Lee Kirkpatrick

Using the RSA NetWitness Platform to Detect Lateral Movement: SCShell (DCE/RPC)

Blog Post created by Lee Kirkpatrick Employee on Jan 16, 2020

A couple of months ago, Mr-Un1k0d3r released a lateral movement tool that solely relies on DCE/RPC (https://github.com/Mr-Un1k0d3r/SCShell). This tool does not create a service and drop a file like PsExec or similar tools would do, but instead uses the ChangeServiceConfigA function (and others) to edit an existing service and have it execute commands; making this a fileless lateral movement tool.


SCShell is not a tool designed to provide a remote semi-interactive shell. It is designed to allow the remote execution of commands on an endpoint utilising only DCE/RPC in an attempt to evade common detection mechanisms; while this tool is slightly stealthier than most in this category, it’s also a bit more limited in what an attacker can do with it.


When we first looked at this, we didn't have much in terms of detection, but with a prompt response from William Motley from our content team, he produced an update to the DCERPC parser that is the basis of this post.


The Attack

In the example screenshot below, I run the SCShell binary against an endpoint to launch calc.exe, while this is of no use to an attacker, it is just an example that we can use to visually confirm the success of the attack on the victim machine:



It could also be used to launch a Metasploit reverse shell, for example, as shown in the screenshot below. We will cover some of the interesting artifacts leftover from this execution in a seperate post. Obviously, this is not something an attacker would do, in their case something like launching an additional remote access trojan or tool would be more likely:


SCShell edits an existing service on the target endpoint, it does not create a new one. Therefore the service needs to already exist on the target. In the above example, I use defragsvc as it is a common service on Windows endpoints.


RSA NetWitness Network Analysis

There was a recent update to the DCERPC parser that is available via RSA NetWitness Live (thanks to Bill Motley), this parser now extracts the API calls made over DCE/RPC - which can be useful in detecting suspect activity over this protocol. If you have setup your subscriptions correctly for this parser (which you should have), it will be updated automatically, otherwise you will have to push it manually.


So, to start my investigation (as per usual) I take a look at my compromise meta keys and notice a meta value of, remote service control, under the Indicators of Compromise [ioc]

 meta key. This is an area that should be regularly explored to look for anomalous activity:


Pivoting on this meta value and opening up the action and filename meta keys, we can see the interaction with the svcctl interface that is being used to call API functions to query, change, and start an existing service:



  • StartServiceA - Starts a Service
  • QueryServiceConfigA - Retrieves the configuration parameters of the specified service.
  • OpenServiceAOpens an existing service
  • OpenSCManagerWEstablishes a connection to the service control manager on the specified computer and opens the specified service control manager database
  • ChangeServiceConfigAChanges the configuration parameters of a service


The traffic sent over DCE/RPC is encrypted, so reconstructing the sessions will not help here, but given that we have full visibility we can quickly pivot to endpoint data to get the answers we need. The following logic would allow you to identify this remote service modification behaviour taking place in your environment and subsequently the endpoints of interest for investigation:

service = 139 && filename = 'svcctl' && action = 'openservicea' && action = 'changeserviceconfiga' && action = 'startservicea'


RSA NetWitness Endpoint Analysis

A great way to perform threat hunting on a dataset is by performing frequency analysis, this allows us to bubble up outliers and locate suspect behaviour with respect to your environment - an anomaly in one environment, can be common in another. This could be done by looking for less common exectuables being spawned by services.exe in this instance - the following query would be a good place to start, device.type='nwendpoint' && filename.src='services.exe' && action='createprocess' - we would then open up the Filename Destination meta key and see a large number of results returned:



Typically, we tend to view the results from our queries in descending order, in this instance, we want to see the least common, so we switch the sorting to ascending to bubble up the anomalous executables. Now we can analyse the results and as shown in the screenshot below, we see a couple of interesting outliers, the calc.exe, and the cmd.exe:



Pivoting into the Events view for cmd.exe, we can see it using mshta to pull a .hta file, clearly this is not good:



This activity whereby services.exe spawns a command shell is out of the box content, and can be found under the Behaviors of Compromise [boc] meta key, so this would also be a great way to start an investigation as well:



Now that we have suspect binaries of interest, we have files and endpoints we could perform further analysis on to get our investigation fully underway, but for this post I will leave it here.



It is important to ensure that all your content in NetWitness is kept up to date - automating your subscriptions to Lua parsers for example, is a great start. It ensures that you have all the latest metadata being created from the protocols, and improves your ability as a defender to hunt and find malicious behaviours.


It is also important to remember that while sometimes there may not be a lot of activity from the initial execution of say a binary, at some point, it will have to perform some activity in order to achieve its end goal. Picking up on said activity will allow defenders to pull the thread back to the originating malicious event.