Windows Event Log Evasion Review

Before I kick this blog post off, I'd like to thank Lina L for her excellent work in developing and sharing her work, both on Twitter, as well as in a blog post. Both are thoughtful, cogent, and articulate.

In her blog post, Lina references detection techniques, something that is extremely important for all analysts to understand. What Lina is alluding to is the need for analysts to truly understand their tools, and how they work.

Back around 2007-ish, the team I was on had several members (myself included) certified to work PCI forensic investigations. Our primary tool at the time for scanning acquired images and data for credit card numbers (CCNs) was EnCase (at the time, a Guidance Software product)...I believe version 6.19 or thereabouts. We had a case where JCB and Discover cards were included, but the tool was not finding the CCNs. Troubleshooting and extensive testing revealed that the built-in function, isValidCreditCard(), did not apply to those CCNs. As such, we worked with a trusted resource to write the necessary regexes, and override the function call. While this was slower than using the built-in function, accuracy took precedence over speed.

The point is, as analysts, we need to understand how our tools work, what they do, and what they can and cannot do. This also applies to the data sources we rely on, as well. As such, what I'm going to do in this blog post is expand on some of the items Lina shared in part 3 of her blog post, "Detection Methodology". She did a fantastic job of providing what amounts to elements of an artifact constellation when it comes to the evasion technique that she describes.

Let's take a look at some of the detection methodologies Lina describes:

1. Review event logs for 7045, 7035, 7034, 7036, 7040, 4697 service creation

Most of these event IDs appear in the System Event Log, with a source of "Service Control Manager" (event ID 4697 is found in the Security Event Log) and they all can provide indications of and useful information about a service.

2. Review registry keys for services:

Given the content of Lina's post, this is an excellent source of data. In the face of anti-forensic techniques, also consider extracting deleted keys and values from unallocated space within the hive file, as well. Also, look for unusual LastWrite times for the parent keys, particularly if you're performing a live "triage" response and collecting Registry hives from live systems.

3. Review command line logging for signs of services being created using “sc.exe”, “at.exe”

I'm not sure about how "at.exe" would be used to create a service (maybe we can get Lina to share a bit more about that particular item...), but definitely look for the use of "sc.exe" if you have some sort of command line logging. This can take the form of enabling Process Tracking (along with the associated Registry modification to add the full command line) in the Security Event Log, installing Sysmon, or employing an EDR capability.

4. Review artefacts for execution i.e. Shimcache, Prefetch, Amcache

Prefetch files are a great artifact if you're looking for artifacts of execution, but there are a couple of things analysts need to keep in mind. 

First, Prefetch files can contain up to 8 time stamps that refer to when the target file was executed; as such, be sure to extract them all. 

Second, application prefetching is controlled via a Registry value, and while that value is enabled by default on workstation versions of Windows, it is not enabled by default on the server versions. Accordingly, this means that it can be disabled on workstations; as such, if you're NOT seeing a Prefetch file when you would expect to, check the value and the LastWrite time of the key. I highly recommend this as a means of validation, because without it, saying, "...the file was not executed..." is just guessing. Think about it...why delete a file or artifact, when you can simply tell Windows to not generate it?

Third, Dr Ali Hadi has done some great work documenting the effect of launching files from ADSs on Prefetch file creation and location. I'm not sure how many folks are aware of this, but it's something to keep in mind, particularly if a threat actor or group has previously demonstrated a proclivity for such things.

Finally, it's easy to say that ShimCache and AmCache entries constitute "artifacts of execution", but that's not completely accurate. While both data sources do constitute indicators of execution, they're just that...indicators...and should not be considered in isolation. While they may be incorporated into artifact constellations that demonstrate program execution, by themselves they do not definitively demonstrate execution.

So, if we create an artifact constellation, incorporating ShimCache, AmCache, Prefetch, command line logging, etc., and all of the constituent elements include time stamps that align, then yes, we do have "artifacts of execution". 

