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Hooking VBScript execution in Cuckoo

  • 2018-10-03
  • Pete Cowman

Designed as a scripting language for Windows system administration, VBScript support has been available in every version of the operating system since Windows 98. It became popular for its extra power and flexibility compared to alternatives like Batch scripting. As an interpreted language VBScript code must be executed within a host environment - Windows provides a number of these such as Windows Script Host (WSH), which is invoked through tools like wscript.exe and cscript.exe.

In the browser world, VBS is only supported by Internet Explorer and is no longer included even in Edge with Microsoft acknowledging the dominance of Javascript and the security risks of the language. However Internet Explorer is far from dead, with many users still active especially in Asia. Indeed MalwareBytes attributed much of the recent resurgence in exploit kit activity to the appearance of new exploits in IE and Adobe Flash, which were finding widespread application across Asian countries. Exploit Kits like Magnitude, Greenflash Sundown, KaiXin and Underminer all focus on markets like South Korea and China, while EK infections in Europe and the US continue to fall.

In this post, we'll cover creating a hook for VBScript code within Cuckoo Monitor, to enable to extraction of script contents at runtime.

Adding the Hook

To execute VBScript, Internet Explorer implements what it refers to as an ‘Engine’ for the language. In practice this is an interface - much like the WSH applications cscript and wscript - between the execution context (i.e., the browser) and the operating system. Regardless of the original source of the script - the ‘host environment’ - execution is passed to the relevant Windows library: vbscript.dll. Procmon shows this in practice when we run a simple test script in Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7.


This gives us a single point through which all vbscript execution occurs, and a target for attempts to intercept the code for analysis purposes. This also has the advantage of providing visibility on scripts which are encoded or encrypted, as code passed to vbscript.dll must be legitimate.

Cuckoo Sandbox detects events during analysis by installing a user-mode agent onto the guest system called Cuckoo Monitor (which is bundled with Cuckoo installs or available on Github). For some time this has supported extracting Javascript code executed in the same way through jscript.dll.


As a Windows component, the version of vbscript on a system is liable to change with operating system updates, and naturally internal structure offsets and such vary between releases. For this blogpost we will be examining the following example unless otherwise stated:

vbscript.dll Version 5.8.7601.17514
SHA256 Hash 2945909670FC16A74322C09DDF8BDB2A34180B0A921EF41121C5522B73432EBA
Operating System Windows 7 x64 (SP1)

Using IDA we can disassemble the DLL and look for the function “COleScript::Compile”, which is where the script code is passed for execution. Following is its prototype.

__int64 __fastcall COleScript::Compile(
    COleScript *this,
    struct CScriptBody **a2,
    const unsigned __int16 *a3,
    unsigned int a4,
    void *Dst,
    __int64 a6,
    const unsigned __int16 *a7,
    struct CompileScriptException *a8,
    const unsigned __int16 *a9,
    const unsigned __int16 *a10

This function requires a number of arguments to be passed to it but we are only interested in the 3rd one, which is a pointer to the script code to be run. This can be confirmed using WinDBG (here I’m loading cscript.exe with the path to a VBS script containing a simple ‘Hello World’ provided as an argument).

  1. As we are only interested in vbscript.dll, run cscript until it loads the module:

    sxe ld vbscript; g
  2. Set a breakpoint in vbscript.dll on the COleScript::Compile function:

    bu vbscript!COleScript::Compile; g
  3. At this point we can examine the stack and registers to investigate the function parameters.

  1. Although the calling convention marked in IDA is fastcall the DLL is 64-bit, so we know that it makes use of the Microsoft x64 calling convention which puts the first 4 arguments (left to right) into the registers RCX, RDX, R8, R9. From IDA it’s evident that the 1st argument refers to a COleScript object and the 2nd is a structure, immediately ruling these out, so let’s start with the 3rd argument which should be stored in the register r8.

At this point, we have located all the information needed to create a new hook for Cuckoo Monitor to intercept VBScript content and include it in the report. More detailed information on extending the Monitor is available in the documentation. The finished code looks like this:

  module: vbscript

      bitmode: 64
      offset: 0x16e90
      register: r8
      stack: 56
        - u script r8
        - u type stk0

After cloning the Cuckoo Monitor repository, a new hook signature can be added to the ‘monitor/insn’ directory to be compiled into a new version of the binary. The content should resemble the above, although actual offsets may vary if different versions are being used.

  • The first line defines the function call which is to be hooked. Note that this is not used to actually implement the hook and is mainly for identification purposes, so does not have to exactly match the function name as defined by debugging symbols.

  • module marks which DLL contains the function of interest.

  • offsets contains information on where exactly within the module the hooking should occur.
    • Offset of the PE timestamp field, used as a point of reference. This can be found easily with a short python script (requires ‘python-pefile’):

      import pefile, sys
      pe = pefile.PE(sys.argv[1])
      print "0x%08x" % pe.FILE_HEADER.TimeDateStamp
    • bitmode: 64 or 32 bit module

    • offset: the offset for the start of the function to hook within vbscript.dll. This can be found quickly in IDA by subtracting the image base address (easy way to see this value is in Edit -> Segments -> Rebase program) from the address of the function (visible at the bottom of the IDA View window):

      0x7FF750F6E90 - 0x7FF750E0000 = 0x16E90
    • register defines the register holding the information we are interested in extracting

    • logging defines the way findings are reported by the software and tells it how to interpret what it finds at the position defined by the other settings. Detailed information on the flags available for the logging API are available in the relevant docs:

      u script r8 - extract a Unicode string as a script from the contents of the r8 register

      u type stk0 - defines the value of the ‘type’ argument returned in the report

Once this new hook has been added, Monitor needs to be compiled and added to your Cuckoo install.

  1. Run ‘make’ in the root directory of the Monitor repository. This will compile the files into the ‘bin’ directory.
  2. Switch to the Cuckoo Working Directory (~/.cuckoo by default) and enter the monitor directory. Here you will see a number of folders and a file called ‘latest’ - this simply contains the name of the folder with the current version of the Monitor to be added to analysis guests. You need to copy the newly compiled Monitor into a folder here, either by overwriting the contents of the current ‘latest’ directory or creating a new one and updating ‘latest’ to point to this instead.
  3. The new hook should now function correctly in any future analyses.

The hook will now be working, but we will not be able to see any output in the web interface. To do these we need to add a regular signature which takes the hook event and reports it properly. In this case, the signature js_eval.py already covered this for Cuckoo’s Javascript hooking so only a small change was needed to differentiate between VBS or JS.

These changes will soon be incorporated into the main branch of Cuckoo Sandbox, but as noted above this will only cover a single version of vbscript.dll. We hope to add support for other versions in the future.



So far this has all applied to running a script locally by directly interacting with the execution environment. As previously mentioned, VBScript is not as small an attack vector as one might think. In 2018 a whole new generation of EK's and new 'pseudo-EKs' (generally a single exploit taken from public research and deployed with minimal technical knowledge and customisation) have appeared using CVE-2018-8174, a newly discovered vulnerability in Internet Explorer's VBScript handling.

To aid with the analysis of these threats, new functionality is being added to Cuckoo to take a PCAP file and 'replay' it, then interacting with it for analysis as though a live site was being investigated. Once complete, this will allow automated dynamic analysis of exploit kits and extraction of payloads and malicious scripts. More information on this will be documented in a separate, future blogpost :-)

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