Hijack Execution Flow: DLL Search Order Hijacking

Created the Monday 25 July 2022. Updated 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

Adversaries may execute their own malicious payloads by hijacking the search order used to load DLLs. Windows systems use a common method to look for required DLLs to load into a program. Hijacking DLL loads may be for the purpose of establishing persistence as well as elevating privileges and/or evading restrictions on file execution.

There are many ways an adversary can hijack DLL loads. Adversaries may plant trojan dynamic-link library files (DLLs) in a directory that will be searched before the location of a legitimate library that will be requested by a program, causing Windows to load their malicious library when it is called for by the victim program. Adversaries may also perform DLL preloading, also called binary planting attacks, by placing a malicious DLL with the same name as an ambiguously specified DLL in a location that Windows searches before the legitimate DLL. Often this location is the current working directory of the program. Remote DLL preloading attacks occur when a program sets its current directory to a remote location such as a Web share before loading a DLL.

Adversaries may also directly modify the search order via DLL redirection, which after being enabled (in the Registry and creation of a redirection file) may cause a program to load a different DLL.

If a search order-vulnerable program is configured to run at a higher privilege level, then the adversary-controlled DLL that is loaded will also be executed at the higher level. In this case, the technique could be used for privilege escalation from user to administrator or SYSTEM or from administrator to SYSTEM, depending on the program. Programs that fall victim to path hijacking may appear to behave normally because malicious DLLs may be configured to also load the legitimate DLLs they were meant to replace.



Featured Windows API's

Below, you will find a list of the most commonly used Windows API's that are currently utilized by malware authors for current evasion technique. This list is meant to provide an overview of the API's that are commonly used for this purpose. If there are any API's that you feel should be included on this list, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to update the list and provide any additional information or documentation that may be helpful.

Code Snippets

Detection Rules

Additional Resources

External Links

The resources provided below are associated links that will give you even more detailed information and research on current evasion technique. It is important to note that, while these resources may be helpful, it is important to exercise caution when following external links. As always, be careful when clicking on links from unknown sources, as they may lead to malicious content.


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