Agent Deployed: Core Impact and Cobalt Strike Interoperability

Core Impact 20.3 has shipped this week. With this release, we’re revealing patterns for interoperability between Core Impact and Cobalt Strike. In this post, I’ll walk you through these patterns and provide advice on how to get benefit using Cobalt Strike and Core Impact together.

A Red Team Operator’s Introduction to Core Impact

Prior to jumping into the patterns, I’d like to introduce you to Core Impact with my voice. Core Impact is a commercial penetration testing tool and exploit framework that has had continuous development since 1998.

Impact is a collection of remote, local, and client-side attacks for public vulnerabilities and other common offense actions. We implement [with special attention to QA] our own exploits as well. While we announce 2-3 product updates per year, we push new modules and module updates in between releases too.

Impact is also a collection of post-exploitation agents for Windows, Linux, other *NIX flavors (to include OS X), and Cisco IOS. While Windows has the most features and best support, our *NIX agents are robust and useful. The pivoting model and interface for these platforms is largely unified. The Impact agent is one of my favorite parts of the product.

Core Impact also has a graphical user interface to bring all of these things together. It’s quirky and does have a learning curve. But, once you grok the ideas behind it, the product clicks and it is thought out.

While Core Impact was long-marketed as a vulnerability verification tool [notice: I’m not mentioning the automation], it’s clear to me that the product was architected by hackers. This hacker side of Core Impact is what I’d like to show you in this video walk-through:

Session Passing from Core Impact to Cobalt Strike

One of the most important forms of tool interoperability is the ability to pass sessions between platforms.

Core Impact 20.3 includes a Run shellcode in temporary process module to support session passing. This module spawns a temporary process and injects the contents of the specified file into it. The module does support spawning code x86 -> x86, x64 -> x64, and x64 -> x86.

To pass a session from Core Impact to Cobalt Strike:

[Cobalt Strike]

1. Go to Attacks -> Packages -> Windows EXE (S)
2. Press … to choose your listener
3. Change Output to raw
4. Check x64 if you wish to export an x64 payload.
5. Press Generate and save the file

[Core Impact]

1. Right-click on the desired agent and click Set as Source
2. Find the Run shellcode in temporary process module and double-click it.
3. Set ARCHITECTURE to x86-64 if you exported an x64 payload
4. Set FILENAME to the file generated by Cobalt Strike
5. Press OK

This pattern is a great way to spawn Cobalt Strike’s Beacon after a successful remote or privilege escalation exploit with Core Impact.

Session Passing from Cobalt Strike to Core Impact

You can also spawn a Core Impact agent from Cobalt Strike too. If Core Impact and Cobalt Strike can reach the same network, this pattern is a light way to turn an access obtained with Beacon (e.g., via phishing, lateral movement, etc.) into an Impact agent.

[Core Impact]

1. Find the Package and Register Agent module and double-click it.
2. Change ARCHITECTURE to x86-64 if you’d like to export an x64 agent
3. Change BINARY TYPE to raw
4. Change TARGET FILE to where you would like to save the file
5. Expand Agent Connection
6. Change CONNECTION METHOD and PORT to fit your preference. I find the Connect from target (reverse TCP connection) is the most performant.

[Cobalt Strike]

1. Interact with a Beacon
2. Type shspawn x64 if you exported an x64 agent. Type shspawn x86 if you exported an x86 agent.
3. Find the file that you exported.
4. Press Open.

In a few moments, you should hear that famous New Agent Deployed wav.

Tunnel Core Impact exploits through Cobalt Strike

Core Impact has an interesting offensive model. Its exploits and scans do not originate from your Core Impact GUI. The entire framework is architected to delegate offense activity through a source agent. The currently selected source agent also acts as a controller to receive connections from reverse agents [or to connect to and establish control of bind agents]. In this model, the offense process is: start with local agent, find and exploit target, set new agent as source agent, find and exploit newly visible targets, repeat until satisfied.

As the agent is the main offense actor in Core Impact, tunneling Core Impact exploits is best accomplished by tunneling the Core Impact agent through Cobalt Strike’s Beacon.

Cobalt Strike 4.2 introduced the spunnel command to spawn Core Impact’s Windows agent in a temporary process and create a localhost-only reverse port forward for it. Here are the steps to tunnel Core Impact’s agent with spunnel:

[Core Impact]

1. Click the Modules tab in the Core Impact user interface
2. Search for Package and Register Agent
3. Double-click this module
4. Change Platform to Windows
5. Change Architecture to x86-64
6. Change Binary Type to raw
7. Click Target File and press … to decide where to save the output.
8. Go to Agent Connection
9. Change Connection Method to Connect from Target
10. Change Connect Back Hostname to
11. Change Port to some value (e.g., 9000) and remember it.
12. Press OK.

[Cobalt Strike]

1. Interact with a Beacon
2. Type spunnel x64 [impact IP address] 9000 and press enter.
3. Find the file that you exported.
4. Press Open.

This similar to passing a session from Cobalt Strike to Core Impact. The difference here is the Impact agent’s traffic is tunneled through Cobalt Strike’s Beacon payload.

What happens when Cobalt Strike’s team server is on the internet and Core Impact is on a local Windows virtual machine? We have a pattern for this too. Run a Cobalt Strike client from the same Windows system that Core Impact is installed onto. Connect this Cobalt Strike client to your team server. In this setup, run spunnel_local x64 9000 to spawn and tunnel the Impact agent through Beacon. The spunnel_local command is like spunnel, with the difference that it routes the agent traffic from Beacon to the team server and onwards through your Cobalt Strike client. The spunnel_local command was designed for this exact situation.

Next step: Request a trial

The above options are our patterns for interoperability between Core Impact and Cobalt Strike.

If you have Cobalt Strike and would like to try these patterns with Core Impact, we recommend that you request a trial of Core Impact and try it out.