In our investigations it is typical for us to see an attacker use an exploit to first compromise a web server, then launch further attacks against the internal network via a webshell. In the below case the web server was hosting an application that was talking to MSSQL backend which was situated in the internal network.
From a live-forensics perspective the order of volatility (RFC 3227), the following evidence would be collected from the web server:
- Memory dump
- Page or Swap File
- Running Process Information
- Network data such as listening ports or existing connections to other systems
- System Registry (if applicable)
- System and Application logfiles (IIS log files, event logs etc.)
- Forensic image of disk(s)
- Backup Media
Looking at the scenario described, the same files were acquired from the Database server and, of course, firewall logs. The ultimate goal is to create a timeline where all actions executed by the attacker(s) are mapped in time.
ShellBy abusing the exploit in the application, the attacker was able to upload his tools including a copy of a webshell that had tons of functionality including the execution of SQL commands towards a MSSQL server. The attacker also compromised one of the user-accounts on the server.
Database ForensicsSince activity was discovered towards the database server, it would be very interesting to execute a more in-depth investigation towards the database and it’s files.
To follow the order of volatility as well regarding the database, sessions, files etc, the following files were retrieved:
- SQL server sessions and connections info, users, requests
- Transaction Logs
- SQL Server Logs
- SQL Server Database files
- System Event logs
- SQL Server Trace Files
Note: some of these steps were integrated by following the previous mentioned order of volatility list.
File locations to retrieve the data from:
- Database data files & logs:
\\Microsoft SQL Server\ MSSQL.1\MSSQL\ DATA\*.MDF | *.LDF
- Trace files:
\\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL.1\MSSQL\LOG\LOG_#.TRC
- MS SQL Server error logs:
\\Microsoft SQLServer\ MSSQL.1\ MSSQL\ LOG\ERRORLOG
Determining the impact of the breachA Windows SQL server has several stored procedures. These procedures are a group of statements that are compiled in a single execution plan. One of the most popular (and dangerous) ones is called “
xp_cmdshell”. According to MSDN this procedure will:
“Executes a given command string as an operating-system command shell and returns any output as rows of text. Grants nonadministrative users permissions to execute xp_cmdshell.”
Since the discovered and uploaded web-shell contained the option to execute and use
xp_cmdshell, an investigation was done to find out what happened in the timeframe the attackers were active on the system.
Event LogsThe Windows event logs showed the following message:
EventID:15281 Description: SQL Server blocked access to procedure 'sys.xp_cmdshell' of component 'xp_cmdshell' because this component is turned off as part of the security configuration for this server. A system administrator can enable the use of 'xp_cmdshell' by using sp_configure. For more information about enabling 'xp_cmdshell', see "Surface Area Configuration" in SQL Server Books Online.
This means that the attacker tried to use the
xp_cmdshellbut was not successful since the registry setting in the system blocked it.
The MSSQL Server logs gave the same kind of error message:
2013-01-08 14:12:43 spid51 SQL Server blocked access to procedure 'sys.xp_cmdshell' of component 'xp_cmdshell' because this component is turned off as part of the security configuration for this server. A system administrator can enable the use of 'xp_cmdshell' by using sp_configure. For more information about enabling 'xp_cmdshell', see "Surface Area Configuration" in SQL Server Books Online.
To verify the system’s setting, the following SQL query was executed towards the acquired database:
‘select * from sys.configurations where name = 'xp_cmdshell'
The output resulted into the following table:
|16390||xp_cmdshell||0||0||1||0||Enable or disable command shell|
The value in use ‘0’ meant that the
xp_cmdshellwas not enabled.
Since the attackers had successfully got an account, the option was tested if they could have had the option to enable the
By using the account, the following SQL queries were executed:
exec sp_configure ‘show_advanced_options’, 1 reconfigure exec sp_configure ‘xp_cmdshell’, 1 reconfigure
To verify the result the same query was used.
select * from sys.configurations where name = 'xp_cmdshell'
This resulted in the following table:
|16390||xp_cmdshell||1||0||1||1||Enable or disable command shell|
The conclusion can be made that the attackers had the opportunity to activate the
xp_cmdshelland as a next step elevate their user’s accounts rights towards administrator etc.
This was a short demonstration of the interesting world of SQL server forensics. For more information, there’s a good book about this topic written by Kevvie Fowler called “SQL Server Forensic Analysis’
Kevvie’s website is hosting also a couple of SQL scripts that can be used by any incident responder to gather the necessary information. A link to the zip file can be found here: