Babadook: Connection-less Powershell Persistent and Resilient “Backdoor”

At my previous company I used to prank the colleagues who left their stations unlocked. I call this my “internal awareness program”.

It was all fun and games at the beginning. I would leave post-its on their monitors with a friendly message “You could’ve been hacked” but it wasn’t giving the expected results. Some colleagues found it funny and started “collecting” my post-its. There was a guy in particular with 5 of them. It was evident harder measures had to be taken.

I’ve escalated the awareness program by replacing post-its to emailing the whole team with the message “I was reckless and left my computer unlocked”. Everybody would laugh about it but still wasn’t giving the needed outcome: People locking their desktops when away from the station.

Overcoming restrictions

I came to the conclusion that my colleagues would only learn the lesson if in fact they got hacked somehow, so I decided to make a backdoor so I’d be able to mess with their machines remotely.

Turns out that we were in a fairly constrained environment:

  • No direct connections between machines: VLAN isolation
  • User-only access, no admin privileges, cannot install anything
  • Corporate anti-virus in use, cannot use off-the-shelf solutions

So I started thinking what could I do with what I had in hands. As we were using Windows 7, one powerful tool came to my mind: POWERSHELL. Aw yiss!

I still needed to overcome some situations, no direct connections, inability to open sockets and so on.

As we were all members of the same team, we had access to the some shared folders and that was the vector that popped my mind. I would place a script on this shared folder and my backdoor would read this script and kinda eval() it. Simple and effective.

So by using the shared folder strategy and using powershell I’d solve the isolation problem AND the antivirus problem at once. I’ve added Clear-Content so the script would only run the code once.

I’ve skipped lunch for a day and rigged a quick and dirty POC. Tested on my machine, found a colleague that had left the machine unlocked and BAM, it was working.

After some days of fun, they started figuring out and killing my powershell process from the task manager. I needed to make the backdoor resilient.

Enter Babadook

The name came from an excellent scary movie (I trully recomend you to watch it!) I’d seen a while ago called The Babadook @ IMDB, which had the quote “If it’s in a word or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook”.

That’s the motto I would follow to my backdoor. Make it unkillable as long as reasonably possible. Stealthiness wasn’t a big deal. Once I’d started playing the “Super Mario Theme Song” on their PC Speakers my presence would be spotted.

I kinda also wanted them to know and after some while after they came back to their stations and realized they had left it unlocked, they knew they had been pranked.

The Babadook

Multi-threading and the Watchdog routine

I quickly concluded that I’d needed to make my backdoor multi-threaded to have something watching my back while the main routine was waiting for commands. Powershell’s “Jobs” functionality would fit.

I’ve created a Watchdog function which were merely a while ($True) loop sending Stop-Process -processname taskmgr and ignoring errors (if the Task Manager wasn’t running).

I did the same for cmd.exe, wscript.exe and cscript.exe just to be safe.

This also effectively blocks running .bat and .vbs files since the interpreter has no chance to fully load before being killed by Babadook.

That worked for a while until IT released a GPO update blocking powershell remoting and thus blocking the use of powershell Jobs. *sadface*

So the quest for an alternative began and remembering how powershell and .NET integrate beautifully I was sure I could use some Somelongnamespace.Threading.Something .NET voodoo to accomplish that. Turned out the solution was way easier by using powershell’s Runspaces.

It worked as a charm! My watchdog was up again killing Task Manager immediatly as the window would (try) to appear. My colleagues were going crazy.

NOTE: Up to this moment I’ve been facing some issues with BeginInvoke which seems to fail to run ever once in a while, still debugging this issue. With Jobs I’ve never had this issue, instead I had issues where when the Job wasn’t properly stopped, it would run forever and required a reboot to die since the Watchdog wouldn’t let me open a powershell session.

There can be only one

In order to ensure that nobody would try to play smart and open a powershell window and try to use the Get-Process and Stop-Process to try to kill my backdoor, I’ve added the functionality to the watchdog to kill all powershell processes which were not his own. Upon start I’d save my process ID into a variable and use that to check the other powershell processes.

Also, no Powershell ISE here!

You can’t Run but I can hide!

At the same time my colleagues were desperately trying to kill Babadook, I was also doing the same to ensure I could cover the holes before they were able to get to it.

I’ve realized that someone could just invoke the taskill command directly from the “Run” dialog and that was bad (for me), so I needed a way to prevent that dialog from coming up. As this is a built-in dialog and not a process, I wasn’t able to take down on the classical way (with Stop-Process) so I’ve appealed to .NET extensions to grab some Windows API calls in order to enumerate the foreground window and if the title was what I wanted, kaboom!.

