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Debug Flags


Debug Flags

Special flags in system tables, which dwell in process memory and which an operation system sets, can be used to indicate that the process is being debugged. The states of these flags can be verified either by using specific API functions or examining the system tables in memory.

These techniques are the most commonly used by malware.


1. Using Win32 API

The following techniques use existing API functions (WinAPI or NativeAPI) that check system structures in the process memory for particular flags that indicate the process is being debugged right now.


1.1. IsDebuggerPresent()

The function kernel32!IsDebuggerPresent() determines whether the current process is being debugged by a user-mode debugger such as OllyDbg or x64dbg. Generally, the function only checks the BeingDebugged flag of the Process Environment Block (PEB).

The following code can be used to terminate process if it is being debugged:


Assembly Code

    call IsDebuggerPresent    
    test al, al
    jne  being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    push 1
    call ExitProcess

C/C++ Code

if (IsDebuggerPresent())
    ExitProcess(-1);


1.2. CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent()

The function kernel32!CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent() checks if a debugger (in a different process on the same machine) is attached to the current process.


C/C++ Code

BOOL bDebuggerPresent;
if (TRUE == CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent(GetCurrentProcess(), &bDebuggerPresent) &&
    TRUE == bDebuggerPresent)
    ExitProcess(-1);

x86 Assembly

    lea eax, bDebuggerPresent]
    push eax
    push -1  ; GetCurrentProcess()
    call CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent
    cmp [bDebuggerPresent], 1
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    push -1
    call ExitProcess

x86-64 Assembly

    lea rdx, [bDebuggerPresent]
    mov rcx, -1 ; GetCurrentProcess()
    call CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent
    cmp [bDebuggerPresent], 1
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    mov ecx, -1
    call ExitProcess


1.3. NtQueryInformationProcess()

The function ntdll!NtQueryInformationProcess() can retrieve a different kind of information from a process. It accepts a ProcessInformationClass parameter which specifies the information you want to get and defines the output type of the ProcessInformation parameter.


1.3.1. ProcessDebugPort

It is possible to retrieve the port number of the debugger for the process using the ntdll!NtQueryInformationProcess(). There is a documented class ProcessDebugPort, which retrieves a DWORD value equal to 0xFFFFFFFF (decimal -1) if the process is being debugged.


C/C++ Code

typedef NTSTATUS (NTAPI *TNtQueryInformationProcess)(
    IN HANDLE           ProcessHandle,
    IN PROCESSINFOCLASS ProcessInformationClass,
    OUT PVOID           ProcessInformation,
    IN ULONG            ProcessInformationLength,
    OUT PULONG          ReturnLength
    );

HMODULE hNtdll = LoadLibraryA("ntdll.dll");
if (hNtdll)
{
    auto pfnNtQueryInformationProcess = (TNtQueryInformationProcess)GetProcAddress(
        hNtdll, "NtQueryInformationProcess");
    
    if (pfnNtQueryInformationProcess)
    {
        DWORD dwProcessDebugPort, dwReturned;
        NTSTATUS status = pfnNtQueryInformationProcess(
            GetCurrentProcess(),
            ProcessDebugPort,
            &dwProcessDebugPort,
            sizeof(DWORD),
            &dwReturned);

        if (NT_SUCCESS(status) && (-1 == dwProcessDebugPort))
            ExitProcess(-1);
    }
}

x86 Assembly

    lea eax, [dwReturned]
    push eax ; ReturnLength
    push 4   ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea ecx, [dwProcessDebugPort]
    push ecx ; ProcessInformation
    push 7   ; ProcessInformationClass
    push -1  ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    inc dword ptr [dwProcessDebugPort]
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    push -1
    call ExitProcess 

x86-64 Assembly

    lea rcx, [dwReturned]
    push rcx    ; ReturnLength
    mov r9d, 4  ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea r8, [dwProcessDebugPort] 
                ; ProcessInformation
    mov edx, 7  ; ProcessInformationClass
    mov rcx, -1 ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    cmp dword ptr [dwProcessDebugPort], -1
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    mov ecx, -1
    call ExitProcess

1.3.2. ProcessDebugFlags

A kernel structure called EPROCESS, which represents a process object, contains the field NoDebugInherit. The inverse value of this field can be retrieved using an undocumented class ProcessDebugFlags (0x1f). Therefore, if the return value is 0, a debugger is present.


