Threat Research

Analysis of the New Modules that Emotet Spreads

By Xiaopeng Zhang | March 11, 2019

Threat Analysis Report from FortiGuard Labs


Just a few days ago, FortiGuard Labs published a research blog about a fresh variant of Emotet. When I wrote that blog, I had not yet detected any further malicious actions from its C&C server. However, I have continued to monitor its connections, and I finally received three new modules from its C&C server. I have now analyzed all of them, and I will now show you how they work on a victim’s system.

The C&C server replies with a response packet when an infected system sends it information about the victim’s machine and its list of running processes. As expected, the response data is encrypted. After decrypting it twice, we eventually uncovered three modules. To classify them, I simply name them in this analysis as Module1, Module2, and Module3. Figure 1 shows the data snippet of the three modules after decryption.

Figure 1. Data snippet of the three modules

The data with a red rectangle is a flag or sub-flag. The data with a blue underscore is the module data size in utf8 format, which is then followed by the module data. Through my analysis, I learned that module 1 and module 2 are dll files, which will be executed in newly created threads for each. Module 3 is an .exe file that will be executed on its own in a new process. In the rest of the sections of this paper, I will focus on explaining how they work on a victim’s machine.

Module 1:

This module is not new. Because it is involved in this campaign, I will only provide a brief description of its main purpose here.

This module is responsible for spreading itself to other computers on the same LAN. When it is  executed in a thread, it then enumerates all network resources on the victim’s machine to find other computer names with shared objects that the victim uses. It tries to login to those computers one-by-one by using “Administrator” as the user name (because it needs the Administrator permission of the computer to create a service later) and repeatedly trying 1000 different password possibilities (previously decrypted). Figure 2 shows a snippet of the ASM code and passwords.

Figure 2. Brute force attack against computers on the same LAN

Once the malware is able to successfully login to the computer, it copies the Emotet file (it’s the file “%LocalAppData%\culturesource\culturesource.exe” in the analysis blog) onto the computer with a random file name and creates a service to start it on the computer. Figure 3 below shows it creating a service to run Emotet on that computer. 

Figure 3. Starting Emotet on the hacked computer

To perform the task of spreading itself across the victim’s network environment, it uses several APIs including "WNetOpenEnumW", "WNetEnumResourceW", "WNetAddConnection2W", "NetUserEnum", "CopyFileW", "OpenSCManagerW", "CreateServiceW", and "StartServiceW".

The first argument of the API “OpenSCManagerW” is MachineName, where you can pass a computer name like “\\RemoteComputerName” to establish a connection to the service control manager on that computer. Therefore, Emotet is able to remotely create and then start the service to finish spreading and replicating itself across the LAN.

Module 2:

This is a dll file, which was generated on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. It’s also executed in a thread, just as Module 1 is.

When it runs in a thread, it soon creates a new process with the same name as Emotet (culturesource.exe) with the CREATE_SUSPENDED creation flag. It then copies the main code onto this newly-created process. Later on, it modifies its thread context data and resumes running from a suspended status to execute the copied code within this process. It also passes the path of a temporary file that is in random file name (for example “%tmp%\50CB.tmp”) to this process in the command-line parameter. This is used to receive the data collected from the victim’s computer. Meanwhile, in the thread function, it waits for the process to finish its work and exit. After that, the temporary file is processed in the thread function. Through my analysis, this module’s purpose is to collect email address information from the victim’s Outlook account. Finally, it encrypts the collected email address information and sends it to its C&C server. Let’s go on to see how it does this in the newly-created process.

Outlook has a dll “OLMAPI32.dll” that provides a group of APIs with the obtain information from Outlook account profile and email content from the Outlook folders like Inbox, Sent Items, and so on. Module 2 reads “OLMAPI32.dll” full path from system registry. It then loads this dll file and obtains any APIs needed from it. By the way, all strings in this module are encrypted. You can see that the application decrypts them before using them.  Figure 4 is a code snippet of obtaining the dll “OLMAPI32.dll” full path from system registry.

Figure 4. Reading the Dll full path from system registry

Figure 5. Checking to see if the needed APIs have loaded successfully

Once the dll “OLMAPI32.dll” is loaded, it then loads a group of APIs which are handled in a function called sub_4010F0. From Figure 5, you can see that it loads APIs through API hash information and then checks if they have been loaded successfully.

Through calling these APIs, Module 2 could read out the account profile and email addresses from victim’s Outlook. It finally saves all collected email addresses into that temporary file (“%tmp%\50CB.tmp” for this time) for further processing when it goes back to the thread function. Figure 6 shows an example that it collects an email address from Inbox, which also can be found in the temporary file.

Figure 6. email addresses from the Inbox are collected into the temporary file

Interestingly, Module 2 has a bug that causes an exception and the collected email addresses are not really saved into the temporary file. I found the bug location and manually modified its code to jump over the exception so the thread function can get the data from the “50CB.tmp” file and continue.

After that, the main work of the newly-created process is done and the process soon exits. The thread function can capture the process terminal signal, and it then reads the collected data from “50CB.tmp” into memory and puts it into a data structure, which later will be encrypted and sent to the C&C server.

Figure 7 shows that the collected outlook email address information from “50CB.tmp” is just read into the memory in the thread function and is ready for encryption.

