Exploitation for Client Execution

Adversaries may exploit software vulnerabilities in client applications to execute code. Vulnerabilities can exist in software due to unsecure coding practices that can lead to unanticipated behavior. Adversaries can take advantage of certain vulnerabilities through targeted exploitation for the purpose of arbitrary code execution. Oftentimes the most valuable exploits to an offensive toolkit are those that can be used to obtain code execution on a remote system because they can be used to gain access to that system. Users will expect to see files related to the applications they commonly used to do work, so they are a useful target for exploit research and development because of their high utility.

Several types exist:

Browser-based Exploitation

Web browsers are a common target through Drive-by Compromise and Spearphishing Link. Endpoint systems may be compromised through normal web browsing or from certain users being targeted by links in spearphishing emails to adversary controlled sites used to exploit the web browser. These often do not require an action by the user for the exploit to be executed.

Office Applications

Common office and productivity applications such as Microsoft Office are also targeted through Phishing. Malicious files will be transmitted directly as attachments or through links to download them. These require the user to open the document or file for the exploit to run.

Common Third-party Applications

Other applications that are commonly seen or are part of the software deployed in a target network may also be used for exploitation. Applications such as Adobe Reader and Flash, which are common in enterprise environments, have been routinely targeted by adversaries attempting to gain access to systems. Depending on the software and nature of the vulnerability, some may be exploited in the browser or require the user to open a file. For instance, some Flash exploits have been delivered as objects within Microsoft Office documents.

ID: T1203
Sub-techniques:  No sub-techniques
Tactic: Execution
Platforms: Linux, Windows, macOS
System Requirements: Remote exploitation for execution requires a remotely accessible service reachable over the network or other vector of access such as spearphishing or drive-by compromise.
Version: 1.4
Created: 18 April 2018
Last Modified: 18 April 2022

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
G0018 admin@338

admin@338 has exploited client software vulnerabilities for execution, such as Microsoft Word CVE-2012-0158.[1]

S0331 Agent Tesla

Agent Tesla has exploited Office vulnerabilities such as CVE-2017-11882 and CVE-2017-8570 for execution during delivery.[2]

G0138 Andariel

Andariel has exploited numerous ActiveX vulnerabilities, including zero-days.[3][4][5]

G0005 APT12

APT12 has exploited multiple vulnerabilities for execution, including Microsoft Office vulnerabilities (CVE-2009-3129, CVE-2012-0158) and vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader and Flash (CVE-2009-4324, CVE-2009-0927, CVE-2011-0609, CVE-2011-0611).[6][7]

G0007 APT28

APT28 has exploited Microsoft Office vulnerability CVE-2017-0262 for execution.[8]

G0016 APT29

APT29 has used multiple software exploits for common client software, like Microsoft Word, Exchange, and Adobe Reader, to gain code execution.[9][10][11]

G0022 APT3

APT3 has exploited the Adobe Flash Player vulnerability CVE-2015-3113 and Internet Explorer vulnerability CVE-2014-1776.[12][13]

G0050 APT32

APT32 has used RTF document that includes an exploit to execute malicious code. (CVE-2017-11882)[14]

G0064 APT33

APT33 has attempted to exploit a known vulnerability in WinRAR (CVE-2018-20250), and attempted to gain remote code execution via a security bypass vulnerability (CVE-2017-11774).[15][16]

G0067 APT37

APT37 has used exploits for Flash Player (CVE-2016-4117, CVE-2018-4878), Word (CVE-2017-0199), Internet Explorer (CVE-2020-1380 and CVE-2020-26411), and Microsoft Edge (CVE-2021-26411) for execution.[17][18][19][20]

G0096 APT41

APT41 leveraged the follow exploits in their operations: CVE-2012-0158, CVE-2015-1641, CVE-2017-0199, CVE-2017-11882, and CVE-2019-3396.[21]

G0001 Axiom

Axiom has used exploits for multiple vulnerabilities including CVE-2014-0322, CVE-2012-4792, CVE-2012-1889, and CVE-2013-3893.[22]

S0239 Bankshot

Bankshot leverages a known zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Flash to execute the implant into the victims’ machines.[23]

G0098 BlackTech

BlackTech has exploited multiple vulnerabilities for execution, including Microsoft Office vulnerabilities CVE-2012-0158, CVE-2014-6352, CVE-2017-0199, and Adobe Flash CVE-2015-5119.[24]


BRONZE BUTLER has exploited Microsoft Office vulnerabilities CVE-2014-4114, CVE-2018-0802, and CVE-2018-0798 for execution.[25][26]

G0080 Cobalt Group

Cobalt Group had exploited multiple vulnerabilities for execution, including Microsoft’s Equation Editor (CVE-2017-11882), an Internet Explorer vulnerability (CVE-2018-8174), CVE-2017-8570, CVE-2017-0199, and CVE-2017-8759.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]

