PE and Memory Indicators

The stage block in Malleable C2 profiles controls how Beacon is loaded into memory and edit the content of the Beacon DLL.

stage {
set userwx "false";
set compile_time "14 Jul 2009 8:14:00";
set image_size_x86 "512000";
set image_size_x64 "512000";
set obfuscate "true";
transform-x86 {
prepend "\x90\x90";
strrep "ReflectiveLoader" "DoLegitStuff";
transform-x64 {
# transform the x64 rDLL stage
stringw "I am not Beacon";

The stage block accepts commands that add strings to the .rdata section of the Beacon DLL. The string command adds a zero-terminated string. The stringw command adds a wide (UTF-16LE encoded) string. The data command adds your string as-is.

The transform-x86 and transform-x64 blocks pad and transform Beacon’s Reflective DLL stage. These blocks support three commands: prepend, append, and strrep.

The prepend command inserts a string before Beacon’s Reflective DLL. The append command adds a string after the Beacon Reflective DLL. Make sure that prepended data is valid code for the stage’s architecture (x86, x64). The c2lint program does not have a check for this. The strrep command replaces a string within Beacon’s Reflective DLL.

The stage block accepts several options that control the Beacon DLL content and provide hints to change the behavior of Beacon’s Reflective Loader:

Option Example Description
allocator HeapAlloc Set how Beacon's Reflective Loader allocates memory for the agent. Options are: HeapAlloc, MapViewOfFile, and VirtualAlloc.
cleanup false Ask Beacon to attempt to free memory associated with the Reflective DLL package that initialized it.
data_store_size 16 Set how many entries can be stored in Beacon Data Store.
magic_mz_x86 MZRE Override the first bytes (MZ header included) of Beacon's Reflective DLL. Valid x86 instructions are required. Follow instructions that change CPU state with instructions that undo the change.
magic_mz_x64 MZAR Same as magic_mz_x86; affects x64 DLL
magic_pe PE Override the PE character marker used by Beacon's Reflective Loader with another value.
module_x861 xpsservices.dll Ask the x86 ReflectiveLoader to load the specified library and overwrite its space instead of allocating memory with VirtualAlloc.
module_x641 xpsservices.dll Same as module_x86; affects x64 loader
obfuscate false Obfuscate the Reflective DLL’s import table, overwrite unused header content, and ask ReflectiveLoader to copy Beacon to new memory without its DLL headers.
sleep_mask false Obfuscate Beacon and it's heap, in-memory, prior to sleeping.
smartinject false Use embedded function pointer hints to bootstrap Beacon agent without walking kernel32 EAT
stomppe true Ask ReflectiveLoader to stomp MZ, PE, and e_lfanew values after it loads Beacon payload
syscall_method None Set the system call method to use on initial beacon execution. Options are None, Direct, Indirect. See section System Calls for additional information.
userwx false

Ask ReflectiveLoader to use or avoid RWX permissions for Beacon DLL in memory

1. - The module_x86 and module_x64 setting now supports the ability to specify the starting ordinal value to search for an exported function. The optional 0x## part is the starting ordinal value specified as an integer. If a library is set and Beacon does not overwrite itself into the memory space then it likely the library does not have an exported function with an ordinal value of 1 through 15. To resolve this determine a valid ordinal value and specify this value using the optional syntax, for example: set module_x64 "libtemp.dll+0x90"

Cloning PE Headers

The stage block has several options that change the characteristics of your Beacon Reflective DLL to look like something else in memory. These are meant to create indicators that support analysis exercises and threat emulation scenarios.

Option Example Description
checksum 0 The CheckSum value in Beacon’s PE header
compile_time 14 July 2009 8:14:00 The build time in Beacon’s PE header
entry_point 92145 The EntryPoint value in Beacon’s PE header
image_size_x64 512000 SizeOfImage value in x64 Beacon’s PE header
image_size_x86 512000 SizeOfImage value in x86 Beacon’s PE header
name beacon.x64.dll The Exported name of the Beacon DLL
rich_header   Meta-information inserted by the compiler

Cobalt Strike’s Linux package includes a tool, peclone, to extract headers from a DLL and present them as a ready-to-use stage block:

./peclone [/path/to/sample.dll]

In-memory Evasion and Obfuscation

Use the stage block’s prepend command to defeat analysis that scans the first few bytes of a memory segment to look for signs of an injected DLL. If tool-specific strings are used to detect your agents, change them with the strrep command.

If strrep isn’t enough, set sleep_mask to true. This directs Beacon to obfuscate itself and it's heap in-memory before it goes to sleep. After sleeping, Beacon will de-obfuscate itself to request and process tasks. The SMB and TCP Beacons will obfuscate themselves while waiting for a new connection or waiting for data from their parent session.

Decide how much you want to look like a DLL in memory. If you want to allow easy detection, set stomppe to false. If you would like to lightly obfuscate your Beacon DLL in memory, set stomppe to true. If you’d like to up the challenge, set obfuscate to true. This option will take many steps to obfuscate your Beacon stage and the final state of the DLL in memory.

One way to find memory injected DLLs is to look for the MZ and PE magic bytes at their expected locations relative to each other. These values are not usually obfuscated as the reflective loading process depends on them. The obfuscate option does not affect these values. Set magic_pe to two letters or bytes that mark the beginning of the PE header. Set magic_mz_x86 to change these magic bytes in the x86 Beacon DLL. Set magic_mz_x64 for the x64 Beacon DLL. Follow instructions that change CPU state with instructions that undo the change. For example, MZ is the easily recognizable header sequence, but it's also valid x86 and x64 instructions. The follow-on RE (x86) and AR (x64) are valid x86 and x64 instructions that undo the MZ changes. These hints will change the magic values in Beacon's Reflective DLL package and make the reflective loading process use the new values.

Text  Description automatically generated

figure 67 - Disassembly of default module_mz_x86 value

Set userwx to false to ask Beacon’s loader to avoid RWX permissions. Memory segments with these permissions will attract extra attention from analysts and security products.

By default, Beacon’s loader allocates memory with VirtualAlloc. Use the allocator option to change this. The HeapAlloc option allocates heap memory for Beacon with RWX permissions. The MapViewOfFile allocator allocates memory for Beacon by creating an anonymous memory mapped file region in the current process. Module stomping is an alternative to these options and a way to have Beacon execute from coveted image memory. Set module_x86 to a DLL that is about twice as large as the Beacon payload itself. Beacon’s x86 loader will load the specified DLL, find its location in memory, and overwrite it. This is a way to situate Beacon in memory that Windows associates with a file on disk. It’s important that the DLL you choose is not needed by the applications you intend to reside in. The module_x64 option is the same story, but it affects the x64 Beacon.

If you’re worried about the Beacon stage that initializes the Beacon DLL in memory, set cleanup to true. This option will free the memory associated with the Beacon stage when it’s no longer needed.


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