Cobalt Strike 3.12 – Blink and you’ll miss it

September 6, 2018

Cobalt Strike 3.12 is now available. This release adds an “obfuscate and sleep” in-memory evasion feature, gives operators [some] control over process injection, and introduces hooks to shape how Beacon launches PowerShell.

Obfuscate and Sleep

One method to find adversary presence in an environment is to sweep all running processes for common strings that indicate offense activity. For example, a hunt for the ReflectiveLoader string will find memory-resident Reflective DLLs that don’t change the name of this exported function. Point-in-time analysis of memory is a powerful tool in the defender’s arsenal of capabilities.

To push back, Cobalt Strike 3.12 introduces obfuscate-and-sleep. This feature is exactly what it sounds like: Beacon is (mostly) a single-threaded beaconing agent. It requests tasks, executes those tasks, and it goes to sleep. Beacon spends most of its time sleeping. When obfuscate-and-sleep is enabled, Beacon will obfuscate itself, in memory, before it goes to sleep. When the agent wakes up, it will restore itself to its original state.

To enable obfuscate-and-sleep, set the stage -> sleep_mask option to true in your Malleable C2 profile.

stage {
	set sleep_mask "true";

This feature plays well with Cobalt Strike’s other in-memory evasion/threat emulation features. I recommend the use of Cobalt Strike 3.11’s cleanup option when sleep_mask is enabled.

Re: the SMB Beacon

The obfuscate-and-sleep feature benefits the HTTP, HTTPS, and DNS Beacon. The SMB Beacon doesn’t sleep in the way these agents do. This means the SMB Beacon will not obfuscate itself (it has no opportunity to do so). A future Cobalt Strike update may find a way to sneak this feature into the SMB Beacon too.

Malleable Process Injection

Process Injection is an important offense technique, used heavily throughout Cobalt Strike. This release gives operators control over how Beacon does process injection. This is done via the Malleable C2 process-inject block:

process-inject {
	# do not allocate anything less than this
	set min_alloc "16384";

	# permissions RWX, RX
	set startrwx "true";
	set userwx   "false";

	# fudge the content.
	transform-x86 {
		prepend "\x90\x90\x90";

	transform-x64 {
		# ...

	# we do not want to use this call.
	disable "CreateRemoteThread";

These options shape both the injected content and Beacon’s process injection behavior:

The min_alloc option specifies the minimum amount of memory Beacon will allocate in a remote process. The startrwx and userwx options give control over the initial and final permissions of the memory allocated in a remote process.

The transform-x86 and transform-x64 blocks pad any injected DLLs or shellcode. If you choose to prepend data, make sure it’s valid code for the specific architecture. There’s no check for this.

Finally, the disable verb asks Beacon to avoid certain API calls when doing its standard process injection routine. Right now, you can disable CreateRemoteThread, RtlCreateUserThread, or SetThreadContext.

More Power(Shell) to You!

Cobalt Strike uses PowerShell in a lot of its automation. The powershell command allows operators to execute arbitrary cmdlets. psexec_psh bootstraps a session on a remote target with a PowerShell one-liner. The spawnas command uses PowerShell to run a new session as another user.

While it’s possible to operate without PowerShell, sometimes a few adjustments are all that’s needed to safely use PowerShell in an environment. Cobalt Strike 3.12 introduces options to shape the PowerShell command-line and download cradle used in Beacon’s automation.

These options are in Cobalt Strike 3.12’s Resource Kit. Go to Help -> Arsenal to download it.

Notice: Certificate Change Over

The update infrastructure for Cobalt Strike is due for an HTTPS certificate change-over next week. After this change, the update program built into Cobalt Strike 3.11 and earlier will complain about the certificate change (and not download updates). Cobalt Strike 3.12’s updater is aware of the new certificate.

To continue to get updates, without interruption, download the latest Cobalt Strike Trial package with the updated updater. Your license key allows you to skip the trial request process. This action is recommended for all licensed Cobalt Strike users.

Check out the release notes to see a full list of what’s new in Cobalt Strike 3.12. Licensed users may use the update program to get the latest. A 21-day Cobalt Strike trial is also available.

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