Hunting COM Objects (Part Two)

Original Post from FireEye
Author: Brett Hawkins


As a follow up to Part
One in this blog series on COM object hunting
, this post will
talk about taking the COM object hunting methodology deeper by looking
at interesting COM object methods exposed in properties and
sub-properties of COM objects.

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.”

A COM object’s services can be consumed from almost any language by
multiple processes, or even remotely. COM objects are usually obtained
by specifying a CLSID (an identifying GUID) or ProgID (programmatic
identifier). These COM objects are published in the Windows registry
and can be extracted easily, as described below.

COM Object Enumeration

FireEye performed research into COM objects on Windows 10 and
Windows 7, along with COM objects in Microsoft Office. Part One of
this blog series described a technique for enumerating
all COM objects
on the system, instantiating them, and searching
for interesting properties and methods. However, this only scratches
the surface of what is accessible through these COM objects, as each
object may return other objects that cannot be directly created on
their own.

The change introduced here recursively searches for COM objects,
which are only exposed through member methods and properties of each
enumerated COM object. The original methodology looked at interesting
methods exposed directly by each object and didn’t recurse into any
properties that may also be COM objects with their own interesting
methods. This improvement to the methodology assisted in the discovery
of a new COM object that can be used for code execution, and new ways
to call publicly known code execution COM object methods.

Recursive COM Object Method Discovery

A common theme among publicly discovered techniques for code
execution using COM objects is that they take advantage of a method
that is exposed within a child property of the COM object. An example
of this is the “MMC20.Application” COM object. To achieve code
execution with this COM object, you need to use the
“ExecuteShellCommand” method on the View object returned by the
“Document.ActiveView” property, as discovered by Matt Nelson in this
. In Figure 1 you can see how this method is only discoverable
within the object returned by “Document.ActiveView”, and is not
directly exposed by the MMC20.Application COM object.

Figure 1: Listing ExecuteShellCommand
method in MMC20.Application COM object

Another example of this is the “ShellBrowserWindow” COM object,
which was also first written about by Matt Nelson in this blog
. As you can see in Figure 2, the “ShellExecute” method is not
directly exposed in the COM object. However, the
“Document.Application” property returns an instance of the Shell
, which exposes the ShellExecute method.

Figure 2: Listing ExecuteShellCommand
method in ShellBrowserWindow COM object

As evidence of the previous two examples, it is important to not
only look at methods exposed directly by the COM object, but also
recursively look for objects with interesting methods exposed as
properties of COM objects. This example also illustrates why simply
statically exploring the Type Libraries of the COM objects may not be
sufficient. The relevant functions are only accessed after dynamically
enumerating objects of the generic type IDispatch. This recursive
methodology can enable finding new COM objects to be used for code
execution, and different ways to use publicly known COM objects that
can be used for code execution.

An example of how this recursive methodology found a new way to call
a publicly known COM object method is the “ShellExecute” method in the
“ShellBrowserWindow” COM object that was shown previously in this
article. The previously publicly known way of calling this method
within the “ShellBrowserWindow” COM object is using the
“Document.Application” property. The recursive COM object method
discovery also found that you can call the “ShellExecute” method on
the object returned by the “Document.Application.Parent” property as
seen in Figure 3. This can be useful from an evasion standpoint.

Figure 3: Alternative way to call
ShellExecute with ShellBrowserWindow COM object

Command Execution

Using this recursive COM object method discovery, FireEye was able
to find a COM object with the ProgID “Excel.ChartApplication” that can
be used for code execution using the DDEInitiate
method. This DDEInitiate method of launching executables was first
abused in the “Excel.Application” COM object as seen in this article
by Cybereason. There are multiple properties in the
“Excel.ChartApplication” COM object that return objects that can be
used to execute the DDEInitiate method as seen in Figure 4. Although
this DDEInitiate method is also exposed directly by the COM object, it
was initially discovered when looking at methods exposed in the other
objects accessible from this object.

Figure 4: Different ways to call
DDEInitiate with Excel.ChartApplication COM object

This COM object can also be instantiated and used remotely for
Office 2013 as seen in Figure 5. The COM object can only be
instantiated locally on Office 2016. When trying to instantiate it
remotely against Office 2016, an error code will return indicating
that the COM object class is not registered for remote instantiation.

Figure 5: Using Excel.ChartApplication
remotely against Office 2013


The recursive searching of COM object methods can lead to the
discovery of new COM objects that can be used for code execution, and
new ways to call publicly known COM object methods. These COM object
methods can be used to subvert different detection patterns and can
also be used for lateral movement.

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Author: Brett Hawkins

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