Forensics 101

Finding Metasploit’s Meterpreter Traces With Memory Forensics

by Oleg Skulkin & Igor Mikhaylov

Metasploit Framework is not only very popular among pentesters, but is also quite often used by real adversaries. So why is memory forensics important here? Because Meterpreter, for example – an advanced, dynamically extensible Metasploit payload – resides entirely in the memory and writes nothing to the victim’s drive. In this article we will show you how to use the Volatility Framework to find Metasploit traces with memory forensics.

As we are analyzing a memory image, first of all we should gather information about the operating system to choose the right Volatility profile. If you ask us, the best practice here is to document the OS version during memory imaging process, as Volatility does not always detect it correctly. Anyway, if you get the memory image from the third party and the OS version is unknown, use the imageinfo plugin:

So this time Volatility guessed the OS version right – it really was Windows 7 x86 with SP1. Ok, let’s look at the process list using the pslist plugin:

Do you see anything potentially malicious? What about the process with PID 3000? Hmm, probably the user initiated an antivirus updating process? But the strange thing is that this process exited 42 seconds after starting. Let’s go further and look at network connections using the netscan plugin:

Ouch, an unknown process has established a connection to If you don’t know, 4444 is the default Metasploit port to connect back to. As Meterpreter injects itself into the compromised process, let’s try to find it using the malfind plugin:

It seems like Meterpreter migrated to svchost.exe with PID 3312. Let’s dump it to a file and check if it’s detected by antiviruses:

Wait, wha-a-a-a-at?! Only joking, it’s not that bad:

Anyway, it’s not detected by lots of popular antiviruses like McAfee, Malwarebytes, DrWeb, etc. Shame on them!

If you like using YARA rules for malware detection, you can write your own rule or find some rules online, and use the yarascan plugin:

In this example we used a simple rule we have written:

So it seems that everything started from running that process with PID 3000. If we go back to pslist output, we see that the only web browser running is Internet Explorer (iexplore.exe, PIDs 2568 and 2640). Let’s check browsing history using the iehistory plugin:

Bingo! The victim downloaded antivirus_update.exe from the server with the IP-address we have already seen! But what made them to do it? Let’s dump Internet Explorer’s processes memory with the memdump plugin and search for the “antivirus” string:

Ok, as you can see, the attacker used social engineering and shortened link to trick the victim. So when the victim downloaded the file and ran it, the attacker got the meterpreter session and migrated it to svchost.exe (PID 3312).

But did the victim really run it? Let’s find the evidence of execution! First of all, let’s use shimcache plugin, as it’s used to track compatibility issues with executed programs and may contain evidence we are looking for:

Yes, we got it! Let’s go further, and use Registry forensics running the userassist plugin:

Wow! Two times! Our victim isn’t very smart! What else can be used for getting the evidence of execution? For example, prefetch files. Yes, you can find these pieces of evidence in memory too, Volatility even have a plugin for it – prefetchparser.

Unfortunately, prefetching was disabled on our victim’s system, so we haven’t got any evidence.

Ok, we have gathered quite a lot, but there is one more thing to check – persistence! There is a very nice plugin to detect most common persistence techniques used by adversaries – autoruns:

As you can see, our victim doesn’t have to run the “Antivirus Update” anymore, it will be started automatically with each reboot. That’s it.

Happy forensicating!

About The Authors

Oleg Skulkin, GCFA, MCFE, ACE, is a DFIR enthusional (enthusiast + professional), Windows Forensics Cookbook and Practical Mobile Forensics co-author.

Igor Mikhaylov, MCFE, EnCE, ACE, OSFCE, is a digital forensic examiner with more than 20 years of experience and Mobile Forensics Cookbook author.

About scar

Scar de Courcier is an assistant editor at Forensic Focus.


2 thoughts on “Finding Metasploit’s Meterpreter Traces With Memory Forensics

  1. Great article. For us novices, can you explain how you arrived at this statement: “It seems like Meterpreter migrated to svchost.exe with PID 3312.”? Thanks for the post.

    Posted by Tim Taylor | April 3, 2018, 2:25 pm
    • Hi Tim!
      As you can see on the screenshot, malfind plugin detected injected code in this process. If you read a bit about Metasploit and Meterpreter, you’ll learn that it’s capable of migrating to other processes.

      Posted by Oleg Skulkin | April 4, 2018, 1:03 pm

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