Subvert Trust Controls: Mark-of-the-Web Bypass

Created the Saturday 04 March 2023. Updated 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

Adversaries may abuse specific file formats to subvert Mark-of-the-Web (MOTW) controls. In Windows, when files are downloaded from the Internet, they are tagged with a hidden NTFS Alternate Data Stream (ADS) named Zone.Identifier with a specific value known as the MOTW. Files that are tagged with MOTW are protected and cannot perform certain actions. For example, starting in MS Office 10, if a MS Office file has the MOTW, it will open in Protected View. Executables tagged with the MOTW will be processed by Windows Defender SmartScreen that compares files with an allowlist of well-known executables. If the file in not known/trusted, SmartScreen will prevent the execution and warn the user not to run it.

Adversaries may abuse container files such as compressed/archive (.arj, .gzip) and/or disk image (.iso, .vhd) file formats to deliver malicious payloads that may not be tagged with MOTW. Container files downloaded from the Internet will be marked with MOTW but the files within may not inherit the MOTW after the container files are extracted and/or mounted. MOTW is a NTFS feature and many container files do not support NTFS alternative data streams. After a container file is extracted and/or mounted, the files contained within them may be treated as local files on disk and run without protections.



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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