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Windows privilege escalation for beginners

Hello, aspiring ethical hackers. In this blogpost, you will learn about Windows privilege escalation. Windows privilege escalation comes after Windows hacking and is part of Post-exploitation of Windows.

What is Windows privilege escalation?

Windows privilege escalation is the process of elevating privileges on a Windows system after successfully gaining access to a Windows system.

Why is it important?

According to StatCounter Global Stats, over 72.52% of people worldwide use Windows as their Desktop. That is the reason why Windows privilege escalation is one of the most important topics of ethical hacking.

Windows privilege escalation techniques

There are multiple ways by which hackers can elevate privileges on a Windows systems. They are,

  1. Exposed credentials
  2. Bypassing UAC
  3. Exploiting services running with administrator privileges.
  4. Windows kernel vulnerabilities.
  5. Misconfigured services.
  6. Windows Registry.
  7. Scheduled Tasks.

1. Exposed credentials:

Sometimes, the credentials of user accounts with administrator privileges on a Windows system are exposed. Most people still store Windows credentials on Desktop for easy access (you may not believe this but this is true). So, attackers can login as user with high privileges using these exposed credentials.

2. Bypassing UAC:

User Account Control (UAC) is a Windows security feature that was designed to protect the operating system. Introduced with Windows Vista, it is a mandatory access control enforcement feature. It works by limiting application software to standard user privileges until a user with administrator privileges authorizes an elevation in privileges.

This allows only applications that are trusted by users to be assigned administrator privileges. However, vulnerabilities in this UAC sometimes allows hackers to bypass UAC and get administration privileges on the target system.

3. Exploiting services running with administration privileges:

Some applications installed on Windows by users need administrative privileged on the system to run. If attackers exploit any vulnerabilities in these applications, they can easily elevate their privileges on the Windows system.

4. Windows kernel vulnerabilities:

Windows kernel in Windows (or for that matter any operating system) has the highest privileges assigned to it. If attackers exploit any vulnerabilities in the Windows kernel, they can elevate their privileges on the Windows system.

5. Misconfigured services:

Misconfigurations in services on Windows can also be exploited to escalate privileges on Windows system.

6. Windows Registry:

Windows registry is a hierarchical database that stores all low level; settings of Microsoft Windows. Weak permissions in the Windows registry can also be exploited to elevate privileges.

7. Scheduled Tasks:

Windows Task Scheduler (formerly known as Scheduled Tasks) is used to automate jobs and tasks in Windows just like cron jobs in Linux. Weak file permission setting in Task scheduler can be exploited to elevate privileges on a Windows system.

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PrintNightmare, Privilege Escalation in Powershell

PrintNightmare is a critical vulnerability affecting the Microsoft Windows operating systems. The recently disclosed vulnerability is present in the print spooler service of Microsoft Windows. The printer spooler service is used for printing services and is turned on by default. The versions of Windows vulnerable to PrintNightmare include Windows 7 to Windows 10 and windows Server 2008 to the latest version of Windows Servers.

The PrintNightmare vulnerability has two variants : one is enabling remote code execution (CVE-2021-34527) and the other privilege escalation (CVE-2021-1675). In this article, readers will see a demonstration of exploiting the privilege escalation vulnerability in PrintNightmare.
For this demonstration, we will use Windows 10 version 1809. The Powershell Script we used in this demo can be downloaded from Github.

In this scenario, imagine I already have access to the target machine as a user with low privileges. Let me demonstrate it to you. The first thing I need to confirm is whether the printer spooler service is running on the target system or not. This can be done using powershell command “Get-Service -Name “spooler”“.

The print spooler service is running. Now I can exploit it. Before that let me show you that I am a user with limited privileges i.e as “user 1” with very limited privileges.

Next, I already downloaded the Powershell script I need to exploit the Printnightmare vulnerability .So I moved to the Downloads folder where the Powershell script is saved. Once I am inside that folder, I run the command

Import-Module .\ <script Name>“as shown below.

Once the Powershell module is imported, I can execute the script with command
Invoke-Nightmare -NewUser “<username to create >” -NewPassword <password for that new user> DriverName “PrintMe”
This command will create a new user with administrator privileges.

How to exploit printnightmare

In the image above, you can see the existence of new user named “hacker” which I created. Now, let’s check the privileges of this user.

As readers can see, the new user I created belongs to the local administrators group. I reboot the system and try to login as that user.