Hiding in plain sight

To add a sleight of fear, I’d thought it would be nice to hide my Babadook files since if my victim could find the command script on the shared folder, he could add some code there to kill Babadook and end my party, so a little code to get this sorted out was added to the Watchdog:

The last line adds an entry to the Registry turning on the option “Don’t display system and hidden files”. As this was on the While ($true) loop, even if the user turned that off, it would be turned back on immediately.

Take no shortcuts

With my anti-kill countermeasures in place, I was thinking on more ways to kill Babadook to improve the Watchdog, so it came to my mind that one could create a shortcut for taskill so I’ve made a little modification to my “Run Killer”:

That would take care of popping out the “Properties” dialog out of any file. Booya!

When everything else fails, reboot!

I’m sure there are some other ways to kill my process but that was enough for the moment (and I needed to get some lunch anyway). So people started realizing that a reboot was the only way to get rid of the Babadook.

I couldn’t leave this that way and needed a a persistence method. I first thought about the “Run” key on the registry but that might need admin privileges, so why not resort to our well known scheduled tasks?

Popped up a code to copy the Babadook script to the local machine with a random name and create the new task to run “At Logon”, “On Idle” and “Daily at 8AM”.

For more information on Task Scheduler options, check the MSDN Technet documentation.

That was working beautifully until I realized I needed some concurrency control. Of course my “There can be only one” code would kill the competitors but I needed something more elegant and Mutexes came to my mind. Added a code for that also:

And of course I needed to prevent them from opening the “Scheduled Tasks” dialog. Since a Stop-Process to the mmc process was giving me “Access Denied” (it runs in some kind of UAC), I needed to take the .NET approach. Modified my “IF” to consider that:


So far we got:

  • Connection-less command execution (full powershell language incl. .NET extensions + system()-like with Start-Process)
  • Watchdog / Userkit (userland “root”kit)
  • Persistence
  • Concurrency control

And that worked well enough for me :)

It’s not about the money

So if you read until here you might probably been wondering: “Did you really skipped those lunches just to mess up your colleagues?”

Well, kinda. It was a great learning and they surely got the message. No one now leaves their session unlocked. :)

When the news hit my team leader (how they called the Boss at the company) he saw this was a good way to show upper management and the other teams the dangers of an insider, how basic malware works and escalated the Babadook as a truly internal awareness program, so it turned out to be a great deal for everyone (except for a few really pissed off teammates).


As always, you can get the Babadook source at my github.

28 responses to “Babadook: Connection-less Powershell Persistent and Resilient “Backdoor””

  1. I Moses says:

    Great post

  2. Ricardo says:

    What is that you’re actually accomplishing with this?

    Anyone with access to the unlocked workstation is already trusted and could as easily ask to use a colleagues computer for a short errand to install said backdoor if he wished.

    And employee with malicious intentions would not be hindered at all by this. And if outsiders roam around your office freely and can access workstations without anyone noticing then you have far greater problems.

    I have a hard time seeing a single scenario (that is not a prank like the one above) where the above would have any preventative power.

  3. Dzintaras says:

    Who that’s awesome :) We have such a program that whoever leaves computer unlocked buys everyone on the team a beer :) Bu your way is miles more inovative

  4. Jan Seidl says:

    You’re right, this is indeed more a prank than anything else.

  5. Timmy Tee says:

    Hahaha classic! Love the scripts and coding. Really impressive ways to get around simple but annoying obstacles. Good job!

  6. […] resilience and done leveraging Powershell.  Just reading his post about it makes you think.  Read it and have fun. Just be aware that you might make people hate you.  Play responsibly!  Thanks […]

  7. paul says:

    I find Ricardo funny. A large percentage of theft comes from within the company. If the vp of finance left their computer unlocked and the janitor wanted to set something up.. The point is, people need to always lock their work stations. This was a great read, and a great way to get people to lock their computers. Nice to have a workplace to be able to do things like that.

  8. Mike says:

    Nice post! It is important to show the ‘why’ behind some of the mundane policies. Most users don’t feel the impact of a compromise unless it includes some shenanigans directed their way. Obviously it’s usually things a real attacker would never do. The point often missed (by users) is that it needs to be as difficult as possible for someone to get a foothold. Unlocked/unattended workstations are just begging to be screwed with!

  9. Panicst8 says:

    Considering that 60% or more cyber attacks or corporate espionage incidents come from within the company, making people aware that they need to be more security conscious seems like a good idea. One company I worked for you would be written up if your computer was unlocked without your presence, so some companies take it very serious, as they should. Company phones and laptops are also major security holes when in the hands of employees. Nice code, I don’t understand it all but I am working through it, as a former UNIX admin, I have seem similar tactics used with root kits. Though you’re lucky the upper management took this as a good thing, because in reality you compromised and gained access to your teams systems, I’ve seen people fired and black balled for less than this. IMHO excercising a bit of caution wouldn’t be a bad idea, many a hacker trying to expose holes for the greater good, end up in hot water. Code on.

