Tag Archives: UAC

How to defeat antivirus evasion and privilege escalation techniques

4 February 2018

Last weekend I read two very informative posts on Antivirus Evasion by Mattia Campagnano. But part 2 [1] puzzled me somewhat.

“Following up to my previous post Tips for an Information Security Analyst/Pentester career – Ep. 43: AV Evasion (pt. 1), we’re going now to perform the same attack on a genuine Windows 10 machine, where all latest updates have been installed.”

For a moment I thought ‘a security professional mistakes compliance for security’ because ‘fully patched’ means not that the system is resilient against cyber-attacks. But both posts show that even the most secure Windows ever is vulnerable against privilege escalation and AV evasion if the basic configuration is not changed and fundamental elements of cyber hygiene are missing.

Why are such attacks successful?

First, the user was logged in with permanent administrative privileges. This makes life easy for attackers and fosters lateral movement.

Revoking permanent administrative privileges on workstations and servers must be a basic element of any cyber security program. Under normal conditions, standard users should not have any administrative privileges for their devices at all. If needed, they can be temporarily granted through User Account Control (UAC).

Second, UAC was not set to the highest level “Always notify me”. Unfortunately this is the standard setting after a fresh installation of Windows. With this, privilege escalation is possible without user notification. If configured properly, UAC will notify the user even if he works with administrative privileges.

The BypassUAC method in the meterpreter attack framework will fail, if UAC is set to the highest level. The following excerpt of the code [2] makes this clear

case get_uac_level
  "UAC is set to 'Always Notify'. This module does not bypass this setting, exiting..."
    print_good('UAC is set to Default')
    print_good('BypassUAC can bypass this setting, continuing...')
    print_warning('UAC set to DoNotPrompt - using ShellExecute "runas" method instead')

Standards like the DISA STIG for Windows 10 [3] activate all UAC features to make life for the attackers as difficult as possible. From my point of view, the STIGs should be considered also in industry to create workplaces resilient against cyber-attacks. And Microsoft should raise the Windows default for UAC to “Always notify me” for all versions. If a user wants to reduce the security level, he should do this on his own responsibility.

Besides the secure configuration of IT systems and cyber hygiene is user awareness training the third essential pillar of a security program. Users and help desk staff must take proper actions if their system unexpectedly enters the secure desktop and asks for permissions of an action they never asked.

Have a good weekend.

  1. Campagnano, M. Tips for an Information Security Analyst/Pentester career – Ep. 44: AV Evasion (pt 2). The S@vvy_Geek Tips Tech Blog
  2. Rapid7 bypassuac_vbs.rb  Metasploit Framework. (Accessed: 3rd February 2018)
  3. Windows 10 Security Technical Implementation Guide. STIG Viewer | Unified Compliance Framework® Available at: https://www.stigviewer.com/stig/windows_10/. (Accessed: 3rd February 2018)
  4. Campagnano, M. Tips for an Information Security Analyst/Pentester career – Ep. 43: AV Evasion (pt.1). The S@vvy_Geek Tips Tech Blog

Keep calm and ignore Illusion Gap

5 October 2017

During a cycling trip through the Eifel national park last week, a new weakness called Illusion Gap was extensively discussed in the media.

Security researchers at CyberArk detected a feature in the Windows SMB Server that allows attackers to bypass Windows Defender, and possibly other anti-malware products, when serving an executable from a file share. For more details please see Kasif Dekel’s excellent post at the CyberArk Threat Research blog.

CyberArk notified Microsoft of this vulnerability, but Microsoft did not view it as a security issue:

“Thanks for your email. Based on your report, successful attack requires a user to run/trust content from an untrusted SMB share backed by a custom server that can change its behavior depending on the access pattern. This doesn’t seem to be a security issue but a feature request which I have forwarded to the engineering group.”

In my opinion, the effort to successfully exploit Illusion Gap appears to be somewhat too high:

First of all, an attacker must convince a user to execute a program that installs a specially crafted SMB server service on a Windows system. Since administrative privileges are required to do this the perfect victim should either work with permanent administrative rights or should at least have access to an administrative account he can leverage for UAC. Finally, the attacker must install a malicious and a clean version of the executable on the newly created file share and trick a user to run the executable from the share.

Since the attack complexity is high and authentication is required the likelihood of rapid detection is high. This is aggravated by the fact that the execution of programs from file shares is often used as indicator of compromise.

With this, we should not waste our time with Illusion Gap.

Have a great weekend.

AppGuard is an important part of a comprehensive security stack

16 July 2016

In the past weeks I tried hard to get an idea of the capabilities of Blue Ridge Networks AppGuard. To be honest, I would not like to miss AppGuard anymore. AppGuard creates the really good feeling that, under certain conditions, many cyber-attacks are simply rendered ineffective.

