A Backdoor with Smart Screenshot Capability

Published: 2023-02-09
Last Updated: 2023-02-09 08:39:31 UTC
by Xavier Mertens (Version: 1)
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Today, everything is “smart” or “intelligent”. We have smartphones, smart cars, smart doorbells, etc. Being "smart" means performing actions depending on the context, the environment, or user actions.

For a while, backdoors and trojans have implemented screenshot capabilities. From an attacker’s point of view, it’s interesting to “see” what’s displayed on the victim’s computer. To take a screenshot in Python is easy as this:

import pyautogui
screenshot = pyautogui.screenshot(‘screenshot.png')

You have two approaches to record screenshots:

  1. On-demand, when the C2 server issues a command like “TAKE_SCREENSHOT”
  2. At regular intervals (every x seconds)

In the first case, the attacker needs to interact with the malware and can miss interesting “screens”. In the second one, the technique will generate a lot of overloads (CPU, storage, bandwidth, …)

Yesterday, I spotted an interesting Python backdoor that implements many classic features (like keylogger, port-scanner, …) but also a “smart” screenshot feature. Why smart? Because a screenshot is taken... when the user clicks on the mouse!

Windows is an event-based operating system. A program can attach to a message bus and listen for specific events (ex: mouse, keyboard, …). When such an event is detected, a defined function is executed (in ASM, you instruct the CPU to jump to a specific location in memory).

How does it work? The attacker defines a “hook” (or a listener) for mouse events:

def install_hook(self):
    CMPFUNC = WINFUNCTYPE(c_int, c_int, c_int, POINTER(c_void_p))
    self.pointer = CMPFUNC(self.hook_proc)
    self.hooked = self.lUser32.SetWindowsHookExA(WH_MOUSE_LL, self.pointer, kernel32.GetModuleHandleW(None), 0)
    if not self.hooked:
        return False
    return True

The interesting API call is SetWindowsHookExA() combined with the WH_MOUSE_LL event type[1]. How to interpret this? From now, when the mouse is used, the program will execute self.pointer (self.hook_proc).

Here is the called function:

def hook_proc(self, nCode, wParam, lParam):
    if wParam == 0x201:
        buf, height, width = self.get_screenshot()
        exe, win_title="unknown", "unknown"
            exe, win_title=get_current_process()
        except Exception:
        self.screenshots.append((str(datetime.now()), height, width, exe, win_title, buf.encode('base64')))
   return user32.CallNextHookEx(self.hooked, nCode, wParam, lParam)

The screenshot capture will be triggered when the wParam is 0x201. This value corresponds to a WM_LBUTTON_DOWN[2] event (when the user presses the left mouse button). Note the function calls CallNextHookEx() to continue to listen to events.

Even better, the attacker does not capture a full screenshot but only the interesting area (where the victim clicked)

def get_screenshot(self):
    pos = queryMousePosition()
    limit_width = GetSystemMetrics(SM_CXVIRTUALSCREEN)
    limit_height = GetSystemMetrics(SM_CYVIRTUALSCREEN)
    limit_left = GetSystemMetrics(SM_XVIRTUALSCREEN)
    limit_top = GetSystemMetrics(SM_YVIRTUALSCREEN)
    height = min(100,limit_height)
    width = min(200,limit_width)
    left = max(pos['x']-100,limit_left)
    top = max(pos['y']-50,limit_top)

I find this technique clever because the attacker increases the chances of seeing juivy information around the mouse. Example:

The file SHA256 is 34000abaac50ac84d493d2e55b6fb002fe06920b344f02ee55ff77e725793981[3] and has a low VT score (only 6/60).

[1] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/win32/winmsg/about-hooks#wh_mouse_ll
[2] https://github.com/mwinapi/mwinapi/blob/master/ManagedWinapi/Hooks/LowLevelHook.cs
[3] https://bazaar.abuse.ch/sample/34000abaac50ac84d493d2e55b6fb002fe06920b344f02ee55ff77e725793981/

Xavier Mertens (@xme)
Senior ISC Handler - Freelance Cyber Security Consultant

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