signature, and then re-use the malware.
Indicator Removal on HostDefense EvasionAdversaries may delete or alter generated event files on a host system, including potentially captured files such as quarantined malware. This may compromise the integrity of the security solution, causing events to go unreported, or make forensic analysis and incident response more difficult due to lack of sufficient data to determine what occurred.
InstallUtilDefense Evasion
InstallUtil is a command-line utility that allows for installation and uninstallation of resources by executing specific installer components specified in .NET binaries.29 InstallUtil is located in the .NET directory on a Windows system: C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v<version>\InstallUtil.exe.InstallUtil.exe is digitally signed by Microsoft. Adversaries may use InstallUtil to proxy execution of code through a trusted Windows utility. InstallUtil may also be used to bypass process whitelisting through use of attributes within the binary that execute the class decorated with the attribute [System.ComponentModel.RunInstaller(true)].30
Legitimate CredentialsDefense Evasion
Privilege Escalation
Adversaries may steal the credentials of a specific user or service account using Credential Access techniques. Compromised credentials may be used to bypass access controls placed on various resources on hosts and within the network and may even be used for persistent access to remote systems. Compromised credentials may also grant an adversary increased privilege to specific systems or access to restricted areas of the network. Adversaries may choose not to use malware or tools in conjunction with the legitimate access those credentials provide to make it harder to detect their presence. The overlap of credentials and permissions across a network of systems is of concern because the adversary may be able to pivot across accounts and systems to reach a high level of access (i.e., domain or enterprise administrator) to bypass access controls set within the enterprise.31
MSBuildDefense Evasion
MSBuild.exe (Microsoft Build Engine) is a software build platform used by Visual Studio. It takes XML formatted project files that define requirements for building various platforms and configurations.32 Adversaries can use MSBuild to proxy execution of code through a trusted Windows utility. The inline task capability of MSBuild that was introduced in .NET version 4 allows for C# code to be inserted into the XML project file.33 MSBuild will compile and execute the inline task. MSBuild.exe is a signed Microsoft binary, so when it is used this way it can execute arbitrary code and bypass application whitelisting defenses that are configured to allow MSBuild.exe execution.34
MasqueradingDefense EvasionMasquerading occurs when an executable, legitimate or malicious, is placed in a commonly trusted location (such as C:\Windows\System32) or named with a common name (such as "explorer.exe" or "svchost.exe") to bypass tools that trust executables by relying on file name or path. An adversary may even use a renamed copy of a legitimate utility, such as rundll32.exe.35 Masquerading also may be done to deceive defenders and system administrators into thinking a file is benign by associating the name with something that is thought to be legitimate.
Modify RegistryDefense EvasionAdversaries may interact with the Windows Registry to hide configuration information within Registry keys, remove information as part of cleaning up, or as part of other techniques to aid in Persistence and Execution.

Access to specific areas of the Registry depends on account permissions, some requiring administrator-level access. The built-in Windows command-line utility Reg may be used for local or remote Registry modification.36 Other tools may also be used, such as a remote access tool, which may contain functionality to interact with the Registry through the Windows API (see examples).