C/C++ Code

typedef NTSTATUS(NTAPI *TNtQueryInformationProcess)(
    IN HANDLE           ProcessHandle,
    IN DWORD            ProcessInformationClass,
    OUT PVOID           ProcessInformation,
    IN ULONG            ProcessInformationLength,
    OUT PULONG          ReturnLength
    );

HMODULE hNtdll = LoadLibraryA("ntdll.dll");
if (hNtdll)
{
    auto pfnNtQueryInformationProcess = (TNtQueryInformationProcess)GetProcAddress(
        hNtdll, "NtQueryInformationProcess");

    if (pfnNtQueryInformationProcess)
    {
        DWORD dwProcessDebugFlags, dwReturned;
        const DWORD ProcessDebugFlags = 0x1f;
        NTSTATUS status = pfnNtQueryInformationProcess(
            GetCurrentProcess(),
            ProcessDebugFlags,
            &dwProcessDebugFlags,
            sizeof(DWORD),
            &dwReturned);

        if (NT_SUCCESS(status) && (0 == dwProcessDebugFlags))
            ExitProcess(-1);
    }
}

x86 Assembly

    lea eax, [dwReturned]
    push eax ; ReturnLength
    push 4   ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea ecx, [dwProcessDebugPort]
    push ecx ; ProcessInformation
    push 1Fh ; ProcessInformationClass
    push -1  ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    cmp dword ptr [dwProcessDebugPort], 0
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    push -1
    call ExitProcess

x86-64 Assembly

    lea rcx, [dwReturned]
    push rcx     ; ReturnLength
    mov r9d, 4   ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea r8, [dwProcessDebugPort] 
                 ; ProcessInformation
    mov edx, 1Fh ; ProcessInformationClass
    mov rcx, -1  ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    cmp dword ptr [dwProcessDebugPort], 0
    jz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    mov ecx, -1
    call ExitProcess

1.3.3. ProcessDebugObjectHandle

When debugging begins, a kernel object called “debug object” is created. It is possible to query for the value of this handle by using the undocumented ProcessDebugObjectHandle (0x1e) class.


C/C++ Code

typedef NTSTATUS(NTAPI * TNtQueryInformationProcess)(
    IN HANDLE           ProcessHandle,
    IN DWORD            ProcessInformationClass,
    OUT PVOID           ProcessInformation,
    IN ULONG            ProcessInformationLength,
    OUT PULONG          ReturnLength
    );

HMODULE hNtdll = LoadLibraryA("ntdll.dll");
if (hNtdll)
{
    auto pfnNtQueryInformationProcess = (TNtQueryInformationProcess)GetProcAddress(
        hNtdll, "NtQueryInformationProcess");

    if (pfnNtQueryInformationProcess)
    {
        DWORD dwReturned;
        HANDLE hProcessDebugObject = 0;
        const DWORD ProcessDebugObjectHandle = 0x1e;
        NTSTATUS status = pfnNtQueryInformationProcess(
            GetCurrentProcess(),
            ProcessDebugObjectHandle,
            &hProcessDebugObject,
            sizeof(HANDLE),
            &dwReturned);

        if (NT_SUCCESS(status) && (0 != hProcessDebugObject))
            ExitProcess(-1);
    }
}

x86 Assembly

    lea eax, [dwReturned]
    push eax ; ReturnLength
    push 4   ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea ecx, [hProcessDebugObject]
    push ecx ; ProcessInformation
    push 1Eh ; ProcessInformationClass
    push -1  ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    cmp dword ptr [hProcessDebugObject], 0
    jnz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    push -1
    call ExitProcess

x86-64 Assembly

    lea rcx, [dwReturned]
    push rcx     ; ReturnLength
    mov r9d, 4   ; ProcessInformationLength
    lea r8, [hProcessDebugObject] 
                 ; ProcessInformation
    mov edx, 1Fh ; ProcessInformationClass
    mov rcx, -1  ; ProcessHandle
    call NtQueryInformationProcess
    cmp dword ptr [hProcessDebugObject], 0
    jnz being_debugged
    ...
being_debugged:
    mov ecx, -1
    call ExitProcess


1.4. RtlQueryProcessHeapInformation()

The ntdll!RtlQueryProcessHeapInformation() function can be used to read the heap flags from the process memory of the current process.


C/C++ Code

bool Check()
{
    ntdll::PDEBUG_BUFFER pDebugBuffer = ntdll::RtlCreateQueryDebugBuffer(0, FALSE);
    if (!SUCCEEDED(ntdll::RtlQueryProcessHeapInformation((ntdll::PRTL_DEBUG_INFORMATION)pDebugBuffer)))
        return false;

    ULONG dwFlags = ((ntdll::PRTL_PROCESS_HEAPS)pDebugBuffer->HeapInformation)->Heaps[0].Flags;
    return dwFlags & ~HEAP_GROWABLE;
}


1.5. RtlQueryProcessDebugInformation()

The ntdll!RtlQueryProcessDebugInformation() function can be used to read certain fields from the process memory of the requested process, including the heap flags.


C/C++ Code

bool Check()
{
    ntdll::PDEBUG_BUFFER pDebugBuffer = ntdll::RtlCreateQueryDebugBuffer(0, FALSE);
    if (!SUCCEEDED(ntdll::RtlQueryProcessDebugInformation(GetCurrentProcessId(), ntdll::PDI_HEAPS | ntdll::PDI_HEAP_BLOCKS, pDebugBuffer)))
        return false;

    ULONG dwFlags = ((ntdll::PRTL_PROCESS_HEAPS)pDebugBuffer->HeapInformation)->Heaps[0].Flags;
    return dwFlags & ~HEAP_GROWABLE;
}


1.6. NtQuerySystemInformation()

The ntdll!NtQuerySystemInformation() function accepts a parameter which is the class of information to query. Most of the classes are not documented. This includes the SystemKernelDebuggerInformation (0x23) class, which has existed since Windows NT. The SystemKernelDebuggerInformation class returns the value of two flags: KdDebuggerEnabled in al, and KdDebuggerNotPresent in ah. Therefore, the return value in ah is zero if a kernel debugger is present.


C/C++ Code

enum { SystemKernelDebuggerInformation = 0x23 };

typedef struct _SYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION { 
    BOOLEAN DebuggerEnabled; 
    BOOLEAN DebuggerNotPresent; 
} SYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION, *PSYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION; 

bool Check()
{
    NTSTATUS status;
    SYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION SystemInfo;
    
    status = NtQuerySystemInformation(
        (SYSTEM_INFORMATION_CLASS)SystemKernelDebuggerInformation,
        &SystemInfo,
        sizeof(SystemInfo),
        NULL);

    return SUCCEEDED(status)
        ? (SystemInfo.DebuggerEnabled && !SystemInfo.DebuggerNotPresent)
        : false;
}


Mitigations

  • For IsDebuggerPresent(): Set the BeingDebugged flag of the Process Environment Block (PEB) to 0. See BeingDebugged Flag Mitigation for further information.
  • For CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent() and NtQueryInformationProcess():
    As CheckRemoteDebuggerPresent() calls NtQueryInformationProcess(), the only way is to hook the NtQueryInformationProcess() and set the following values in return buffers:
    • 0 (or any value except -1) in case of a ProcessDebugPort query.
    • Non-zero value in case of a ProcessDebugFlags query.
    • 0 in case of a ProcessDebugObjectHandle query.
  • The only way to mitigate these checks with RtlQueryProcessHeapInformation(), RtlQueryProcessDebugInformation() and NtQuerySystemInformation() functions is to hook them and modify the returned values:
    • RTL_PROCESS_HEAPS::HeapInformation::Heaps[0]::Flags to HEAP_GROWABLE for
      RtlQueryProcessHeapInformation() and RtlQueryProcessDebugInformation().
    • SYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION::DebuggerEnabled to 0 and
      SYSTEM_KERNEL_DEBUGGER_INFORMATION::DebuggerNotPresent to 1 for the
      NtQuerySystemInformation() function in case of a SystemKernelDebuggerInformation query.


