Process Ghosting

Process Ghosting is a technique used to bypass detection by manipulating the executable image when a process is loaded.

Windows attempts to prevent mapped executables from being modified. Once a file is mapped into an image section, attempts to open it with FILE_WRITE_DATA (to modify it) will fail with ERROR_SHARING_VIOLATION. Deletion attempts via FILE_DELETE_ON_CLOSE/FILE_FLAG_DELETE_ON_CLOSE fail with ERROR_SHARING_VIOLATION. NtSetInformationFile(FileDispositionInformation) requires the DELETE access right. Even though the DELETE access right is granted to files mapped to image sections, NtSetInformationFile(FileDispositionInformation) fails with STATUS_CANNOT_DELETE. Deletion attempts via FILE_SUPERCEDE/CREATE_ALWAYS fail with ACCESS_DENIED.

An important note, however, is that this deletion restriction only comes into effect once the executable is mapped into an image section. This means that it is possible to create a file, mark it for deletion, map it to an image section, close the file handle to complete the deletion, then create a process from the now-fileless section. This is Process Ghosting.

The attack flow is:

  1. Create a file
  2. Put the file into a delete-pending state using NtSetInformationFile(FileDispositionInformation). Note: Attempting to use FILE_DELETE_ON_CLOSE instead will not delete the file.
  3. Write the payload executable to the file. The content isn’t persisted because the file is already delete-pending. The delete-pending state also blocks external file-open attempts.
  4. Create an image section for the file.
  5. Close the delete-pending handle, deleting the file.
  6. Create a process using the image section.
  7. Assign process arguments and environment variables.
  8. Create a thread to execute in the process.


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