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ID T1036
Tactic Defense Evasion
Platform Linux, macOS, Windows
Data Sources File monitoring, Process monitoring, Binary file metadata
Defense Bypassed Whitelisting by file name or path
Contributors ENDGAME, Bartosz Jerzman

Masquerading occurs when the name or location of an executable, legitimate or malicious, is manipulated or abused for the sake of evading defenses and observation. Several different variations of this technique have been observed.

One variant is for an executable to be placed in a commonly trusted directory or given the name of a legitimate, trusted program. Alternatively, the filename given may be a close approximation of legitimate programs. This is done to bypass tools that trust executables by relying on file name or path, as well as to deceive defenders and system administrators into thinking a file is benign by associating the name with something that is thought to be legitimate.


In another variation of this technique, an adversary may use a renamed copy of a legitimate utility, such as rundll32.exe.1 An alternative case occurs when a legitimate utility is moved to a different directory and also renamed to avoid detections based on system utilities executing from non-standard paths.2

An example of abuse of trusted locations in Windows would be the C:\Windows\System32 directory. Examples of trusted binary names that can be given to malicious binares include "explorer.exe" and "svchost.exe".


Another variation of this technique includes malicious binaries changing the name of their running process to that of a trusted or benign process, after they have been launched as opposed to before. 3

An example of abuse of trusted locations in Linux would be the /bin directory. Examples of trusted binary names that can be given to malicious binares include "rsyncd" and "dbus-inotifier". 4 5


  • The file name AcroRD32.exe, a legitimate process name for Adobe's Acrobat Reader, was used by APT1 as a name for malware.6
  • APT32 has used hidden or non-printing characters to help masquerade file names on a system, such as appending a Unicode no-break space character to a legitimate service name.7
  • BRONZE BUTLER has given malware the same name as an existing file on the file share server to cause users to unwittingly launch and install the malware on additional systems.8
  • Carbanak malware names itself "svchost.exe," which is the name of the Windows shared service host program.9
  • Accounts created by Dragonfly masqueraded as legitimate service accounts.10
  • FIN7 has created a scheduled task named “AdobeFlashSync” to establish persistence.11
  • MuddyWater has used filenames and Registry key names associated with Windows Defender.12
  • Patchwork installed its payload in the startup programs folder as "Baidu Software Update." The group also adds its second stage payload to the startup programs as “Net Monitor."13
  • Poseidon Group tools attempt to spoof anti-virus processes as a means of self-defense.14
  • Sowbug named its tools to masquerade as Windows or Adobe Reader software, such as by using the file name adobecms.exe and the directory CSIDL_APPDATA\microsoft\security.15
  • admin@338 actors used the following command to rename one of their tools to a benign file name: ren "%temp%\upload" audiodg.exe16
  • BADNEWS attempts to hide its payloads using legitimate filenames.17
  • ChChes copies itself to an .exe file with a filename that is likely intended to imitate Norton Antivirus but has several letters reversed (e.g. notron.exe).18
  • The CozyCar dropper has masqueraded a copy of the infected system's rundll32.exe executable that was moved to the malware's install directory and renamed according to a predefined configuration file.2
  • If installing itself as a service fails, Elise instead writes itself as a file named svchost.exe saved in %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Network.19
  • Felismus has masqueraded as legitimate Adobe Content Management System files.20
  • HTTPBrowser's installer contains a malicious file named navlu.dll to decrypt and run the RAT. navlu.dll is also the name of a legitimate Symantec DLL.21
  • Mis-Type saves itself as a file named msdtc.exe, which is also the name of the legitimate Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator service.2223
  • Misdat saves itself as a file named msdtc.exe, which is also the name of the legitimate Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator service.2223
  • Nidiran can create a new service named msamger (Microsoft Security Accounts Manager), which mimics the legitimate Microsoft database by the same name.2425
  • OLDBAIT installs itself in %ALLUSERPROFILE%\\Application Data\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\updatewindws.exe; the directory name is missing a space and the file name is missing the letter "o."26
  • OwaAuth uses the filename owaauth.dll, which is a legitimate file that normally resides in %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft\Exchange Server\ClientAccess\Owa\Auth\; the malicious file by the same name is saved in %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft\Exchange Server\ClientAccess\Owa\bin\.27
  • PUNCHBUGGY mimics filenames from %SYSTEM%\System32 to hide DLLs in %WINDIR% and/or %TEMP%.28
  • In one instance, menuPass added PlugX as a service with a display name of "Corel Writing Tools Utility."29
  • New services created by RawPOS are made to appear like legitimate Windows services, with names such as "Windows Management Help Service", "Microsoft Support", and "Windows Advanced Task Manager".303132
  • The Remsec loader implements itself with the name Security Support Provider, a legitimate Windows function. Various Remsec .exe files mimic legitimate file names used by Microsoft, Symantec, Kaspersky, Hewlett-Packard, and VMWare.3334 Remsec also disguised malicious modules using similar filenames as custom network encryption software on victims.34
  • S-Type may save itself as a file named msdtc.exe, which is also the name of the legitimate Microsoft Distributed Transaction Coordinator service.2223
  • Shamoon creates a new service named “ntssrv” that attempts to appear legitimate; the service's display name is “Microsoft Network Realtime Inspection Service” and its description is “Helps guard against time change attempts targeting known and newly discovered vulnerabilities in network time protocols.”35
  • 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.36
  • Starloader has masqueraded as legitimate software update packages such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Intel.15
  • To establish persistence, Truvasys adds a Registry Run key with a value "TaskMgr" in an attempt to masquerade as the legitimate Windows Task Manager.37
  • USBStealer mimics a legitimate Russian program called USB Disk Security.38
  • A Winnti implant file was named ASPNET_FILTER.DLL, mimicking the legitimate ASP.NET ISAPI filter DLL with the same name.39
  • ZLib mimics the resource version information of legitimate Realtek Semiconductor, Nvidia, or Synaptics modules.22


When creating security rules, avoid exclusions based on file name or file path. Require signed binaries. Use file system access controls to protect folders such as C:\Windows\System32. Use tools that restrict program execution via whitelisting by attributes other than file name.

Identify potentially malicious software that may look like a legitimate program based on name and location, and audit and/or block it by using whitelisting40 tools like AppLocker4142 or Software Restriction Policies43 where appropriate.44


Collect file hashes; file names that do not match their expected hash are suspect. Perform file monitoring; files with known names but in unusual locations are suspect. Likewise, files that are modified outside of an update or patch are suspect.

If file names are mismatched between the binary name on disk and the binary's resource section, this is a likely indicator that a binary was renamed after it was compiled. Collecting and comparing disk and resource filenames for binaries could provide useful leads, but may not always be indicative of malicious activity.1


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