We Save You Time and Resources By Curating Relevant Information and News About Cybersecurity.

best-cyber-security-news

Unlocking the Mystery Of Sideloading Attacks

By Tom Seest

What Is A Sideloading Attack In Cybersecurity?

At BestCybersecurityNews, we help entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, young learners, and seniors learn more about cybersecurity.

Sideloaded applications offer hackers opportunities to steal credentials, run commands, and gain access to sensitive information. Learn to recognize these attacks so you can help protect your team against them.
To employ DLL sideloading exploitation successfully, threat actors first need to identify an already installed binary that is susceptible to search order hijacking and place their malicious library within its folder.

What Is a Sideloading Attack In Cybersecurity?

What Is a Sideloading Attack In Cybersecurity?

What Malicious DLLs Mean for Cyber Security?

An attacker who successfully sideloads a malicious DLL can bypass security controls like application whitelisting. To accomplish this feat, hackers first identify vulnerable applications designed to load DLLs from specific locations without first checking their authenticity and integrity before doing so. They then create their malicious DLL that performs the desired malicious actions when loaded by one of these applications before finding ways into victim machines – perhaps through social engineering or exploiting vulnerabilities.
Once they gain control of a host, hackers can create a DLL to replace an authorized one on the target system and rename its original version so as to evade detection by endpoint security solutions. By taking advantage of the Windows file name naming convention, they can make their DLL identical but contain different functionality – this process is known as DLL Search Order Hijacking.
Hackers frequently utilize this tactic because it can be done quickly. Hackers need only know the search order of a program (e.g., as specified by the PATH environment variable) and place a malicious DLL in a directory searched before that of its target file – when that program attempts to load a DLL, it will instead find and execute this malicious one instead.
Malicious DLLs can then carry out various tasks, such as stealing sensitive data or installing other malware onto a host computer. Furthermore, these DLLs may act as proxy install payloads and hide their presence, allowing hackers to achieve persistence and defend evasion simultaneously.
Organizations seeking to avoid DLL sideloading attacks should ensure their software is configured to consistently verify and update DLLs as part of a regular maintenance routine. They should also implement solutions that monitor DLLs for suspicious behaviors that might indicate malicious intent and deploy solutions that detect changes and monitor for them, with solutions capable of monitoring DLLs for abnormal changes before any malicious code can execute itself in them.

What Malicious DLLs Mean for Cyber Security?

What Malicious DLLs Mean for Cyber Security?

How Does Passive Exploitation Contribute to Sideloading Attacks?

Hackers have developed methods of using passive attacks to install malware into applications, bypassing application control policies and basic security solutions. They begin by finding pre-installed applications or components vulnerable to sideloading a malicious library from an unsafe location, using an exploit with equal rights as the launch binary to load said library – thus bypassing application control policies and other basic protection solutions.
Passive attacks, known as non-active manipulation attacks, do not require actively manipulating data on a target system or intercepting it during transmission; all that’s needed for success is making the malicious file look like one installed by legitimate software and tricking users into installing it. Cybercriminals frequently employ this technique as part of ransomware campaigns, which encrypt files on an infected computer and demand payment from victims in exchange for decrypting them. Non-ransomware malware may also cause more extensive harm by disrupting databases, servers, or digital processes within organizations or even by disrupting communications channels between systems and processes within organizations themselves – see ransomware for further examples.
To prevent such attacks, CISOs must use detection and response tools that can identify DLL side-loading attacks, such as Bitdefender GravityZone. Such tools alert systems when DLLs are loaded onto disk (on access), which helps reduce the chances of digital adversaries exploiting vulnerabilities this way.
Defenders should make sure all applications follow a security-focused development life cycle and receive regular updates, in addition to using technical controls such as restricting user rights or creating awareness training to prevent sideloading attacks.
Experts note that many apps downloaded by end users from non-official app stores may not have gone through adequate security testing prior to being installed on devices, leaving them open to attack by cybercriminals.
While many devices restrict sideloading until a user manually activates it from within a menu, some devices don’t take this step and allow sideloading apps by default – providing attackers with an opportunity to download malware onto devices they control.

