Change Default File Association
|Change Default File Association|
|Permissions Required||User, Administrator, SYSTEM|
|Data Sources||Windows Registry, Process command-line parameters, Process monitoring|
|Contributors||Stefan Kanthak, Travis Smith, Tripwire|
When a file is opened, the default program used to open the file (also called the file association or handler) is checked. File association selections are stored in the Windows Registry and can be edited by users, administrators, or programs that have Registry access.12 Applications can modify the file association for a given file extension to call an arbitrary program when a file with the given extension is opened.
System file associations are listed under
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.[extension], for example
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.txt. The entries point to a handler for that extension located at
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\[handler]. The various commands are then listed as subkeys underneath the shell key at
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\[handler]\shell\[action]\command. For example:
The values of the keys listed are commands that are executed when the handler opens the file extension. Adversaries can modify these values to execute arbitrary commands.
Direct mitigation of this technique is not recommended since it is a legitimate function that can be performed by users for software preferences. Follow Microsoft's best practices for file associations.3
Collect and analyze changes to Registry keys that associate file extensions to default applications for execution and correlate with unknown process launch activity or unusual file types for that process.
User file association preferences are stored under
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER]\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts and override associations configured under
[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT]. Changes to a user's preference will occur under this entry's subkeys.
Also look for abnormal process call trees for execution of other commands that could relate to Discovery actions or other techniques.
- Microsoft. (n.d.). Change which programs Windows 7 uses by default. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
- Microsoft. (n.d.). Specifying File Handlers for File Name Extensions. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
- Microsoft. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2016.
- Beechey, J. (2010, December). Application Whitelisting: Panacea or Propaganda?. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
- Tomonaga, S. (2016, January 26). Windows Commands Abused by Attackers. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
- NSA Information Assurance Directorate. (2014, August). Application Whitelisting Using Microsoft AppLocker. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
- Corio, C., & Sayana, D. P. (2008, June). Application Lockdown with Software Restriction Policies. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
- Microsoft. (2012, June 27). Using Software Restriction Policies and AppLocker Policies. Retrieved April 7, 2016.