7. Detect the malicious driver on the disk (can also be done without memory forensics by correlating creation timestamps on disk)

This is a good detection technique, but we need to keep things like file system tunneling and time stomping in mind. I've seen cases where the adversary time stomped their malware, and when it was 'recorded' in the ShimCache data, the analyst (mis)interpreted the time stamp as the time of execution. This meant that during a PCI forensic investigation, the "window of compromise" reported to the PCI Council was 4 yrs, rather than the true value of 3 wks. For anyone who's been involved in such an investigation, you very likely fully understand the significance of this "finding" being reported to the Council.

Some Additional Thoughts, Re: Windows Event Log Evasion
Locard's Exchange Principle tells us that when two objects come into contact with each other, material is exchanged between them. We can apply this equally well to the digital realm, and what this ultimately boils down to is that for something bad to happen on a system, something has to happen.

As a result, when it comes to Windows Event Log "evasion", we would want to look for other changes to the system. For example, if I want to hide specific event records within the Security Event Log, there are three approaches I might take. One is to use the LOLBin auditpol.exe to enable ALLTHETHINGS!, and overwhelm the Security Event Log, and subsequently, the analyst. I've been one engagements before where so much was being audited in the Security Event Log that while we had data going back weeks or months in the other logs, the Security Event Logs covered maybe 4 hours. I've also seen much less, about half of that. The overall point here is that the Windows Event Logs are essentially circular buffers, where older event records aren't "pushed off the stack" and into unallocated space...they're overwritten. As such, "older" records aren't something you're going to be able to recover from unallocated space, as you would in the case of cleared Windows Event Logs. As a result, things like type 10 login events (event ID 4624 events) can get overwritten quickly, and will not be recoverable.

Clearing Windows Event Logs is easy (via wevtutil.exe), but it is also easy to detect, based on artifact constellations such as a Prefetch file for the LOLBin, event IDs 1104 and 102, etc. And, as we saw with a great deal of the work done following the NotPetya attacks in 2017, cleared event records are pretty trivial to recover from unallocated space. I say, "trivial", but I completely understand that for some, something like this would not be trivial at all. While we do have a process available to help us recover the data we need, it isn't easy for some. However, clearing Windows Event Logs is tantamount to a streaker running across the field at the Super Bowl or the World's a way of letting everyone know that something bad is going on.

The other option might be to simply disable logging all together. You can do this via the Registry, without disabling the Event Log service, and the great thing is that if there's nothing deleted, there's nothing to recover. ;-)  

The third option is a bit more involved, and as such, potentially prone to discovery, but it is pretty interesting. Let's say you're accessing the system via RDP, and you have admin-level access. You can use different techniques to escalate your privileges to System level, but you have to also be aware that when you do, your activities will populate artifacts in a different manner (but this can be a good thing!!). So, start by using wevtutil.exe to backup all but the last 4 min of the Security Event Log, using a command such as:

wevtutil epl Security Security_export.evtx /q:"*[System[TimeCreated[timediff(@SystemTime) >= 14400000]]]" /ow:True

Now, this is where the elevate privileges come need stop the EventLog service (via 'net stop'), but you first have to stop its dependent services. Once everything is stopped, type:

copy /Y Security_export.evtx C:\Windows\system32\winevt\Logs\Security.evtx

Now, restart all the services, in reverse order that you stopped them, and delete the Security_export.evtx file. You've now got a Security Event Log that is missing the last 4 min worth of event records, and the "interesting" thing is that when I tested this, and then dumped the Security Event Log, there was no gap in record sequence numbers. The log apparently picks right up with the next sequence number.

But again, keep in mind that this activity, just like the other options presented, is going to leave traces. For example, if you use PSExec to elevate your privileges to System, you're going to need to accept the EULA the first time you run it. You can use something else, sure...but there's going to be a Prefetch file created, unless you disable prefetching. If you disable Prefetching, this causes a Registry modification, modifying the key LastWrite time. And if you disable Prefetching, what about the "command line logging" Lina mentioned?

Ultimately, the choice of option you decided upon, even if it's one that's not mentioned in either Lina's blog post or this one, is going to depend upon you weighing your options regarding the artifacts and traces you leave.

Article Link: Windows Incident Response: Windows Event Log Evasion Review