2. Manual checks

The following approaches are used to validate debugging flags in system structures. They examine the process memory manually without using special debug API functions.


2.1. PEB!BeingDebugged Flag

This method is just another way to check BeingDebugged flag of PEB without calling IsDebuggerPresent().


32Bit Process

mov eax, fs:[30h]
cmp byte ptr [eax+2], 0
jne being_debugged

64Bit Process

mov rax, gs:[60h]
cmp byte ptr [rax+2], 0
jne being_debugged

WOW64 Process

mov eax, fs:[30h]
cmp byte ptr [eax+1002h], 0

C/C++ Code

#ifndef _WIN64
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
#else
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
#endif // _WIN64
 
if (pPeb->BeingDebugged)
    goto being_debugged;


2.2. NtGlobalFlag

The NtGlobalFlag field of the Process Environment Block (0x68 offset on 32-Bit and 0xBC on 64-bit Windows) is 0 by default. Attaching a debugger doesn’t change the value of NtGlobalFlag. However, if the process was created by a debugger, the following flags will be set:

  • FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_TAIL_CHECK (0x10)
  • FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_FREE_CHECK (0x20)
  • FLG_HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS (0x40)

The presence of a debugger can be detected by checking a combination of those flags.


32Bit Process

mov eax, fs:[30h]
mov al, [eax+68h]
and al, 70h
cmp al, 70h
jz  being_debugged

64Bit Process

mov rax, gs:[60h]
mov al, [rax+BCh]
and al, 70h
cmp al, 70h
jz  being_debugged

WOW64 Process

mov eax, fs:[30h]
mov al, [eax+10BCh]
and al, 70h
cmp al, 70h
jz  being_debugged

C/C++ Code

#define FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_TAIL_CHECK   0x10
#define FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_FREE_CHECK   0x20
#define FLG_HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS 0x40
#define NT_GLOBAL_FLAG_DEBUGGED (FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_TAIL_CHECK | FLG_HEAP_ENABLE_FREE_CHECK | FLG_HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS)

#ifndef _WIN64
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
DWORD dwNtGlobalFlag = *(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x68);
#else
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
DWORD dwNtGlobalFlag = *(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0xBC);
#endif // _WIN64
 
if (dwNtGlobalFlag & NT_GLOBAL_FLAG_DEBUGGED)
    goto being_debugged;


2.3. Heap Flags

The heap contains two fields which are affected by the presence of a debugger. Exactly how they are affected depends on the Windows version. These fields are Flags and ForceFlags.

The values of Flags and ForceFlags are normally set to HEAP_GROWABLE and 0, respectively.


When a debugger is present, the Flags field is set to a combination of these flags on Windows NT, Windows 2000, and 32-bit Windows XP:

  • HEAP_GROWABLE (2)
  • HEAP_TAIL_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x20)
  • HEAP_FREE_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x40)
  • HEAP_SKIP_VALIDATION_CHECKS (0x10000000)
  • HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS_ENABLED (0x40000000)

On 64-bit Windows XP, and Windows Vista and higher, if a debugger is present, the Flags field is set to a combination of these flags:

  • HEAP_GROWABLE (2)
  • HEAP_TAIL_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x20)
  • HEAP_FREE_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x40)
  • HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS_ENABLED (0x40000000)

When a debugger is present, the ForceFlags field is set to a combination of these flags:

  • HEAP_TAIL_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x20)
  • HEAP_FREE_CHECKING_ENABLED (0x40)
  • HEAP_VALIDATE_PARAMETERS_ENABLED (0x40000000)

C/C++ Code

bool Check()
{
#ifndef _WIN64
    PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
    PVOID pHeapBase = !m_bIsWow64
        ? (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x18))
        : (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x1030));
    DWORD dwHeapFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
        ? 0x40
        : 0x0C;
    DWORD dwHeapForceFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
        ? 0x44 
        : 0x10;
#else
    PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
    PVOID pHeapBase = (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x30));
    DWORD dwHeapFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
        ? 0x70 
        : 0x14;
    DWORD dwHeapForceFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
        ? 0x74 
        : 0x18;
#endif // _WIN64

