PowerShell Suspicious Payload Encoded and Compressed

Identifies the use of .NET functionality for decompression and base64 decoding combined in PowerShell scripts, which malware and security tools heavily use to deobfuscate payloads and load them directly in memory to bypass defenses.

Elastic rule (View on GitHub)

  1[metadata]
  2creation_date = "2021/10/19"
  3integration = ["windows"]
  4maturity = "production"
  5min_stack_comments = "KQL handles backslash and ? characters differently in 8.12+."
  6min_stack_version = "8.12.0"
  7updated_date = "2024/03/12"
  8
  9[transform]
 10[[transform.osquery]]
 11label = "Osquery - Retrieve DNS Cache"
 12query = "SELECT * FROM dns_cache"
 13
 14[[transform.osquery]]
 15label = "Osquery - Retrieve All Services"
 16query = "SELECT description, display_name, name, path, pid, service_type, start_type, status, user_account FROM services"
 17
 18[[transform.osquery]]
 19label = "Osquery - Retrieve Services Running on User Accounts"
 20query = """
 21SELECT description, display_name, name, path, pid, service_type, start_type, status, user_account FROM services WHERE
 22NOT (user_account LIKE '%LocalSystem' OR user_account LIKE '%LocalService' OR user_account LIKE '%NetworkService' OR
 23user_account == null)
 24"""
 25
 26[[transform.osquery]]
 27label = "Osquery - Retrieve Service Unsigned Executables with Virustotal Link"
 28query = """
 29SELECT concat('https://www.virustotal.com/gui/file/', sha1) AS VtLink, name, description, start_type, status, pid,
 30services.path FROM services JOIN authenticode ON services.path = authenticode.path OR services.module_path =
 31authenticode.path JOIN hash ON services.path = hash.path WHERE authenticode.result != 'trusted'
 32"""
 33
 34
 35[rule]
 36author = ["Elastic"]
 37description = """
 38Identifies the use of .NET functionality for decompression and base64 decoding combined in PowerShell scripts, which
 39malware and security tools heavily use to deobfuscate payloads and load them directly in memory to bypass defenses.
 40"""
 41false_positives = ["Legitimate PowerShell Scripts which makes use of compression and encoding."]
 42from = "now-9m"
 43index = ["winlogbeat-*", "logs-windows.powershell*"]
 44language = "kuery"
 45license = "Elastic License v2"
 46name = "PowerShell Suspicious Payload Encoded and Compressed"
 47note = """## Triage and analysis
 48
 49### Investigating PowerShell Suspicious Payload Encoded and Compressed
 50
 51PowerShell is one of the main tools system administrators use for automation, report routines, and other tasks. This makes it available for use in various environments, and creates an attractive way for attackers to execute code.
 52
 53Attackers can embed compressed and encoded payloads in scripts to load directly into the memory without touching the disk. This strategy can circumvent string and file-based security protections.
 54
 55> **Note**:
 56> This investigation guide uses the [Osquery Markdown Plugin](https://www.elastic.co/guide/en/security/master/invest-guide-run-osquery.html) introduced in Elastic Stack version 8.5.0. Older Elastic Stack versions will display unrendered Markdown in this guide.
 57
 58#### Possible investigation steps
 59
 60- Examine the script content that triggered the detection; look for suspicious DLL imports, collection or exfiltration capabilities, suspicious functions, encoded or compressed data, and other potentially malicious characteristics.
 61- Investigate the script execution chain (parent process tree) for unknown processes. Examine their executable files for prevalence, whether they are located in expected locations, and if they are signed with valid digital signatures.
 62- Examine file or network events from the involved PowerShell process for suspicious behavior.
 63- Investigate other alerts associated with the user/host during the past 48 hours.
 64- Evaluate whether the user needs to use PowerShell to complete tasks.
 65- Examine the host for derived artifacts that indicate suspicious activities:
 66  - Analyze the script using a private sandboxed analysis system.
 67  - Observe and collect information about the following activities in both the sandbox and the alert subject host:
 68    - Attempts to contact external domains and addresses.
 69      - Use the Elastic Defend network events to determine domains and addresses contacted by the subject process by filtering by the process' `process.entity_id`.
 70      - Examine the DNS cache for suspicious or anomalous entries.
 71        - $osquery_0
 72    - Use the Elastic Defend registry events to examine registry keys accessed, modified, or created by the related processes in the process tree.
 73    - Examine the host services for suspicious or anomalous entries.
 74      - $osquery_1
 75      - $osquery_2
 76      - $osquery_3
 77  - Retrieve the files' SHA-256 hash values using the PowerShell `Get-FileHash` cmdlet and search for the existence and reputation of the hashes in resources like VirusTotal, Hybrid-Analysis, CISCO Talos, Any.run, etc.
 78- Investigate potentially compromised accounts. Analysts can do this by searching for login events (for example, 4624) to the target host after the registry modification.
 79
 80### False positive analysis
 81
 82- This activity is unlikely to happen legitimately outside engineering or IT business units. As long as the analyst did not identify malware or suspicious activity related to the user or host, this alert can be dismissed.
 83
 84### Related rules
 85
 86- PowerShell PSReflect Script - 56f2e9b5-4803-4e44-a0a4-a52dc79d57fe
 87- Potential Process Injection via PowerShell - 2e29e96a-b67c-455a-afe4-de6183431d0d
 88- Suspicious .NET Reflection via PowerShell - e26f042e-c590-4e82-8e05-41e81bd822ad
 89
 90### Response and remediation
 91
 92- Initiate the incident response process based on the outcome of the triage.
 93- Isolate the involved hosts to prevent further post-compromise behavior.
 94- If the triage identified malware, search the environment for additional compromised hosts.
 95  - Implement temporary network rules, procedures, and segmentation to contain the malware.
 96  - Stop suspicious processes.
 97  - Immediately block the identified indicators of compromise (IoCs).
 98  - Inspect the affected systems for additional malware backdoors like reverse shells, reverse proxies, or droppers that attackers could use to reinfect the system.
 99- Remove and block malicious artifacts identified during triage.
100- Investigate credential exposure on systems compromised or used by the attacker to ensure all compromised accounts are identified. Reset passwords for these accounts and other potentially compromised credentials, such as email, business systems, and web services.
101- Restrict PowerShell usage outside of IT and engineering business units using GPOs, AppLocker, Intune, or similar software.
102- Run a full antimalware scan. This may reveal additional artifacts left in the system, persistence mechanisms, and malware components.
103- Determine the initial vector abused by the attacker and take action to prevent reinfection through the same vector.
104- Using the incident response data, update logging and audit policies to improve the mean time to detect (MTTD) and the mean time to respond (MTTR).
105"""
106risk_score = 47
107rule_id = "81fe9dc6-a2d7-4192-a2d8-eed98afc766a"
108setup = """## Setup
109
110The 'PowerShell Script Block Logging' logging policy must be enabled.
111Steps to implement the logging policy with Advanced Audit Configuration:

Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows PowerShell > Turn on PowerShell Script Block Logging (Enable)

1
2Steps to implement the logging policy via registry:

reg add "hklm\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\PowerShell\ScriptBlockLogging" /v EnableScriptBlockLogging /t REG_DWORD /d 1

 1"""
 2severity = "medium"
 3tags = ["Domain: Endpoint", "OS: Windows", "Use Case: Threat Detection", "Tactic: Defense Evasion", "Resources: Investigation Guide", "Data Source: PowerShell Logs"]
 4timestamp_override = "event.ingested"
 5type = "query"
 6
 7query = '''
 8event.category:process and host.os.type:windows and
 9  powershell.file.script_block_text : (
10    (
11      "System.IO.Compression.DeflateStream" or
12      "System.IO.Compression.GzipStream" or
13      "IO.Compression.DeflateStream" or
14      "IO.Compression.GzipStream"
15    ) and
16    FromBase64String
17  ) and
18  not user.id : "S-1-5-18"
19'''
20
21[[rule.filters]]
22[rule.filters.meta]
23negate = true
24[rule.filters.query.wildcard."file.path"]
25"case_insensitive" = true
26"value" = "?:\\\\ProgramData\\\\Microsoft\\\\Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection\\\\Downloads\\\\*"
27
28[[rule.threat]]
29framework = "MITRE ATT&CK"
30[[rule.threat.technique]]
31id = "T1027"
32name = "Obfuscated Files or Information"
33reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1027/"
34
35[[rule.threat.technique]]
36id = "T1140"
37name = "Deobfuscate/Decode Files or Information"
38reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1140/"
39
40
41[rule.threat.tactic]
42id = "TA0005"
43name = "Defense Evasion"
44reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/tactics/TA0005/"
45[[rule.threat]]
46framework = "MITRE ATT&CK"
47[[rule.threat.technique]]
48id = "T1059"
49name = "Command and Scripting Interpreter"
50reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1059/"
51[[rule.threat.technique.subtechnique]]
52id = "T1059.001"
53name = "PowerShell"
54reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/techniques/T1059/001/"
55
56
57
58[rule.threat.tactic]
59id = "TA0002"
60name = "Execution"
61reference = "https://attack.mitre.org/tactics/TA0002/"