The Registry of a remote system may be modified to aid in execution of files as part of Lateral Movement. It requires the remote Registry service to be running on the target system.37 Often Legitimate Credentials are required, along with access to the remote system's Windows Admin Shares for RPC communication.
NTFS Extended AttributesDefense EvasionData or executables may be stored in New Technology File System (NTFS) partition metadata instead of directly in files. This may be done to evade some defenses, such as static indicator scanning tools and anti-virus.38 The NTFS format has a feature called Extended Attributes (EA), which allows data to be stored as an attribute of a file or folder.39
Network Share Connection RemovalDefense EvasionWindows shared drive and Windows Admin Shares connections can be removed when no longer needed. Net is an example utility that can be used to remove network share connections with the net use \\system\share /delete command.40 Adversaries may remove share connections that are no longer useful in order to clean up traces of their operation.
Obfuscated Files or InformationDefense EvasionAdversaries may attempt to make an executable or file difficult to discover or analyze by encrypting, encoding, or otherwise obfuscating its contents on the system.
Process HollowingDefense Evasion
Process hollowing occurs when a process is created in a suspended state and the process's memory is replaced with the code of a second program so that the second program runs instead of the original program. Windows and process monitoring tools believe the original process is running, whereas the actual program running is different.41 Process hollowing may be used similarly to DLL Injection to evade defenses and detection analysis of malicious process execution by launching adversary-controlled code under the context of a legitimate process.
Redundant AccessDefense Evasion
Adversaries may use more than one remote access tool with varying command and control protocols as a hedge against detection. If one type of tool is detected and blocked or removed as a response but the organization did not gain a full understanding of the adversary's tools and access, then the adversary will be able to retain access to the network. Adversaries may also attempt to gain access to Legitimate Credentials to use remote services such as external VPNs as a way to maintain access despite interruptions to remote access tools deployed within a target network.42 Use of a Web Shell is one such way to maintain access to a network through an externally accessible Web server.
Regsvcs/RegasmDefense Evasion
Regsvcs and Regasm are Windows command-line utilities that are used to register .NET Component Object Model (COM) assemblies. Both are digitally signed by Microsoft.4344 Adversaries can use Regsvcs and Regasm to proxy execution of code through a trusted Windows utility. Both utilities may be used to bypass process whitelisting through use of attributes within the binary to specify code that should be run before registration or unregistration: [ComRegisterFunction] or [ComUnregisterFunction] respectively. The code with the registration and unregistration attributes will be executed even if the process is run under insufficient privileges and fails to execute.45
Regsvr32Defense Evasion
Regsvr32.exe is a command-line program used to register and unregister object linking and embedding controls, including dynamic link libraries (DLLs), on Windows systems. Regsvr32.exe can be used to execute arbitrary binaries.46

Adversaries may take advantage of this functionality to proxy execution of code to avoid triggering security tools that may not monitor execution of, and modules loaded by, the regsvr32.exe process because of whitelists or false positives from Windows using regsvr32.exe for normal operations. Regsvr32.exe is also a Microsoft signed binary.

Regsvr32.exe can also be used to specifically bypass process whitelisting using functionality to load COM scriptlets to execute DLLs under user permissions. Since regsvr32.exe is network and proxy aware, the scripts can be loaded by passing a uniform resource locator (URL) to file on an external Web server as an argument during invocation. This method makes no changes to the Registry as the COM object is not actually registered, only executed.47
RootkitDefense EvasionRootkits are programs that hide the existence of malware by intercepting and modifying operating system API calls that supply system information. Rootkits or rootkit enabling functionality may reside at the user or kernel level in the operating system or lower, to include a Hypervisor, Master Boot Record, or the Basic Input/Output System.48 Adversaries may use rootkits to hide the presence of programs, files, network connections, services, drivers, and other system components.
Rundll32Defense Evasion
The rundll32.exe program can be called to execute an arbitrary binary. Adversaries may take advantage of this functionality to proxy execution of code to avoid triggering security tools that may not monitor execution of the rundll32.exe process because of whitelists or false positives from Windows using rundll32.exe for normal operations.
ScriptingDefense Evasion
Adversaries may use scripts to aid in operations and perform multiple actions that would otherwise be manual. Scripting is useful for speeding up operational tasks and reducing the time required to gain access to critical resources. Some scripting languages may be used to bypass process monitoring mechanisms by directly interacting with the operating system at an API level instead of calling other programs. Common scripting languages for Windows include VBScript and PowerShell but could also be in the form of command-line batch scripts. Many popular offensive frameworks exist which use forms of scripting for security testers and adversaries alike. Metasploit49, Veil50, and PowerSploit51 are three examples that are popular among penetration testers for exploit and post-compromise operations and include many features for evading defenses. Some adversaries are known to use PowerShell.52
Software PackingDefense EvasionSoftware packing is a method of compressing or encrypting an executable. Packing an executable changes the file signature in an attempt to avoid signature-based detection. Most decompression techniques decompress the executable code in memory. Utilities used to perform software packing are called packers. Example packers are MPRESS and UPX. A more comprehensive list of known packers is available,53 but adversaries may create their own packing techniques that do not leave the same artifacts as well-known packers to evade defenses.
TimestompDefense EvasionTimestomping is a technique that modifies the timestamps of a file (the modify, access, create, and change times), often to mimic files that are in the same folder. This is done, for example, on files that have been modified or created by the adversary so that they do not appear conspicuous to forensic investigators or file analysis tools. Timestomping may be used along with file name Masquerading to hide malware and tools.54


