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New attacks use Windows security bypass zero-day to drop malware

Posted on November 21, 2022 by

New phishing attacks use a Windows zero-day vulnerability to drop the Qbot malware without displaying Mark of the Web security warnings.

When files are downloaded from an untrusted remote location, such as the Internet or an email attachment, Windows add a special attribute to the file called the Mark of the Web.

When a user attempts to open a file with a MoTW attribute, Windows will display a security warning asking if they are sure they wish to open the file.

“While files from the Internet can be useful, this file type can potentially harm your computer. If you do not trust the source, do not open this software,” reads the warning from Windows.

Windows Mark of the Web security warning
Windows Mark of the Web security warning


These JavaScript files are not the same as those used on websites but are standalone files with the ‘.JS’ extension that are executed using the Windows Script Host (wscript.exe).

To exploit this vulnerability, a JS file (or other types of files) could be signed using an embedded base64 encoded signature block, as described in this Microsoft support article.

However, when a malicious file with one of these malformed signatures is opened, instead of being flagged by Microsoft SmartScreen and showing the MoTW security warning, Windows automatically allows the program to run.

QBot malware campaign uses Windows zero-day

Recent QBot malware phishing campaigns have distributed password-protected ZIP archives containing ISO images. These ISO images contain a Windows shortcut and DLLs to install the malware.

When the link is clicked, a password-protected ZIP archive is downloaded that contains another zip file, followed by an IMG file.

In Windows 10 and later, when you double-click on a disk image file, such as an IMG or ISO, the operating system will automatically mount it as a new drive letter.

This IMG file contains a .js file (‘WW.js’), a text file (‘data.txt’), and another folder that contains a DLL file renamed to a .tmp file (‘resemblance.tmp’) [VirusTotal], as illustrated below. It should be noted that the file names will change per campaign, so they should not be considered static.

Mounted IMG file

The JS file contains VB script that will read the data.txt file, which contains the ‘vR32’ string, and appends the contents to the parameter of the shellexecute command to load the ‘port/resemblance.tmp’ DLL file. In this particular email, the reconstructed command is:

regSvR32 port\\resemblance.tmp
JS file with a malformed signature to exploit Windows zero-day

As the JS file originates from the Internet, launching it in Windows would display a Mark of the Web security warning.

However, as you can see from the image of the JS script above, it is signed using the same malformed key used in the Magniber ransomware campaigns to exploit the Windows zero-day vulnerability.

This malformed signature allows the JS script to run and load the QBot malware without displaying any security warnings from Windows, as shown by the launched process below.

Regsvr32.exe launching the QBot DLL
Regsvr32.exe launching the QBot DLL

After a short period, the malware loader will inject the QBot DLL into legitimate Windows processes to evade detection, such as wermgr.exe or AtBroker.exe.