AppGuard is a perfect means against all kind of Trojans and downloaders, in particular zero days. Characteristic for this kind of malware is that the malware directly drops a malicious program or downloads a malicious program from the attacker’s server and executes it afterwards. This includes e.g. most of the known Ransomware.

The User Space and MemoryGuard concept just blocks this kind of malware out-of-the-box, provided that the User Space concept is not undermined by a user who is working with high privileges permanently. In fact, if the user works with privileges which allow the Trojan program to store files outside the User Space, the concept will no longer work.

It is strongly recommended to work with the least possible privileges under normal conditions. For the case higher privileges are requested, set up an extra account with the required privileges and supply the credentials of this account if UAC requests higher privileges.

More advanced malware may try to use the Windows auto-elevation feature to acquire higher privileges and to compromise AppGuard. To protect from auto-elevation attacks just set UAC to ‘Always notify me’.

This works even in the case of a gaming computer, where e.g. WOW and TeamSpeak are heavily used. Why shouldn’t it work on a standard system?

In addition, it is strongly recommended to disable macro execution in all kind of office software, e.g. Microsoft Office, OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Memory Guard protects against all kind of zero-day drive-by downloads, PuP (Potentially unwanted Programs) or file-less malware.

My comprehensive security stack

My comprehensive security stack. Click to enlarge.


AppGuard does not protect against any kind of password phishing attacks. Although popular internet browsers block many malicious URLs through URL reputation, e.g. SmartScreen Filtering in Internet Explorer or Firefox, this will not protect in the case of zero-days.

To reduce the likelihood of credential theft, turn on Two-Factor Authentication (TFA) for as many as possible internet services you use. If TFA cannot be enabled, choose a strong password and take care, means:

User awareness is the basic part of the entire security stack!

To put it succinctly: The proposed security stack will dramatically reduce the risk of cyber-attacks. Blue Ridge Networks AppGuard is an important component of this stack, in particular for the protection against all kind of zero-days.

Have a good weekend.

AppGuard successfully protects against PowerShell based zero-day malware

9 July 2016

To get a feel for the impact AppGuard has on daily operations I worked mainly on my test system in the past weeks. My test system is a 6 years old Dell Inspiron 1445 with 4 GB of RAM and a 240 GB SSD.  The latest version of Windows 10 is deployed and all out-of-the-box Windows security options like Windows Defender and SmartScreen are activated.

I work with standard user rights; UAC is set to ‘Always notify me’. Macro protection for the office suite is set to ‘Disable all macros with notification’. AppGuard is installed on top of this security stack to protect from all kind of zero days.

The impact on my daily work is hardly noticeable. Standard malware is blocked either by Defender or by SmartScreen. Even the download of e.g. JavaScript based malware from malwr.com for test purposes is a challenging task.

AppGuard does a really good job in blocking the execution all kind of zero-day malware from user space. But how well works AppGuard in the case of somewhat more advanced malware?

I searched for a new PowerShell based malware on malwr.com and found Invoice_201604469.doc.

A check on VirusTotal showed that only 3 of 56 anti-malware products identified malware:

Antivirus Result Update
Fortinet WM/Poseket.A!tr.dldr 20160706
Qihoo-360 heur.macro.powershell.a 20160706
Symantec W97M.Downloader 20160706

As always, the AutoOpen macro is password protected. But LibreOffice overrides the password protection and reveals a master piece of code:

AutoOpen Macro with Powershell code

AutoOpen Macro with PowerShell Code

I opened the document and followed the instructions to execute the AutoOpen macro.


Invoice_201604469.doc. Click to enlarge.

The effect was enormous. AppGuard’s MemoryGuard blocked the execution of the PowerShell script and prevented the download of the payload 18293.exe:

Blocked Program Message

Blocked Program Message 1

Blocked Program Message

Blocked Program Message 2

Thus the command shell wasn’t able to start the payload and Windows displayed the last error message:

Windows Error Message

Windows Error Message

MemoryGuard is a really charming concept, and out-of-the-box available after installation.

This concludes my tests. The experiments of the past weeks show that User Space and MemoryGuard are useful security features. They complete the Windows built-in security features, and provide additional protection, in particular in the case of zero-day malware.

Have a good weekend.

Windows 10 free update phase ends in July 2016

2 July 2016

It’s high time to migrate to Windows 10. The free update phase ends in July 2015, one year after the first release of the most secure Windows operating system ever.

Windows 10 is the best choice for home users and SME. The core Windows 10 OS with the integrated SmartScreen application and URL reputation check and Windows Defender already provides a good security out-of-the-box, at no additional cost.

With UAC set to ‘Always notify me’ and with the rigorous waiving to work constantly with administrative privileges, a high security level is achieved with small impact on usability

It’s time to get started!

Have a good weekend.