Command and Control Using Active Directory

‘Exotic’ command and control (C2) channels always interest me. As defenses start to get more sophisticated, standard channels that have been stealthy before (like DNS) may start to lose their efficacy. I’m always on the lookout for non-obvious, one-way (or ideally two-way) communication methods. This post will cover a proof of concept for an internal C2 approach that uses standard Active Directory object properties in a default domain setup.

Active Directory Property Sets

This dawned on me when reviewing access control list entry information during training prep. In a default domain setup, there is a set of ACLs for user objects that apply to the user itself, defined by the ‘NT AUTHORITY\SELF’ IdentityReference. If you want to check these out for a sample domain, you can run the following PowerView command:

Here’s an interesting entry:


So all users are able to write read and write to their own “Personal-Information” in Active Directory. This is what’s known as a property set in AD, which were created to group specific common properties in order to reduce storage requirements on the Active Directory database. Unfortunately the material on that link has been archived, but if you download the document, page 8213 has more information on property sets in general, and this MSDN page breaks out the members of the “Personal-Information” property set.

Now let’s see which properties can hold the most data by examining the schema for the ‘user’ object in this domain:


The above query will list ALL properties for a generic ‘user’ object given the current domain schema, but not all of these properties are self-writable for a user. We want to choose the property with the largest storage limit that is also in ‘Personal Information’ property set, which will give us the most flexibility with our communication channel. The mSMQSignCertificates field is interesting, as it has a 1MB upper size limit and meets all of our qualifications. Since every user can edit the mSMQSignCertificates property for their own user object, we have a nice 1MB two-way data channel (mSMQSignCertificatesMig is also interesting but not a member of ‘Personal Information’, so it’s not quite what we need at this point).

Now what’s the best way to take advantage of this?


The use of mSMQSignCertificates gives us a one-to-many broadcast approach. One user changes their property field while other users continually query for that world-readable information, and then report results back through their own mSMQSignCertificates field. This two-way 1MB channel is stored and propagated by Active Directory itself, which lends a few advantages. We never have to send packets directly to targets, and with some tweaking this should get around some network segmentation setups (see the Bending Traffic Around Network Boundaries section below for caveats and more details).

The proof of concept code below is hosted on this gist:

Use New-ADPayload to register a new broadcast trigger for the current (or specified) user and output a one-line launcher in a custom PSObject. This launcher is usable from any user logged on anywhere in the forest (more on this at the end of the post). All code taskings and results are compressed using .NET’s [IO.Compression.DeflateStream] in order to save on space, and then base64’ed before being stored in the mSMQSignCertificates property of the target user.


After the TriggerScript logic is launched on a target host, use Get-ADPayloadResult to query all users EXCEPT the -TriggerAccount used to broadcast the script logic (default of [Environment]::UserName), extract out the compressed data, and display the per-user results.


Get-ADPayload will retrieve any payload stored in mSMQSignCertificates for the given -TriggerAccount (defaulting to the current user) and Remove-ADPayload will remove the script payload:


Bending Traffic Around Network Boundaries

As I mentioned briefly, one of the coolest side effects of this approach is that you can get around some network segmentation setups, assuming that the broadcast user and victim user are in the same forest. While I’m not going to go deep into domain trusts, I’ll cover a few quick points. Check out Sean Metcalf‘s 2016 BlackHat/DEF CON “Beyond the MCSE*” presentations for more information.

An Active Directory global catalog is a, “a domain controller that stores a full copy of all objects in the directory for its host domain and a partial, read-only copy of all objects for all other domains in the forest“. Not all object properties are replicated, but rather only properties in the “partial attribute set” defined in the domain schema. We can enumerate all the schema objects by using the “(isMemberOfPartialAttributeSet=TRUE)” LDAP filter, for example using PowerView:

And luckily for us, the mSMQSignCertificates field is included in the partial attribute set for the default schema! This is also documented by Microsoft here.


Any time we modify the mSMQSignCertificates field for a user, that data should propagate to all copies of the global catalog in the forest. So even if our trigger or victim users can’t reach each others’ domains directly due to proper network segmentation, as long as the global catalog is allowed to replicate, we have a basic two-way channel between any two users in a forest (as long as each user can reach their normal domain controller/global catalog).

We can read our ‘broadcast’ traffic through the global catalog, but we can’t write to attributes using this method; overall we don’t care since the default behavior is for each user to modify their own mSMQSignCertificates in their current domain. We’re also at the mercy of the replication speed of the global catalog, so while this channel is reasonably sized (1MB), it’s not going to be practical for interactive communications.

For the proof of concept code in this post, the TriggerScript generated by New-ADPayload will automatically query the victim’s global catalog for the trigger account. Get-ADPayload and Get-ADPayloadResult by default will query only the current domain, unless a -TriggerAccount X argument is passed, in which case the global catalog is searched. The following screenshot shows results from users in two domains in the forest, where the machine each user is currently on is explicitly disallowed from direct communication with the foreign domain controller:


As far as defensive mitigations go, Carlos Perez pointed me to the “Audit Directory Service Changes” AD policy. With this auditing policy enabled, changes to an active directory object will produce an event with ID 5136, meaning “a directory service object was modified”. This should let you track the modifications of object fields like mSMQSignCertificates. There’s more information on this event ID in this article.

As a last note, the proof of concept code doesn’t implement any encryption (though this would be relatively simple), so I wouldn’t recommend using it in its unmodified state on engagements.

Have fun :D

2 thoughts on “Command and Control Using Active Directory”

  1. Pingback: Active Directory as a C2 (Command & Control) – Akijosberry

  2. Pingback: ADIDNS Revisited - WPAD, GQBL, and More

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