How Does Passive Exploitation Contribute to Sideloading Attacks?

How Does Passive Exploitation Contribute to Sideloading Attacks?

What Active Exploitation Looks Like?

Threat actors looking to exploit vulnerabilities often turn to sideloading attacks as an avenue for further advancement. It involves dropping a malicious DLL into the same directory as legitimate applications; when these start-up, Windows looks for and loads this DLL instead.
This technique has been employed by multiple advanced persistent threat (APT) groups; for instance, Dragon Breath APT used it in several sophisticated variations to evade detection and achieve persistence and obfuscation.
Dragon Breath’s attackers utilized a double clean app strategy, using an infected version of a popular online game as bait to gain command-and-control access to victims’ systems and obtain user credentials. This tactic allowed the attackers to bypass security controls since these applications are digitally signed and widely deployed on networks, making them less likely for security appliances or teams to detect.
Mustang Panda APT Group uses DLL sideloading to spread PlugX, a random access Trojan (RAT) with multiple embedded modules, on victim systems. This attack stands out because it targets Chinese-speaking users specifically and represents an unusual use of this technique – specifically as defense evasion rather than just avoidance against antivirus or basic scanning technologies.
DLL side-loading attacks are an increasingly popular means of privilege escalation and payload delivery. Such attacks rely on preinstalled applications or components vulnerable to loading libraries from untrustworthy locations, such as folders in the file system or paths outside a protected space.
Even though DLL side-loading attacks are widespread, defenders can successfully stop them by blocking known exploits and malware, implementing granular file transfer and device management apps that limit potential infection points, as well as employing cyber security software that detects unknown threats automatically across an enterprise and automatically provides protections against subsequent attacks.

What Active Exploitation Looks Like?

What Active Exploitation Looks Like?

What is the Risk of a Sideloading Attack?

Attackers employ various evasion techniques to conceal malicious payloads, including hiding them within another file type or altering their signature, extension, and contents. Reflective loading may also be employed in order to conceal its execution by allocating and running it directly in memory rather than creating processes or threads backed by files on disk.
Many evasion techniques employ long-outdated security flaws that have been made public, yet digital adversaries continue to exploit them. DLL sideloading is a common exploit used by attackers to bypass basic defenses like application control policies or signature-based solutions.
DLL sideloading takes advantage of Windows’ insecure method for loading Dynamic Link Library (DLL) files needed by applications. Attackers can exploit this weakness by placing both benign and malicious DLL files into one directory so that when an app launches, its malware-containing DLL loads first; once in use, this DLL then forwards legitimate function calls back to its remote C2 host through this application.
Defensive efforts must be vigilant to detect DLL sideloading attacks using detection and response tools like Bitdefender GravityZone and Cybereason XDR powered by Google Chronicle. Furthermore, endpoints and applications should always have up-to-date patches and security updates installed to reduce risks from DLL side-loading attacks and other vulnerabilities.
Bitdefender technical solutions director Martin Zugec reports that S1deload Stealer uses DLL side-loading to hide malicious executables in legitimate digitally signed apps for Microsoft or other operating systems, according to Martin Zugec’s research. Once an identity theft attack occurs, DLL side-loading allows attackers to exploit credentials stolen from legitimate apps before installing and executing malicious executables onto an infected system through DLL side-loading.
As DLL side-loading and other evasion techniques evolve, security professionals need to remain aware of them so they can detect them when they are detected. To do so successfully, security professionals must understand the telltale signs an attacker might use to exploit the flaws to hide his attacks – including hidden folders and files, renaming files or folders, hiding processes or threads behind false processes, making changes to file signatures or extensions or hiding their processes and threads behind fake processes or threads.

What is the Risk of a Sideloading Attack?

What is the Risk of a Sideloading Attack?

Please share this post with your friends, family, or business associates who may encounter cybersecurity attacks.