  10. Jan Seidl says:

    @Panicst8 you’re definitely right. There’s a thin line there that must be walked carefully.

  11. peter says:

    Why didnt you set their screensaver instead ?.

    It can be set by policy too, as reminder for your IT staf.
    BTW, you need to do more then that, as i could simply walk in claiming to be new from your local IT, and replace your PC, with this brand new model.. and i would have all your old data. And sure the new PC wont be bugged. I’d recover all password from that old PC. And guessing i probably get your local IT admin passwords too. (hey i’m new from finance, they told me take ‘johns’ PC to let it repair here. Could you login once to see whats wrong with office.

  12. Vendan says:

    As an actual penetration tester, doing internal pen tests, reading this was a hoot. Babadook seems a little “crazy” for most internals, as killing and preventing all those things gets obvious quick, but yeah. Fun thing to look at if this kind of thing ever happens again: PowerShell Empire. It’ll even let you inject the powershell session into none powershell processes, including deep system ones like LSASS. Literally only way to get it out is to reboot.

  13. bharata says:

    thank you

  14. dmitry says:

    If you would start sending mails to the team from my name (“I forgot to lock up my computer”), i’d to the same from a fake mail account but with message smth like “i suck dicks”. Would be fun I guess

  15. Jay says:

    Amusingly, I grabbed a piece of this, wanting to try your Scheduled Task creation method – Microsoft have flagged it up as “Backdoor:PowerShell/Koodabok.A”, first seen Sep 30, 2015. Good stuff!

  16. Kaue says:

    Its possible to just load Windows 7 in security mode and remove the Babadook?

  17. Jan Seidl says:

    That could work. Anyway there are many ways to kill the Babadook while running which I haven’t covered.

  18. M'cin says:

    Hey! I’m trying to force myself to learn PS and I think I ‘quite’ (or barely?) understand most of things covered in post (or don’t and can’t ask :P) but one… I guess they (yer friends) don’t have execution policy unrestricted, don’t they? By quickly looking at your scripts (late hour, ya know :P) I have found ‘-ExecutionPolicy bypass’ trigger in .bat. Is that really enough?

  19. Thomas Franz says:

    there should be several other ways to bypass Babadook:

    – you could just rename (or copy) cmd.exe e.g. to xjykajfapeh.exe and run it
    – you could third party task explorers
    – you could use e.g. Total Commander as file tool which allows you to run commands from it internal cmd line and see hidden files
    – not tested the last few years: open Word and add a OLE package that runs a command (Insert | Object | Package)
    – a little bit binary work, but should possible: use notepad / Notepad++ to manually edit a shortcut
    – or just use a *.lnk-file that is made on a clean PC (and saved on some file share)
    – if you (by yourself) have local admin privilegues: go to a clean PC and know that Babadook is a powershell script and use it to open \\youpc\c$, browse to the powershell exe and forbit yourselfe to run it (in the file properties) – this helps against several real world maleware / adware programms too (particulary the one that uses two tasks that starts the one again that you just closed)
    – use remote TASKKILL to kill the powershell
    – or use a remote mmc.exe to remove the planned task that starts Babadook (could be countered, if Babadook recreates this task every second)
    – sometimes the usual File open / file close dialog or the URL-fied in the browser or even the URL-field in the help dialog of Notepad / Calc are your friend too, if you have to browse / start a program that is hidden from you

  20. Daryl says:

    copy C:\windows\system32\cmd.exe Rename to something else.

    Open newly named executable. Kill powershell process. :)

  21. mbourgon says:

    Love it. Of course, you started talking about persistence and powershell and I immediately started thinking of doing WMI eventing and timers and the like.

  22. BadaBing says:

    There is, of course, more than one way to skin a cat. An ice pick to sidewalls of two of your tires; sugar in your gas tank; a drilling hammer and chisel to your PC or screen; a KeyKatcher (or similar) to your keyboard (just in case you log in to your bank account from work) … I’m sure someone could think of others.

  23. Jan Seidl says:

    If you don’t have applocker or software restriction policies enabled, this is pretty nuch it

  24. Jan Seidl says:

    Indeed, there are several ways left which can kill the Babadook, the code only cover some of the many scenarios.

  25. […] app – written in vanilla Powershell – mainly served to annoy his fellow users until they […]

  26. Adam says:

    I lolled throughout. Great post.

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