11 October 2013

Dumping Malware Configuration Data from Memory with Volatility

When I first start delving in memory forensics, years ago, we relied upon controlled operating system crashes (to create memory crash dumps) or the old FireWire exploit with a special laptop. Later, software-based tools like regular dd, and win32dd, made the job much easier (and more entertaining as we watched the feuds between mdd and win32dd).

In the early days, our analysis was basically performed with a hex editor. By collecting volatile data from an infected system, we'd attempt to map memory locations manually to known processes, an extremely frustrating and error-prone procedure. Even with the advent of graphical tools such as HBGary Responder Pro, which comes with a hefty price tag, I've found most of my time spent viewing raw memory dumps in WinHex.

The industry has slowly changed as tools like Volatility have gained maturity and become more feature-rich. Volatility is a free and open-source memory analysis tool that takes the hard work out of mapping and correlating raw data to actual processes. At first I shunned Volatility for it's sheer amount of command line memorization, where each query required memorizing a specialized command line. Over the years, I've come to appreciate this aspect and the flexibility it provides to an examiner.

It's with Volatility that I focus the content for this blog post, to dump malware configurations from memory.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's rare to find static malware. That is, malware that has a plain-text URL in its .rdata section mixed in with other strings, and other data laid bare in plain sight. Modern malware tends to be more dynamic, allowing for configurations to be downloaded upon infection, or be strategically injected into the executable by its author. Crimeware malware (Carberp, Zeus) tend to favor the former, connecting to a hardcoded IP address or domain to download a detailed configuration profile (often in XML) that is used to determine how the malware is to operate. What domains does it beacon to, on which ports, and with what campaign IDs - these are the items we determine from malware configurations.

Other malware rely upon a known block of configuration data within the executable, sometimes found within .rdata or simply in the overlay (the data after the end of the actual executable). Sometimes this data is in plain text, often it's encoded or encrypted. A notable example of this is in Mandiant's APT1 report on TARSIP-MOON, where a block of encrypted data is stored in the overlay. The point of this implementation is that an author can compile their malware, and then add in the appropriate configuration data after the fact.

As a method to improving the timeliness of malware analysis, I've been advocating for greater research and implementation of configuration dumpers. By identifying where data is stored within the file, and by knowing its encryption routine, one could simply write a script to extract the data, decrypt it, and print it out. Without even running the malware we know its intended C2 communications and have immediate signatures that we can then implement into our network defenses.

While this data may appear as a simple structure in plaintext in a sample, often it's encoded or encrypted via a myriad of techniques. Often this may be a form of encryption that we, or our team, deemed as too difficult to decrypt in a reasonable time. This is pretty common, advanced encryption or compression can often take weeks to completely unravel and is often left for when there's downtime in operations.

What do we do, then? Easy, go for the memory.

We know that the malware has a decryption routine that intakes this data and produces decrypted output. By simply running the malware and analyzing its memory footprint, we will often find the decrypted results in plaintext, as it has already been decrypted and in use by the malware.

Why break the encryption when we can let the malware just decrypt it for us?