Figure 7. Collected email address information in a data structure

The C&C server IPs are hardcoded in its memory. Module 2 has nine IPs and Ports in total. Below is the IP and Port list:

All data is encrypted twice and encoded in Base64. It then disguises the base64 code as the value of an HTTP Cookie and sends the HTTP packet to one of the C&C servers listed above. Figure 8 shows the packet being sent to C&C server “ : 443”. The value of the Cookie is the encrypted, Base64 encoded email address information that was stolen from my test Outlook account.

Figure 8. Sending collected email address information to a C&C server

Module 3:

Per my analysis, module 3 is an .exe file, which is a new variant of the malware TrickBot. Let’s take another look at Figure 1. You can see there is one byte in front of sub-flag “1A” in all three modules. “03” means this module could be a dll file and will execute in a thread like Module 1 and Module 2; “01” means this module could be an .exe file and will execute alone. Module 3 has an “01” flag, so Emotet extracts it to a local folder in “%ProgramData%” with a random file name and calls the API “CreateProcessW” to run it.

This variant of TrickBot uses sophisticated techniques to protect itself from debug and analysis routines during runtime. I will describe how it uses them in the following sections.

  • Decrypting a PE file from its memory

Once it starts, the malware first decrypts a PE file from its memory, which is then loaded into a newly allocated memory with executable properties and executed from its entry point. Figure 9 shows the situation when calling the entry point. The base address of this PE file is 0x1670000 and the entry point is at 0x1671000. TrickBot then transfers to this PE file at 0x1670000, and according to my analysis, it uses a special process for protecting its functions and strings just as the runtime pack program does. 

Figure 9. TrickBot calls Entry Point of a decrypted PE file

  • Key function being used to protect its code

Many important functions are encrypted, which are only decrypted just before calling, and then re-encrypted immediately after calling. It uses a key function to do this, and following is the ASM code of that function, sub_1672F6C. 

When it needs to call one destination function, it calls this key function Sub_1672F6C and it then passes the destination function index and the arguments for the destination function to it. Function Sub_1672F6C (at call    dword ptr [ebp+8] ; call 1671EEC) decrypts the function according to the passed function index. It then decrypts another function Sub_1672E34 (function index is 1Ch), which is used to correct relocations for the destination function, if applicable. After that, the destination function will be called with its arguments (at call    dword ptr [ebp+14h]    ; call the destination function).

As you might have noticed, “call    dword ptr [ebp+8]” performs both encryption and decryption function. It’s called to re-encrypt the function Sub_1672E34 and destination function after use. That means you cannot set software breakpoints on the destination function because the debugger modifies the code as 0xCC for software breakpoints, which could make exceptions when re-encrypting it. This key function sub_1672F6C is called from time to time throughout its running time.

  • Anti-analysis techniques

It checks to see if some of the dlls listed below are loaded in the current process. They all belong to some analysis tools and Anti-virus software, such as VMware, SunBelt Sandbox, Sandboxie, Virtual PC, WPE Pro, Avast, Comodo, and iDefense, etc.

pstorec.dll, vmcheck.dll, dbghelp.dll, wpespy.dll, api_log.dll, SbieDll.dll, SxIn.dll, dir_watch.dll, Sf2.dll, cmdvrt32.dll, snxhk.dll.

If one of these dlls is detected as having been loaded, it exits the process immediately.

TrickBot continues to check to determine whether the services Microsoft "WinDefend", Malwarebytes "MBAMService", Sophos "SAVService" are running, which are all Anti-virus services. If detected, it executes a command to stop and kill them, along with killing their relevant processes.

It executes "cmd.exe /c sc stop WinDefend" and "cmd.exe /c sc delete WinDefend" to stop Microsoft “WinDefend” and kill this service. It also kills the relevant processes "MsMpEng.exe", "MSASCuiL.exe" (for win10) and "MSASCui.exe" (for Win10).

It also executes "cmd.exe /c sc stop SAVService" and "cmd.exe /c sc delete SAVService" to stop and kill this service if found, as well as also killing relevant processes "SavService.exe", "ALMon.exe", etc.

Finally, it calls the API “ControlService” to stop the service "MBAMService" if running. Figure 10 is the ASM snippet of its stopping "MBAMService".

Figure 10. Stop the service "MBAMService"

  • Relocate the exe file to disguise it

TrickBot compares processes to see if a current process is from the folder “%AppData%\winnet”. If it doesn’t match, it copies itself into that folder and runs it while exiting the current process. It repeats doing all work that I have detailed above after running it from “%AppData%\winnet\”. You can see it’s copying the file into “%AppData%\winnet\” in Figure 11. 

Figure 11. Copying itself into the folder “%AppData%\winnet”

  • Decrypting embedded PE file and executing

After passing the above detections, it starts to decrypt an embedded PE file—whose size is 16E00h in bytes—from memory. According to my analysis, it embeds three PE files. One is for 32 bit Windows platforms (size is 16E00H), one is for 64 bit Windows platforms (size is 1C000h), and the last one’s size is 342EH. For now, I have only just started analyzing the first one and I hope to find something new from it.


The IPS signature “Emotet.Botnet” can detect the traffic resulting from when Module 2 reports the decrypted email address information stolen from victim’s Outlook to the C&C server.

Sample SHA256:

TrickBot Executable (Module 3):


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