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Hunt-Sleeping-Beacons – Aims To Identify Sleeping Beacons

Çağlar Arlı      -    54 Views

Hunt-Sleeping-Beacons – Aims To Identify Sleeping Beacons

The idea of this project is to identify beacons which are unpacked at runtime or running in the context of another process.

To do so, I make use of the observation that beacons tend to call Sleep between their callbacks. A call to sleep sets the state of the thread to DelayExecution which is taken as a first indiciator that a thread might be executing a beacon.

After enumerating all threads whose state is DelayExecution, multiple metrics are applied to identify potential beacons


  1. If the beacon does not make use of file backed memory, the callstack to NtDelayExecution includes memory regions which can not be associated with a file on disk.
  2. If the beacon uses module stomping, one of the modules in the callstack to NtDelayExecution is modified

Projects, such as Threadstackspoofer, hook Sleep to spoof the callstack or to use another technique to wait between callbacks. Thus, I added two more metrics:

  1. Inline Hooks of Sleep can be fingerprinted by enumerating memory areas marked as private (not shared) storing the .text segment of Kernel32. This also applies if the hook is removed temporarily
  2. Since a beacon spends more time waiting for commands than actually executing code, it can be fingerprinted by comparing the fields KernelTime and UserTime of SYSTEM_THREAD_INFORMATION. Initially I thought that the time sleeping would count as time spent in Kernelmode, but it turned out the other way. I am not sure why :'P Additionally, both fields increase only after the operator executed some commands with the beacon. Also here, I am not sure why :'P

To decrease false positives, I decided to considerate only processes with loaded wininet.dll or winhttp.dll. Additionally, I had to ignore jitted processes (.NET) and modifications to ntdll.dll which also seems to happen legitimately. Metric three and four are still applied though.


Sample non file backed beacon:

[!] Suspicious Process: PhantomDllHollower.exe

[*] Thread (9192) has State: DelayExecution and abnormal calltrace:

NtDelayExecution -> C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\ntdll.dll
SleepEx -> C:\WINDOWS\System32\KERNELBASE.dll
0x00007FF8C13A103F -> Unknown or modified module
0x000001E3C3F48FD0 -> Unknown or modified module
0x00007FF700000000 -> Unknown or modified module
0x00007FF7C00000BB -> Unknown or modified module

[*] Suspicious Sleep() found
[*] Sleep Time: 600s

Sample beacon using module stomping:

[!] Suspicious Process: beacon.exe (5296)

[*] Thread (2968) has State: DelayExecution and uses potentially stomped module
[*] Potentially stomped module: C:\Windows\SYSTEM32\xpsservices.dll

NtDelayExecution -> C:\Windows\SYSTEM32\ntdll.dll
SleepEx -> C:\Windows\System32\KERNELBASE.dll
DllGetClassObject -> C:\Windows\SYSTEM32\xpsservices.dll

[*] Suspicious Sleep() found
[*] Sleep Time: 5s

Sample beacon inline hooking sleep

[!] Suspicious Process: ThreadStackSpoofer.exe (4876). Potentially hooked Sleep / Modifies Kernel32.dll

Identification of generic beaconing behaviour by comparing KernelTime and UserTime:

[!] Suspicious Process: ThreadStackSpoofer.exe (4876). Thread 1132 has state DelayExecution and spends 94% of the time in usermode


There are of course many ways to bypass this project. :-)


  • forrestorr for documenting the detection of modified dlls based on shared/private memory areas link
  • waldoirc for general support :-)