Thursday, June 23, 2016

Defend against malware with fake debugger windows

This post will be quite similar to my previous post about making your desktop look like a VM: The idea here is another trick malware commonly uses to detect malware analyst's machine: enumerating the windows and check if there are titles such as "OllyDBG", "WinDBG", "Wireshark", etc... it will frequently look for debuggers or various malware analysis tools.
I was thinking about, what if I place an empty window with this name, will malware detect it? I didn't wanted to hook into functions this time, but place an actual window. My other criteria was, that I want the window to be hidden, so it doesn't disturb people, but still can serve its purpose.

First let's see how malware detects / enumerates window titles. As described here: and many other places, it uses the "FindWindow" Windows API call to look for names. This is a quite simple function with two parameters:

  _In_opt_ LPCTSTR lpClassName,
  _In_opt_ LPCTSTR lpWindowName

As per MSDN it will search for the string specified in lpClassName, which is the registered class name for the Window, or if that is NULL, it will search based on the window title, which is the second parameter. Malware typically will search for the class name. If you wonder how frequently this being used, here is a little help, to find malware which uses this technique. Cuckoo sandbox recently added some malware behaviour signatures to its feature set, and one of them is looking for this exactly, it can be found here: It will add the description into the analysis page. uses Cuckoo sandbox to perform malware analysis, and it's searchable on Google, with that simple search for this on Google, and you will get a bunch of samples:
"Checks for the presence of known windows from debuggers and forensic tools"
For example:
Various malware will behave differently if it finds the window, it might exit, or will try to close the window, etc...

With this, let's create our window.

I still can't really do Win32 API programming, so I use the power of copy-paste. I found two very good articles about making your first, empty window in Windows: 
You can read through this, the only thing I want to highlight is that the window will not be visible by default, you either create it with the appropriate flag, or call ShowWindow, as specified in the example. What if we don't show it? Well, as you would expect, it's not seen, you don't see it on the tray, nowhere, the program runs, and you can find it in the task manager, but no window. What happens if we call FindWindow this way? Based on numerous tests I did, it will always find it, regardless if you search based on class name or title. This is great, because we can start a process, which is completely hidden to the average user, consumes about 500kB memory, and about 0% CPU resources, but a malware will find it. Cool! Now we can hope that it will actually exit if it finds it.
Next question, is: do we need multiple processes to create multiple windows with different names? Based on my tests: NO. You can create multiple windows with different names, and you can hide all of them, and the FindWindow function will find all of them.
I also tried, what happens if I start WinDBG, which will register the same class name, but apparently it doesn't matter. You can run both programs at the same time, you can close them, and it won't cause any conflicts.
There is another method to find windows with GetWindowText based on the title, described here:, and that also works, it will find the window as well.

If I was an AV developer, I would hook the FindWindow function, and check if a process is explicitly looking for these windows, and if yes, I would raise a flag, because it's definitely not normal. Not sure if anyone does it, but it would be a fairly easy thing to do.

I created a PoC code to create an OllyDBG and WinDBG window, and another one, which will use FindWindow to find them. Both of them are available from my Github page:

The related Visual Studio projects are:

  • FindWindow
  • FakeDebuggerWindows

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

About IOCs...

I usually stay away blogging about my opinion, but I so fed up with the IOC hype that I have to write it down. (My next topic might be threat intel, along the same lines).

First about sharing:
There is a huge number of possible IOC types, like IP, domain, registry modified, files created, etc... still what you can most commonly find in any malware analysis paper, or IOC feeds, or any generic sharing, are: IPs, domains, filenames, hashes. No more. Now there are multiple issues when it comes to sharing:
Why it can't be shared in a standard format, like STIX? Typically if you read a report, you will have this information at the end of the article as text, which might be OK as someone posting details doesn't necessarily have the option to upload files, but when it comes to big security vendors who often publish IOCs in a separate PDF(!!!!) there is no excuse. I really don't understand why it can't be in a CSV as a minimum, or more preferred in STIX XML format. Vendors should have the ability to generate these, and you could more easily feed it to some other tools, without making difficult copy-paste tricks from a PDF.
My second big headache is, why almost every big vendor shares only MD5 hashes of malware samples??? It's not just that MD5 is more and more subject to various collision attacks, but some logs you have, might only contain SHA-256 hashes of executables seen in an environment, so you have no chance at all to search that data. Why is it so much trouble for someone to calculate an additional SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashes besides and MD5 and sharing that? Why does it hurt anyone? As a backup you can hope that the sample gets uploaded to VirusTotal, and you can get the hashes from there, but that's an incredible big amount of additional, unnecessary work (even with a script) to get that information from another source - if you can at all.
Why vendors don't share other IOCs in a summarized form? Like registry entries created, etc... You might find them if you read through the 20+ page article, but who has the time to read through every single malware report?
With that my request to vendors, who commonly share plenty of IOCs:
  1. Please share them in STIX format but at a minimum in a CSV
  2. Please share SHA-1 and SHA-256 hashes as well beside MD5 (share all 3 not just 1 of them)
  3. Please summarize other IOC information as well, not just IP, domain, filenames and hashes
More on hashes:
Some tools allow you to search files across your environment. Guess what!? Some products use proper SHA-256 and some use MD5, but most products can search only one of them! If you consider how sharing is being done in the community (you only get one of the 3 popular hashes), this is setup for failure. By design. I don't want to write more about this.

On usefulness:
I don't think IOCs are from evil. It can be good, and you can potentially find some badness based on that, so it has its place in incident response, but it won't solve core security problems, and IOCs won't be the ultimate solution for everything. The problem comes when vendors start to rely 100% on this data. For example calling something a 'hunting' module, when it's only an advanced IOC search with a nice GUI, I think is really bad, and something conceptionally went wrong with the entire product.
These days vendors seem to think that IOCs will save the world, and they are extremely important, and everyone wants to sell you more and more IOCs for huge amount of money. I really mean huge! I could go into how the importance of threat intel in general is overrated, but that might be another post.
Just think about how these IOCs are really helpful:
  • hashes - considering the speed of sample generation (half million new samples / day), do people really think that 2-3 particular hashes are important? It's the oldest and dumbest signatures AVs can use. So if you honestly think about it, hashes are basically poor man's malware signatures.
  • IP - most of the time there are 100+ websites hosted on a single IP, if one site becomes infected, and there is a popular harmless site on the same IP, you could immediately flag significant part of your network traffic as malicious. Good luck in figuring out which one might be really bad in a big network... you will give up immediately as soon as you see the amount of data.
  • filenames - somewhat useful if the name is unique, but almost the same issue as with the hash, could be slightly better however.
  • domain names - probably the most useful ones in general.
In summary I think IOCs are just poor signatures, which are way too overrated by most vendors, especially when it comes around the topic threat intel. They can be useful, but the hype going around them these days is a shame. If you go and buy them, then they are also way too expensive if you compare it to standard AV signatures, and as noted above they are not better.