  1. ^  Lich, B. (2016, May 31). How User Account Control Works. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  2. ^  Russinovich, M. (2009, July). User Account Control: Inside Windows 7 User Account Control. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  3. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). The COM Elevation Moniker. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  4. ^  Davidson, L. (n.d.). Windows 7 UAC whitelist. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  5. ^  UACME Project. (2016, June 16). UACMe. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
  6. ^  Nelson, M. (2016, August 15). "Fileless" UAC Bypass using eventvwr.exe and Registry Hijacking. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  7. ^  Salvio, J., Joven, R. (2016, December 16). Malicious Macro Bypasses UAC to Elevate Privilege for Fareit Malware. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  8. ^  Medin, T. (2013, August 8). PsExec UAC Bypass. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  9. ^  Wikipedia. (2015, November 10). Code Signing. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  10. ^  Ladikov, A. (2015, January 29). Why You Shouldn’t Completely Trust Files Signed with Digital Certificates. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  11. ^  Shinotsuka, H. (2013, February 22). How Attackers Steal Private Keys from Digital Certificates. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  12. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). The Component Object Model. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  13. ^  G DATA. (2014, October). COM Object hijacking: the discreet way of persistence. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  14. ^  Kuster, R. (2003, August 20). Three Ways to Inject Your Code into Another Process. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  15. ^  DLL injection. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  16. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Dynamic-Link Library Search Order. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  17. ^  OWASP. (2013, January 30). Binary planting. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  18. ^  Microsoft. (2010, August 22). Microsoft Security Advisory 2269637 Released. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  19. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Dynamic-Link Library Redirection. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  20. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Manifests. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  21. ^  Mandiant. (2010, August 31). DLL Search Order Hijacking Revisited. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  22. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Manifests. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  23. ^  Stewart, A. (2014). DLL SIDE-LOADING: A Thorn in the Side of the Anti-Virus Industry. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  24. ^  Microsoft. (2014, November 18). Vulnerability in Kerberos Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (3011780). Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  25. ^  Metcalf, S. (2015, May 03). Detecting Forged Kerberos Ticket (Golden Ticket & Silver Ticket) Use in Active Directory. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  26. ^  Wilhoit, K. (2013, March 4). In-Depth Look: APT Attack Tools of the Trade. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  27. ^  Hakobyan, A. (2009, January 8). FDump - Dumping File Sectors Directly from Disk using Logical Offsets. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  28. ^  Bialek, J. (2015, December 16). Invoke-NinjaCopy.ps1. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
  29. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Installutil.exe (Installer Tool). Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  30. ^  Smith, C. (2015, August 24). Application Whitelisting Evasion 101 - Trusted Things That Execute Things "InstallUtil.exe". Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  31. ^  Microsoft. (2016, April 15). Attractive Accounts for Credential Theft. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  32. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). MSBuild1. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  33. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). MSBuild Inline Tasks. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
  34. ^  Smith, C. (2016, September 13). Bypassing Application Whitelisting using MSBuild.exe - Device Guard Example and Mitigations. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  35. ^  Ewing, P. (2016, October 31). How to Hunt: The Masquerade Ball. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  36. ^  Microsoft. (2012, April 17). Reg. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  37. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Enable the Remote Registry Service. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  38. ^  Harrell, C. (2012, December 11). Extracting ZeroAccess from NTFS Extended Attributes. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  39. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). File Streams. Retrieved December 2, 2014.
  40. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Net Use. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  41. ^  Leitch, J. (n.d.). Process Hollowing. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  42. ^  Mandiant. (n.d.). APT1 Exposing One of China’s Cyber Espionage Units. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  43. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Regsvcs.exe (.NET Services Installation Tool). Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  44. ^  Microsoft. (n.d.). Regasm.exe (Assembly Registration Tool). Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  45. ^  Smith, C. (2015, November 9). All-Natural, Organic, Free Range, Sustainable, Whitelisting Evasion - Regsvcs and RegAsm. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  46. ^  Microsoft. (2015, August 14). How to use the Regsvr32 tool and troubleshoot Regsvr32 error messages. Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  47. ^  Smith, C. (2016, April 19). Bypass Application Whitelisting Script Protections - Regsvr32.exe & COM Scriptlets (.sct files). Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  48. ^  Wikipedia. (2016, June 1). Rootkit. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
  49. ^  Metasploit. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  50. ^  Veil Framework. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  51. ^  PowerSploit. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  52. ^  Alperovitch, D. (2014, July 7). Deep in Thought: Chinese Targeting of National Security Think Tanks. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  53. ^  Executable compression. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  54. ^  Carvey, H. (2013, July 23). HowTo: Determine/Detect the use of Anti-Forensics Techniques. Retrieved June 3, 2016.