    PDWORD pdwHeapFlags = (PDWORD)((PBYTE)pHeapBase + dwHeapFlagsOffset);
    PDWORD pdwHeapForceFlags = (PDWORD)((PBYTE)pHeapBase + dwHeapForceFlagsOffset);
    return (*pdwHeapFlags & ~HEAP_GROWABLE) || (*pdwHeapForceFlags != 0);
}


2.3. Heap Protection

If the HEAP_TAIL_CHECKING_ENABLED flag is set in NtGlobalFlag, the sequence 0xABABABAB will be appended (twice in 32-Bit and 4 times in 64-Bit Windows) at the end of the allocated heap block.

If the HEAP_FREE_CHECKING_ENABLED flag is set in NtGlobalFlag, the sequence 0xFEEEFEEE will be appended if additional bytes are required to fill in the empty space until the next memory block.


C/C++ Code

bool Check()
{
    PROCESS_HEAP_ENTRY HeapEntry = { 0 };
    do
    {
        if (!HeapWalk(GetProcessHeap(), &HeapEntry))
            return false;
    } while (HeapEntry.wFlags != PROCESS_HEAP_ENTRY_BUSY);

    PVOID pOverlapped = (PBYTE)HeapEntry.lpData + HeapEntry.cbData;
    return ((DWORD)(*(PDWORD)pOverlapped) == 0xABABABAB);
}


Mitigations


For PEB!BeingDebugged Flag:

Set the BeingDebugged flag to 0. This can be done by DLL injection. If you use OllyDbg or x32/64dbg as a debugger, you can choose various Anti-Debug plugins such as ScyllaHide.


#ifndef _WIN64
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
#else
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
#endif // _WIN64
pPeb->BeingDebugged = 0;


For NtGlobalFlag:

Set the NtGlobalFlag to 0. This can be done by DLL injection. If you use OllyDbg or x32/64dbg as a debugger, you can choose various Anti-Debug plugins such as ScyllaHide.


#ifndef _WIN64
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
*(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x68) = 0;
#else
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
*(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0xBC); = 0;
#endif // _WIN64


For Heap Flags:

Set the Flags value to HEAP_GROWABLE, and the ForceFlags value to 0. This can be done by DLL injection. If you use OllyDbg or x32/64dbg as a debugger, you can choose various Anti-Debug plugins such as ScyllaHide.


#ifndef _WIN64
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readfsdword(0x30);
PVOID pHeapBase = !m_bIsWow64
    ? (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x18))
    : (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x1030));
DWORD dwHeapFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
    ? 0x40
    : 0x0C;
DWORD dwHeapForceFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
    ? 0x44 
    : 0x10;
#else
PPEB pPeb = (PPEB)__readgsqword(0x60);
PVOID pHeapBase = (PVOID)(*(PDWORD_PTR)((PBYTE)pPeb + 0x30));
DWORD dwHeapFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
    ? 0x70 
    : 0x14;
DWORD dwHeapForceFlagsOffset = IsWindowsVistaOrGreater()
    ? 0x74 
    : 0x18;
#endif // _WIN64

*(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pHeapBase + dwHeapFlagsOffset) = HEAP_GROWABLE;
*(PDWORD)((PBYTE)pHeapBase + dwHeapForceFlagsOffset) = 0;


For Heap Protection:

Manually patch 12 bytes for 32-bit and 20 bytes in a 64-bit environment after the heap. Hook kernel32!HeapAlloc() and patch the heap after its allocation.


#ifndef _WIN64
SIZE_T nBytesToPatch = 12;
#else
SIZE_T nBytesToPatch = 20;
#endif // _WIN64

SIZE_T nDwordsToPatch = nBytesToPatch / sizeof(DWORD);
PVOID pHeapEnd = (PBYTE)HeapEntry.lpData + HeapEntry.cbData;
for (SIZE_T offset = 0; offset < nDwordsToPatch; offset++)
    *((PDWORD)pHeapEnd + offset) = 0;

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