Threat Level: green Handler on Duty: Yee Ching Tok

SANS ISC: Finding Metasploit & Cobalt Strike URLs SANS ISC InfoSec Forums

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Finding Metasploit & Cobalt Strike URLs

Metasploit and Cobalt Strike generate shellcode for http(s) shells. The URLs found in this shellcode have a path that consist of 4 random alphanumeric characters. But they are not completely random: their 8-bit checksum is a member of a small set of constants.

The 8-bit checksum is the sum of the ASCII value of the 4 characters of the path. Take the least significant byte of the sum, and compare it with this table:

If the checksum is equal to one of these values, the URL could be generated by Metasploit or Cobalt Strike.

I illustrate this with Brad's capture file of Qakbot & Cobalt Strike traffic and my tool

Wireshark's command-line tool tshark is what I used to produce a complete packet tree for each packet. The URLs we are looking for will be somewhere in this output:

And then I pipe this output into my with command url8:

metatool found 2 (identical) URLs whose path has an 8-bit checksum equal to 0x5C (92), or URI_CHECKSUM_INITW, i.e. the 8-bit checksum for a Windows payload.


Didier Stevens
Senior handler
Microsoft MVP


566 Posts
ISC Handler
Mar 15th 2021
Hi Didier. I went through my logs recently (for a tiny website) and I see a bunch of URLs that meet that 4 byte pattern and a few have checksums of 92. But most have a checksum of 93. Would this be another checksum used by metasploit or Cobalt Strike?

I also wonder why I'd be seeing queries on my web server for this sort of URL (rather than seeing them in squid proxy logs for users having been tricked into clicking on a malicious URL). I guess I should add that all my webserver replies for these are 404's of course! I'm not serving up malware.

It's such a simple check, though, I think I'll be adding it to my log analysis module for my log daemon (for the squid logs anyway - grin). Hmm. I also don't know why this reply says it's posted by "anonymous". I'm logged into ISC - it says "Welcome back, Brent" on the web page after all. :-)

125 Posts
Hey Didier - A couple of notes about this... First, I'm assuming you're talking about traffic actually generated by the running CobaltStrike implant. This being the case, if the traffic is HTTPS, this isn't going to work, right?

9 Posts
Hello Brent!

The 8-bit checksum used on the URL is a low entropy checksum: it's very collision prone, and thus you're likely to have many false positives.

93 is what Cobalt Strike uses for 64-bit stager. I still have to add that value to my metatool.

I don't use this method to go hunting in proxy logs for example, as there will be many false positives.

But I do use this method when I suspect the presence of Metasploit or Cobalt Stike traffic.

I'm posting a new diary entry with a video, explaining this in more detail.



566 Posts
ISC Handler
Hi John!

This is not for traffic generated by the Cobalt Strike beacon, but for traffic generated by the stager shellcode, that downloads the beacon.

Beacons often use HTTPS (it's configurable). But even with HTTP, you can't read the traffic because the data is encrypted.

I regularly see Metasploit or CS shellcode that uses HTTP.

I'm posting a new diary entry with a video, explaining this in more detail.



566 Posts
ISC Handler

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