Cloaking and Alternative Data Streams: Hide an Executable inside a Text File

How to Hide an Executable File Inside and Text File

Did you know that hackers can hide an executable file inside of a text file using a technique that uses something called data streams to trick a computer system from seeing text and or executable written in an alternate data stream inside a common text file.

I was pretty impressed the first time I watched someone demonstrate this. I was like, NO WAY! I really thought that this was some wizard level hacker stuff.

I’m no wizard level hacker, although I aspire to be, but I should be good enough to show you how to embed a simple calculator app inside a text file using an alternate data stream.

A big thank you to Cyber Security Expert, Malcolm Shore who presented a similar example in his Cyber Security Foundation online course I recently completed.

How Do Alternate Data Streams Work?

Way back in the old Wild West days when we had the DOS operating system, files used to be simple strings of data. Files are read btye by byte.

Later, in the NTFS file system, files are complex structures. NTFS files at a minimum contain a section called $Data where data is read by an application. $Data is the Data Stream.

Files may have many other sections or streams other than just the $Data section. This is what we call “Alternate Streams”.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Windows only recognizes data in the $Data section so any data we put in an alternate data stream is not read by the Windows Operating System. We cloak data we want to hide in an alternate data stream. That’s the basics of how this works.

The data we are hiding could be a malicious malware payload or encrypted espionage message for our spy ring but in this example, it is just the simple calc.exe file you can find on any Windows PC for the last 20+ years.

Creating an Alternate Data Stream in a Text File

The screenshot below shows the three (3) files we’ll be using in this demonstration.

  • Simple text file with some string data.
  • calc.exe application or executable binary file
  • Secret text file with some string data

We can see the size of the text file is just 1 KB and the calc.exe file is 897 KB.

If we open the text-data.txt file with Notepad we’ll see just a simple line of text and the same with the secret-data.txt file.

To hide our secret message inside the the text data file, we’ll use this command line command.

C:\text\>type secret-data.txt > text-data.text:hidden.text

Screenshot of Alternate Data Stream: Insert Hidden Text

Below is a screenshot of the command line command “type” that we used in this example to insert our secret-data.txt file into an Alternate Data Stream inside of another text file.

If we type the command “more” we can look for the secret message.

The screenshot below shows the text file that contains our hidden text being opened in Notepad where we can’t see the hidden text we saved to the file. If we type the command line command below, we can read the hidden text we wrote to our Alternate Data Stream by keying in on the specific data stream.

c:\test>more < text-data.txt:hidden:text
Screenshot: Display hidden text in a text file.

Hiding an Executable Inside a Text File

Hiding an executable file inside a text file using the exact same Alternate Data Stream technique we just used in the the Secret text file example above but this time we’ll simply replace the Secret text file with the Windows Calculator application executable file.

The screenshot below shows the command line command to save the calc.exe file in an Alternate Data Stream in side our target text file.

Notice this time, the Alternate Data Stream is named “mycalc.exe”. Don’t get to hung up on this, it is just a name that is basically meta data that is saved with the data that we can use to filter the data we get out of the file. I hope that makes sense.

Important to note at this point that the file sizes didn’t change when we inserted the calc.exe file. It is still showing 52KB.

How to Execute a File Saved in an Alternate Data Stream

To execute a file you’ve stored in an Alternate Data Stream, we’ll need to use the wmic command as is done in the following example.

c:\test>wmic process call "c:\test\text-data.txt:mycalc.exe"

As you can see from the working example above, I was able to embed the calc.exe file inside as well as text file and a secret message.

If the data is text we just need to indicate which stream we saved the data in to retrieve it.

If the data we hid was an executable file, we’ll need to use the Windows “wmic” command line command to call the executable from inside the text file by keying in on the Alternate Data Stream name.

In summary, the technique is crazy easy to pull off without any 3rd party hacking tools. It just requires a little Windows Operating System inside knowledge but is something every good hacker should know.

I hope this helped somebody!
~Cyber Abyss

Google Dorking? Yeah, it’s a thing. Search Google for Hidden Files

Let me start by saying the title might be a little off, as the files are not technically hidden as much as they are obscure.

While most of us would consider ourselves pretty good Googler searchers these days but the truth is, there is so much more to Google searching than meets the eye.

Introducing… “Google Dorking”

Yes, I said it Google Dorking and it’s not what you might think. Sounds dirty, right? It’s not just me. LOL

Google Dorking also known as Google hacking is about searching Google in a way that filters and brings all sorts or OSINT and InfoSec goodies floating to the top.

Think Before You Dork!!!

Although the information my be available on Google, it does not mean you can use that information to try and hack or gain unauthorized access to a system or individual computer.

Hacking is illegal, don’t do it, don’t talk about it.

With that being said, please be careful, be responsible and please enjoy these Google Dorking Examples for educational purposes.

Searching Google for user names and password in log files

allintext:username filetype:log

Searching Google for Open FTP Servers

intitle:"index of" inurl:ftp

Searching Google for Open Web Cams

Intitle:"webcamXP 5"

inurl:view/index.shtml 

Searching Goolge for Database Passwords

db_password filetype:env

Searching Google for Git-hub Resources

filetype:inc php -site:github.com -site:sourceforge.net

Searching Google for PHP Variables

filetype:php "Notice: Undefined variable: data in" -forum

Search Google for Server Configuration Files

intitle:"WAMPSERVER homepage" "Server Configuration" "Apache Version"

Search Google for Nessus Scan Reports

intitle:"report" ("qualys"|"acunetix"|"nessus"|"netsparker"|"nmap") filetype:pdf

Search Google for Networking Xls Files

ext:xls netoworking

Search Google for FrontPage Servers w/ Admin Info

"#-Frontpage-" inurl:administrators.pwd

Search Google for Unprotected Cameras

inurl:view/index.shtml

Search Google for Hidden Login Pages

Username password site:com filetype:txt DomainName.com

Google Dorking Video by Null Byte

Hope this helps somebody!
~Cyber Abyss

InfoSec Tip: What’s in those web server 404 NOT FOUND errors?

Catching Bad Guys using Web Server 404 Errors!

404 NOT FOUND pages in your web server logs are often the earliest sign of surveillance, foot printing or reconnaissance.

This probing event I caught was using the IP, bypassing DNS while probing for non-existent file called “/admin/config.php” all the way from Ramallah Palestine. #Infosec#OSINT#cybersecurity

Hope this helps someone!

Regards,
Rick