McAfee Protects Against Doppelgänging Technique

That adversaries adopt new techniques is a known fact. However, the speed they include new innovative techniques to bypass end-point security and or evade sandboxing appears to be at an ever-increasing pace. Indeed, adversary adoption is often faster than the InfoSec industry can implement and test effective countermeasures. For example, in December 2017, a tool was released to hide PowerShell in a graphic file. Within 7 days of the release, McAfee Advanced Threat Research started to see the technique being exploited by a Nation State actor. From announcement to inclusion, test and use in production within 7 days is impressive.

This week, security-researchers from Kaspersky discovered that an actor was applying the so-called Process Doppelgänging technique in what has been named the “SynAck” ransomware. (

So what is the Process Doppelgänging technique in a nutshell?

Using this technique gives the malware writer an ability to run malicious code/executable under the cover of a legitimate executable by using the transaction feauteres of the NTFS filesystem (Windows Transaactional NTFS API).

McAfee detects and protects

Since the initial release of this technique in December 2017, McAfee Labs has been investigating this technique and how we might protect our customers. In contrast to adversaries who can release mistakes in code and implementation, we simply cannot. We have to thoroughly test to ensure that when we release our solution it detects correctly and does not disrupt or break other software.

McAfee’s Product Security Incident Team (PSIRT), working in coordination with McAfee’s product teams1 delivered a protection to Process Doppelgänging in two of McAfee’s product suites (see below for more detail). McAfee’s protection has tested effective against EnSilo’s original proof of concept (PoC) and other examples. As an example, we tested recent malware using the technique against our detection feature with success:

McAfee’s protection prevents execution of a file if changes to it are contained within a Windows NTFS transaction. There are no legitimate uses for the Transactional API to be used in this way, so far as McAfee know.

Details of products that include protection against Process Doppelgänging follow:

  • ENS 10.5.4, released April 24, 2018
  • VSE 8.8 patch 11, released April 24, 2018
  • ENS 10.6, Public Beta available March 9, 2018. Release is targeted around June 1, 2018

WSS 16.0.12 will include the same protection. Release of WSS is targeted for the end of May, or the beginning of June, 2018.

What Is Protected 

Windows 7 & 8 -> McAfee protection is effective

Win 10 RS3 -> McAfee protection is effective Win 10 RS4 -> Microsoft has implemented the same protection as McAfee

EnSilo have documented that attempts to exploit Win 10 Pre RS3 results in a Windows crash, “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD). McAfee’s testing confirms Ensilo’s results.

Users may not see a detection alert with some versions of McAfee products under some versions of Windows. McAfee testing indicates that all versions of product under every Windows version listed above are protected.

Additional Protection Techniques

McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team has performed analysis on the current in-the-wild samples of Syn/Ack ransomware implementing Process Doppelgänging. For those who are concerned about the potential impact of this ransomware but are currently unable to implement McAfee product protections, we have found an interesting alternative, and temporary, method. Prior to encryption and ransom, the malware first checks if one of several hardcoded keyboards or languages is installed on the target machine. If found, the malicious code will terminate, effectively resulting in an extremely simple “patch” of sorts. We have tested the following steps to be effective on Windows 7 and likely Windows 10 – preventing the malware from encryption and ransom. These steps can be taken proactively.

Windows 7 – Adding Keyboard Layout:

Control Panel > Clock, Language, and Region > Region and Language > Keyboards and Languages

Click the “Change Keyboards” tab

In the Installed Services section click “add”

Select Keyboard – For example: Russian (Russia) > Keyboard > Russian

Click “Ok”

Click “Apply”

Click “Ok”

Here is the list of keyboards layouts you can add – any will suffice:

  • Armenian
  • Azeri, (Cyrillic, Azerbaijan)
  • Belarusian
  • Georgian
  • Kazakh
  • Ukrainian
  • Uzbek (Cryillic, Uzbekistan)
  • Uzbek (Latin,Uzbekistan)
  • Russian
  • Tajik

Windows 10 – Adding Language Support:

Control Panel > Add a language Click the button “Add a language”

Choose one of the following languages to add:

  • Armenian
  • Azeribaijani (Cyrillic)
  • Belarusian
  • Georgian
  • Ukrainian
  • Uzbek (Cryillic)
  • Uzbek (Latin)
  • Russian
  • Russian (Kazakhstan)
  • Tajik (Cyrillic)

That’s all it takes! Please note – this should not be considered a fully effective or long-term strategy. It is highly likely the malware will change based on this finding; thus, we recommend the McAfee product protections referenced above for best effect.

1McAfee thanks McAfee Software Engineer, Alnoor Allidina for the diligence and insight that lead to the Process Dopplegänging protection.

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