The exploitation is successful.

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Bypassuac COMHijack Privilege Escalation Exploit

Recently, readers saw the Windows Fodhelper Privilege escalation exploit. Today we will learn about another Windows privilege escalation exploit that works on machines from Windows 7 to Windows 10. This exploit bypasses the User Account Control of the Windows and gives us system privileges. Its called Windows BypassUAC COMhijack exploit. How does it do this? Let us see.

COM stands for Component Object Model. It acts as a binary interface between various processes of different programming languages. In Windows, is is the basis for several other Microsoft technologies like OLE, OLE Automation, Browser Helper Object, ActiveX, COM+, DCOM, Windows shell, DirectX and Windows Runtime.

This module will bypass Windows UAC by creating COM handler registry entries in the Hive Key Current User hive. These created registry entries are referenced when certain high integrity processes are loaded which eventually results in the process of loading user controlled DLLs (as you already know DLLs are Dynamic Link Libraries).

These DLLs the exploit loads contain the payloads that result in elevated sessions. After the payload is invocated, registry key modifications this module makes are cleaned up. This module invokes the target binary via cmd.exe on the target. Therefore if cmd.exe access is restricted, this module will not run correctly.

Now let us see how this exploit works. As for every privilege escalation exploit, we need to already have a meterpreter session like the one we have here. Background the current meterpreter session and remember the session id. Search for the bypassuac_comhijack module as shown below.

Load the bypassuac_comhijack module as shown below and check its options by using the “show options” command as shown below.

Explanation of how to exploit bypassuac comhijack vulnerability

Set the session id as shown below and execute the exploit using “run” command as shown below. If everything went right, we will have another meterpreter session as shown below.

Check the privileges using the “getuid” command. If you still don’t have system privileges, run command “getsystem” and even if it results in an error, check your privileges once again using command “getuid“. You should definitely have system privileges by now.

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Windows UAC Bypass using Fodhelper

Hello aspiring hackers. Today we will see an exploit which helps us in Windows 10 Privilege escalation. Till now, there was no exploit for privilege escalation in Windows 10. Recently we got one. This module will bypass Windows 10 UAC by hijacking a special key in the Registry under the current user hive and inserting a custom command that will get invoked when the Windows fodhelper.exe application is launched.

Once the UAC flag is turned off, this module will spawn a second shell with system privileges. This module modifies a registry key, but cleans up the key once the payload has been invoked. The module does not require the architecture of the payload to match the OS.

Imagine we have a scenario where we got meterpreter access to a Windows 10 system ( See how to hack Windows 10 with Hercules and see how to hack Windows 10 with hta exploit).

To use the fodhelper module to escalate privileges, we need to background the current session.

Search for fodhelper module using the search command.

Image explaining about Windows privilege escalation with fodhelper module

Load the module and set the session ID as shown below.

Run the module as shown below.

As you can see, we successfully got a meterpreter session. When I check privileges, its still user privileges but when I run “getsystem” command, I get system privileges on Windows 10.


Microsoft had already released patches. Just make sure your system is updated.

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Bypass UAC exploit to Elevate Privileges

Bypass uac stands for bypassing user account control. User account control is the security measure introduced in Windows OS since Windows 7. It helps in preventing any malicious program from running with admin privileges. With UAC, applications and tasks always run with privileges of a standard or non-administrator account, unless a user authorizes administrator-level access to the system. UAC will not allow any unauthorized program from making any inadvertent changes to the system.

This may include even our meterpreter shell. We have seen many exploits where we got meterpreter shell. But when you check your privileges by typing command “getuid”, we can see that we are running as a standard user as shown below. When we try to get system privileges with command “getsystem”, we can see it failed.

Bypass uac exploit as its name implies, bypasses the user account control security feature in Windows 7 to give us system privileges. This is available in Metasploit. For this exploit to work, we should already have a meterpreter shell on our target system.

Now let use see how to get system privileges with this exploit. First background the current meterpreter session by typing command “background”. Next search for bypassuac exploit as shown below.

bypass uac

Load the exploit as shown below. Type command “show options” to see what options we need to set. We can see only one option is required: session. This is the session id number with which our previous meterpreter session was running. While we background our session, we saw that our session id number is 1. ( see the above image ). Set session id option to 1 as shown below.

Type command “exploit” to run our exploit. Type command “getsystem” to try to get the system privileges once again. This time we successfully got the system privileges as shown below.