Triage and analysis

Investigating PowerShell Suspicious Payload Encoded and Compressed

PowerShell is one of the main tools system administrators use for automation, report routines, and other tasks. This makes it available for use in various environments, and creates an attractive way for attackers to execute code.

Attackers can embed compressed and encoded payloads in scripts to load directly into the memory without touching the disk. This strategy can circumvent string and file-based security protections.

Note: This investigation guide uses the Osquery Markdown Plugin introduced in Elastic Stack version 8.5.0. Older Elastic Stack versions will display unrendered Markdown in this guide.

Possible investigation steps

  • Examine the script content that triggered the detection; look for suspicious DLL imports, collection or exfiltration capabilities, suspicious functions, encoded or compressed data, and other potentially malicious characteristics.
  • Investigate the script execution chain (parent process tree) for unknown processes. Examine their executable files for prevalence, whether they are located in expected locations, and if they are signed with valid digital signatures.
  • Examine file or network events from the involved PowerShell process for suspicious behavior.
  • Investigate other alerts associated with the user/host during the past 48 hours.
  • Evaluate whether the user needs to use PowerShell to complete tasks.
  • Examine the host for derived artifacts that indicate suspicious activities:
    • Analyze the script using a private sandboxed analysis system.
    • Observe and collect information about the following activities in both the sandbox and the alert subject host:
      • Attempts to contact external domains and addresses.
        • Use the Elastic Defend network events to determine domains and addresses contacted by the subject process by filtering by the process' process.entity_id.
        • Examine the DNS cache for suspicious or anomalous entries.
          • $osquery_0
      • Use the Elastic Defend registry events to examine registry keys accessed, modified, or created by the related processes in the process tree.
      • Examine the host services for suspicious or anomalous entries.
        • $osquery_1
        • $osquery_2
        • $osquery_3
    • Retrieve the files' SHA-256 hash values using the PowerShell Get-FileHash cmdlet and search for the existence and reputation of the hashes in resources like VirusTotal, Hybrid-Analysis, CISCO Talos, Any.run, etc.
  • Investigate potentially compromised accounts. Analysts can do this by searching for login events (for example, 4624) to the target host after the registry modification.

False positive analysis

  • This activity is unlikely to happen legitimately outside engineering or IT business units. As long as the analyst did not identify malware or suspicious activity related to the user or host, this alert can be dismissed.
  • PowerShell PSReflect Script - 56f2e9b5-4803-4e44-a0a4-a52dc79d57fe
  • Potential Process Injection via PowerShell - 2e29e96a-b67c-455a-afe4-de6183431d0d
  • Suspicious .NET Reflection via PowerShell - e26f042e-c590-4e82-8e05-41e81bd822ad

Response and remediation

  • Initiate the incident response process based on the outcome of the triage.
  • Isolate the involved hosts to prevent further post-compromise behavior.
  • If the triage identified malware, search the environment for additional compromised hosts.
    • Implement temporary network rules, procedures, and segmentation to contain the malware.
    • Stop suspicious processes.
    • Immediately block the identified indicators of compromise (IoCs).
    • Inspect the affected systems for additional malware backdoors like reverse shells, reverse proxies, or droppers that attackers could use to reinfect the system.
  • Remove and block malicious artifacts identified during triage.
  • Investigate credential exposure on systems compromised or used by the attacker to ensure all compromised accounts are identified. Reset passwords for these accounts and other potentially compromised credentials, such as email, business systems, and web services.
  • Restrict PowerShell usage outside of IT and engineering business units using GPOs, AppLocker, Intune, or similar software.
  • Run a full antimalware scan. This may reveal additional artifacts left in the system, persistence mechanisms, and malware components.
  • Determine the initial vector abused by the attacker and take action to prevent reinfection through the same vector.
  • Using the incident response data, update logging and audit policies to improve the mean time to detect (MTTD) and the mean time to respond (MTTR).

Related rules

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