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“What’s an evasive attack? At a very basic level, it’s exactly what it
sounds like; it’s a cyberattack that’s designed to hide from you,” says Grayson
Milbourne, Security Intelligence Director at Webroot, an OpenText company.

Based on Grayson’s initial explanation, you can imagine
that evasive tactics are pretty common throughout cybercriminal activities. But
they’re especially prevalent in the context of scripts. Scripts are pieces of
code that can automate processes on a computer system. They have tons of
legitimate uses, but, when used maliciously, they can be extremely effective
and difficult to detect or block.

With Grayson’s
help, we’ll talk you through some of the common script evasion techniques that
criminals use.


Living off the
Land Binaries (“LoLBins”) are
applications that a Windows® system already has on it by default. Funny name
aside, they’re extremely useful for attackers because they provide a way to
carry out common steps of an attack without having to
download anything new onto the target system. For example, criminals can use
them to create persistency (i.e. enable the infection to continue operating
after a reboot), spread throughout networked devices, bypass user access
controls, and extracting passwords or other sensitive information.

There are dozens of
for criminals to choose from that are native to the Windows
OS, such as powershell.exe, certutil.exe, regsr32.exe, and many more.
Additionally, there are a variety of common third party applications that are
pretty easy to exploit if present, such as java.exe, winword.exe, and

According to Grayson, this is one of the ways malicious hackers disguise their activities, because default OS applications are unlikely to be detected or blocked by an antimalware solution. He warns, “unless you have strong visibility into the exact commands that these processes are executing, then it can be very hard to detect malicious behavior originating from LoLBins.

Script Content Obfuscation

Like LoLBins and
scripting overall, hiding the true content or behavior of a script—or content “obfuscation”—has completely
legitimate purposes. But, in terms of malicious hacking, it’s pretty
self-explanatory why obfuscation would lend itself to criminal activities. The
whole point is not to get caught, right? So it makes sense that you’d take
steps to hide bad activities to avoid detection. The screenshots below show an
example of obfuscated code (top), with its de-obfuscated version (bottom).

Fileless and
Evasive Execution

Using scripts,
it’s actually possible to execute actions on a system without needing a file.
Basically, a script can be written to allocate memory on the system, then write
shellcode to that memory, then pass control to that memory. That means the
malicious functions are carried out in memory, without a file, which makes
detecting the origin of the infection (not to mention stopping it) extremely

Grayson explains,
“one of the issues with
fileless execution is that, usually, the memory gets cleared when you reboot
your computer. That means a fileless infection’s execution could be stopped
just be restarting the system. Persistence after a reboot is pretty top-of-mind
for cybercriminals, and they’re always working on new methods to do it.”


The Windows® 10 operating system now includes Microsoft’s Anti-Malware Scan
Interface (AMSI) to help combat the growing use of malicious and obfuscated
scripts. That means one of the first things you can do to help keep yourself
safe is to ensure any Windows devices you own are on the most up-to-date OS

Additionally, there are several other easy steps that can help ensure an effective and resilient cybersecurity strategy.

  • Keep
    all applications up to date

    Check all Windows and third party apps regularly for updates (and actually run
    them) to decrease the risk of having outdated software that contains
    vulnerabilities criminals could exploit.
  • Disable
    macros and script interpreters

    Although enabling macros has legitimate applications, the average home or
    business user is unlikely to need them. If a file you’ve downloaded gives you a
    warning that you need to enable macros, DON’T. This is another common evasive
    tactic that cybercriminals use to get malware onto your system. IT admins
    should ensure macros and script interpreters are fully disabled to help prevent
    script-based attacks. You can do this relatively easily through Group Policy.
  • Remove
    unused 3rd party apps
    Applications such as Python and Java are often unnecessary. If present and
    unused, simply remove them to help close a number of potential security gaps.
  • Educate
    end users
    End users continue to be a business’ greatest vulnerability. Cybercriminals
    specifically design attacks to take advantage of their trust, naiveté, fear,
    and general lack of technical or security expertise. By educating end users on
    the risks, how to avoid them, and when and how to report them to IT personnel,
    businesses can drastically improve their overall security posture.
  • Use
    endpoint security that includes evasive script protection
    In a recent update to Webroot® Business Endpoint Protection, we released a
    new Evasion Shield policy. This shield leverages AMSI, as well as new,
    proprietary, patented detection capabilities to detect, block, and quarantine
    evasive script attacks, including file-based, fileless, obfuscated, and
    encrypted threats. It also works to prevent malicious behaviors from executing
    in PowerShell, JavaScript, and VBScript files, which are often used to launch
    evasive attacks

Malicious hackers
are always looking to come up with new ways to outsmart defenses. Grayson
reminds us, “It’s up to all
of us in cybersecurity to research these new tactics and innovate just as
quickly, to help keep today’s businesses and home users safe from tomorrow’s
threats. There’s always more work to be done, and that’s a big part of what
drives us here at Webroot.”

To learn more about evasive scripts and what Webroot is doing to combat them,
we recommend the following resources:

The post Evasive Scripts: What They Are, and What We’re Doing About Them appeared first on Webroot Blog.