A team of security researchers has discovered a new malware evasion technique that could help malware authors defeat most of the modern antivirus solutions and forensic tools.
Dubbed Process Doppelgänging, the new fileless code injection technique takes advantage of a built-in Windows function and an undocumented implementation of Windows process loader.
Process Doppelgänging Works on All Windows Versions
Apparently, Process Doppelgänging attack works on all modern versions of Microsoft Windows operating system, starting from Windows Vista to the latest version of Windows 10.
Tal Liberman, the head of the research team at enSilo, told The Hacker New that this malware evasion technique is similar to Process Hollowing—a method first introduced years ago by attackers to defeat the mitigation capabilities of security products.
In Process Hollowing attack, hackers replace the memory of a legitimate process with a malicious code so that the second code runs instead of the original, tricking process monitoring tools and antivirus into believing that the original process is running.
Since all modern antivirus and security products have been upgraded to detect Process Hollowing attacks, use of this technique is not a great idea anymore.
On the other hand, Process Doppelgänging is an entirely different approach to achieve the same, by abusing Windows NTFS Transactions and an outdated implementation of Windows process loader, which was originally designed for Windows XP, but carried throughout all later versions of Windows.
Here’s How the Process Doppelgänging Attack Works:
Before going further on how this new code injection attack works, you need to understand what Windows NTFS Transaction is and how an attacker could leverage it to evade his malicious actions.
NTFS Transaction is a feature of Windows that brings the concept of atomic transactions to the NTFS file system, allowing files and directories to be created, modified, renamed, and deleted atomically.
NTFS Transaction is an isolated space that allows Windows application developers to write file-output routines that are guaranteed to either succeed completely or fail completely.
According to the researcher, Process Doppelgänging is a fileless attack and works in four major steps as mentioned below:
- Transact—process a legitimate executable into the NTFS transaction and then overwrite it with a malicious file.
- Load—create a memory section from the modified (malicious) file.
- Rollback—rollback the transaction (deliberately failing the transaction), resulting in the removal of all the changes in the legitimate executable in a way they never existed.
- Animate—bring the doppelganger to life. Use the older implementation of Windows process loader to create a process with the previously created memory section (in step 2), which is actually malicious and never saved to disk, “making it invisible to most recording tools such as modern EDRs.”
Process Doppelgänging Evades Detection from Most Antiviruses
Liberman told The Hacker News that during their research they tested their attack on security products from Windows Defender, Kaspersky Labs, ESET NOD32, Symantec, Trend Micro, Avast, McAfee, AVG, Panda, and even advance forensic tools like Volatility.
In order to demonstrate, the researchers used Mimikatz, a post-exploitation tool that helps extract credentials from the affected systems, with Process Doppelgänging to bypass antivirus detection.
When the researchers ran Mimikatz generally on a Windows operating system, Symantec antivirus solution caught the tool immediately, as shown below:
However, Mimikatz ran stealthy, without antivirus displaying any warning when executed using Process Doppelgänging, as shown in the image at top of this article.
Liberman also told us that Process Doppelgänging works on even the latest version of Windows 10, except Windows 10 Redstone and Fall Creators Update, released earlier this year.
But due to a different bug in Windows 10 Redstone and Fall Creators Update, using Process Doppelgänging causes BSOD (blue screen of death), which crashes users’ computers.
Ironically, the crash bug was patched by Microsoft in later updates, allowing Process Doppelgänging to run on the latest versions of Windows 10.
I don’t expect Microsoft to rush for an emergency patch that could make some software relying on older implementations unstable, but Antivirus companies can upgrade their products to detect malicious programs using Process Doppelgänging or similar attacks.