Hijack Execution Flow: Path Interception by PATH Environment Variable

Created the Tuesday 31 January 2023. Updated 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

Adversaries may execute their own malicious payloads by hijacking environment variables used to load libraries. Adversaries may place a program in an earlier entry in the list of directories stored in the PATH environment variable, which Windows will then execute when it searches sequentially through that PATH listing in search of the binary that was called from a script or the command line.

The PATH environment variable contains a list of directories. Certain methods of executing a program (namely using cmd.exe or the command-line) rely solely on the PATH environment variable to determine the locations that are searched for a program when the path for the program is not given. If any directories are listed in the PATH environment variable before the Windows directory, %SystemRoot%\system32 (e.g., C:\Windows\system32), a program may be placed in the preceding directory that is named the same as a Windows program (such as cmd, PowerShell, or Python), which will be executed when that command is executed from a script or command-line.

For example, if C:\example path precedes C:\Windows\system32 is in the PATH environment variable, a program that is named net.exe and placed in C:\example path will be called instead of the Windows system "net" when "net" is executed from the command-line.



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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