Monday, August 29, 2016

Process Monitoring for the Curious and Paranoid

It's been months since I had time for any of this, but I've been thinking for a long time about what I would discover if I were to monitor process creation with some sort of balloon notification. Between coming to bed late one night, some scraps of time here and there to document it, and a day home to polish it off while my sick daughter naps, here's a useful tool. I want to emphasize, it's hacky, but for a busy father's casual/opportunistic research, it's enough to play jazz.


I would like to expediently answer a few questions, including:
  • Is a new process the reason why my mouse pointer changed to the wait icon?
  • Was a new process responsible for my computer slowing down?
  • How often do new processes start, anyway?
  • What are some commonly executed processes that I haven't noticed yet?
  • Does this process run any sub-processes?
  • Is there any process associated with that pop-up, or is it an already-running process?
Poring over my event logs is the wrong answer because eventvwr is slow to pop up and navigate, so when I am experiencing slowness, it doesn't allow me to get up-to-the-moment answers. Also, it can be tedious and time consuming to go back and find the right event, and my boss doesn't pay me to stare at event logs. And then how do I know that this event occurred at the same time as the phenomenon I'm observing?

What I want is a way to casually take note of interesting process creation events throughout the day without really spending time on it.

Alternative Solutions

I've had a few options rolling around in my head for a while:
  • Instance creation event query on Win32_Process creation - Around 2005 I experimented with this and found that it cannot catch short-lived processes because they are created and destroyed between polling intervals which must last, at minimum, one second.
  • Win32_ProcessTrace - I started out with this, but alas, they do not contain full image name information, so I needed to query the OS for further information, and again, short-lived processes result in information loss.
  • Monitoring event logs - Event ID 4688 provides image names, but advanced configuration is required to obtain full command lines. Alternatively, SysInternals' Sysmon logs this information by default. WMI or other methods could be used to notify on event creation.
  • The Windows kernel exports PsSetCreateProcessNotifyRoutineEx, which provides access to a convenient PS_CREATE_INFO structure containing the full image name and command line. Alas, this requires either purchasing and protecting an expensive driver signing certificate, or leaving a kernel code execution vulnerability unpatched so as to inject a driver as described in the whitepaper I published in February.


Unfortunately, mucking with drivers is not lazy enough for me. Since short-lived processes are important (they are commonly used as part of post-exploitation / recon), a Win32_Process instance creation query won't work. For ease of use, I've created a first draft solution by Frankensteining two C# StackOverflow answers together to use systray balloon notifications with WMI's Win32_ProcessTrace. I put this on the Internet so I could compile it and use it to see what was going on with my work computer.

Here's the gist of it

It's lazy, but for casual/opportunistic research, it's enough to play jazz. It doesn't capture command-line arguments and doesn't always capture the full image name, because it just uses Win32_ProcessTrace and then the .NET System.Diagnostics classes to get process information after the fact.

Alas, it bothers me not to have full image names or command-line arguments. The best source of information I know of in userspace is event logs, but I had trouble getting the info I needed on advanced logging configuration for my Windows 8.1 box, I just installed Sysmon. Now what?

Another gist

As it turns out, it is necessary to modify the registry and restart the Windows Management Instrumentation service (and its dependent services) to make this work. I added a Microsoft-Windows-Sysmon/Operational key to HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\EventLog and restarted the winmgmt service, and it all came together.

This gist has a detailed console view along with the systray notification to prevent me from having to necessarily open eventvwr to see more details. Here's how it looks:


Here are a few startling events and associated discoveries sure to send a chill down your spine, all from tracking down process activity during my journey:
  • netsh.exe just ran. Is this some post-exploitation alteration of my firewall rules? No, a certain VPN client executes netsh.exe to get its work done. This was not the only software I caught doing that.
  • Windows Remote Assistance COM Server (raserver.exe) executed and terminated immediately. What interfaces does this provide? Could this be post-exploitation enabling of remote assistance for future access? No. It's a scheduled task that triggers upon group policy updates so remote assistance knows to update its configuration.
  • reg.exe just got run by cmd.exe. Holy schnikes, now I'm truly pwned. Is the parent process a backdoor executing persistence or other post-exploitation commands? Nope. It's just some endpoint management software that IT confirms they deploy and manage.
  • Added 9/7/16: Heart rate increases as I read C:\Windows\system32\rundll32.exe C:\Windows\system32\inetcpl.cpl,ClearMyTracksByProcess Flags:525568 WinX:0 WinY:0 IEFrame:0000000000000000. Then I remember I just closed an IE in-private window. Take a look at the parent process command line and see: "C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\IEXPLORE.EXE" -private. WHEW!


So, as you can see, sometimes situational awareness is not all it's cracked up to be! As most DFIR people and hunters are aware, there is plenty of noise just sitting there waiting to alarm you.

Even so, I think this tool could be useful for noticing anomalous process observables such as:

This tool can increase your awareness of what applications are responsible for certain behaviors, such as the Get Windows 10 user prompts that everybody loved so much. It can also raise your awareness of cases where security policies do not appear to be doing their job, such as application whitelisting. If you're a paranoid or curious power user, this may all be useful to you. In case it is, here are those gists again:
If I polish this up into something nicer, I'll try to update this article with the link.