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Exploitation for Privilege Escalation

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Exploitation for Privilege Escalation
ID T0890
Tactic Privilege Escalation
Data Sources Process: OS API Execution
Asset Human-Machine Interface, Safety Instrumented System/Protection Relay


Adversaries may exploit software vulnerabilities in an attempt to elevate privileges. Exploitation of a software vulnerability occurs when an adversary takes advantage of a programming error in a program, service, or within the operating system software or kernel itself to execute adversary-controlled code. Security constructs such as permission levels will often hinder access to information and use of certain techniques, so adversaries will likely need to perform privilege escalation to include use of software exploitation to circumvent those restrictions.1

When initially gaining access to a system, an adversary may be operating within a lower privileged process which will prevent them from accessing certain resources on the system. Vulnerabilities may exist, usually in operating system components and software commonly running at higher permissions, that can be exploited to gain higher levels of access on the system. This could enable someone to move from unprivileged or user level permissions to SYSTEM or root permissions depending on the component that is vulnerable. This may be a necessary step for an adversary compromising an endpoint system that has been properly configured and limits other privilege escalation methods.1

Procedure Examples

  • Triton leverages a previously-unknown vulnerability affecting Tricon MP3008 firmware versions 10.0–10.4 allows an insecurely-written system call to be exploited to achieve an arbitrary 2-byte write primitive, which is then used to gain supervisor privileges.2


  • Application Isolation and Sandboxing - Make it difficult for adversaries to advance their operation through exploitation of undiscovered or unpatched vulnerabilities by using sandboxing. Other types of virtualization and application microsegmentation may also mitigate the impact of some types of exploitation. Risks of additional exploits and weaknesses in these systems may still exist.3
  • Exploit Protection - Security applications that look for behavior used during exploitation such as Windows Defender Exploit Guard (WDEG) and the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) can be used to mitigate some exploitation behavior.4 Control flow integrity checking is another way to potentially identify and stop a software exploit from occurring.5 Many of these protections depend on the architecture and target application binary for compatibility and may not work for all software or services targeted.
  • Threat Intelligence Program - Develop a robust cyber threat intelligence capability to determine what types and levels of threat may use software exploits and 0-days against a particular organization.
  • Update Software - Update software regularly by employing patch management for internal enterprise endpoints and servers.