S0154 Cobalt Strike

Cobalt Strike can exploit Oracle Java vulnerabilities for execution, including CVE-2011-3544, CVE-2013-2465, CVE-2012-4681, and CVE-2013-2460.[35][36]

G0142 Confucius

Confucius has exploited Microsoft Office vulnerabilities, including CVE-2015-1641, CVE-2017-11882, and CVE-2018-0802.[37][38]

G0012 Darkhotel

Darkhotel has exploited Adobe Flash vulnerability CVE-2015-8651 for execution.[39]

S0243 DealersChoice

DealersChoice leverages vulnerable versions of Flash to perform execution.[40]

G0035 Dragonfly

Dragonfly has exploited CVE-2011-0611 in Adobe Flash Player to gain execution on a targeted system.[41]

G0066 Elderwood

Elderwood has used exploitation of endpoint software, including Microsoft Internet Explorer Adobe Flash vulnerabilities, to gain execution. They have also used zero-day exploits.[42]

S0396 EvilBunny

EvilBunny has exploited CVE-2011-4369, a vulnerability in the PRC component in Adobe Reader.[43]

G0101 Frankenstein

Frankenstein has used CVE-2017-11882 to execute code on the victim's machine.[44]


HAWKBALL has exploited Microsoft Office vulnerabilities CVE-2017-11882 and CVE-2018-0802 to deliver the payload.[45]

G0126 Higaisa

Higaisa has exploited CVE-2018-0798 for execution.[46]

G0100 Inception

Inception has exploited CVE-2012-0158, CVE-2014-1761, CVE-2017-11882 and CVE-2018-0802 for execution.[47][48][49][50]

S0260 InvisiMole

InvisiMole has installed legitimate but vulnerable Total Video Player software and wdigest.dll library drivers on compromised hosts to exploit stack overflow and input validation vulnerabilities for code execution.[51]

G0032 Lazarus Group

Lazarus Group has exploited Adobe Flash vulnerability CVE-2018-4878 for execution.[23]

G0065 Leviathan

Leviathan has exploited multiple Microsoft Office and .NET vulnerabilities for execution, including CVE-2017-0199, CVE-2017-8759, and CVE-2017-11882.[52][53][54][55]

G0069 MuddyWater

MuddyWater has exploited the Office vulnerability CVE-2017-0199 for execution.[56]

G0129 Mustang Panda

Mustang Panda has exploited CVE-2017-0199 in Microsoft Word to execute code.[57]

G0040 Patchwork

Patchwork uses malicious documents to deliver remote execution exploits as part of. The group has previously exploited CVE-2017-8570, CVE-2012-1856, CVE-2014-4114, CVE-2017-0199, CVE-2017-11882, and CVE-2015-1641.[58][59][60][61][62][63][64]

S0458 Ramsay

Ramsay has been embedded in documents exploiting CVE-2017-0199, CVE-2017-11882, and CVE-2017-8570.[65][66]

G0034 Sandworm Team

Sandworm Team has exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft PowerPoint via OLE objects (CVE-2014-4114) and Microsoft Word via crafted TIFF images (CVE-2013-3906).[67][68][69]

G0121 Sidewinder

Sidewinder has exploited vulnerabilities to gain execution including CVE-2017-11882 and CVE-2020-0674.[70][71]

S0374 SpeakUp

SpeakUp attempts to exploit the following vulnerabilities in order to execute its malicious script: CVE-2012-0874, CVE-2010-1871, CVE-2017-10271, CVE-2018-2894, CVE-2016-3088, JBoss AS 3/4/5/6, and the Hadoop YARN ResourceManager. [72]


SUPERNOVA was installed via exploitation of a SolarWinds Orion API authentication bypass vulnerability (CVE-2020-10148).[73][74]

G0062 TA459

TA459 has exploited Microsoft Word vulnerability CVE-2017-0199 for execution.[75]

G0089 The White Company

The White Company has taken advantage of a known vulnerability in Microsoft Word (CVE 2012-0158) to execute code.[76]

G0027 Threat Group-3390

Threat Group-3390 has exploited CVE-2018-0798 in Equation Editor.[77]

G0131 Tonto Team

Tonto Team has exploited Microsoft vulnerabilities, including CVE-2018-0798, CVE-2018-8174, CVE-2018-0802, CVE-2017-11882, CVE-2019-9489 CVE-2020-8468, and CVE-2018-0798 to enable execution of their delivered malicious payloads.[78][79][80][81]

G0134 Transparent Tribe

Transparent Tribe has crafted malicious files to exploit CVE-2012-0158 and CVE-2010-3333 for execution.[82]

G0081 Tropic Trooper

Tropic Trooper has executed commands through Microsoft security vulnerabilities, including CVE-2017-11882, CVE-2018-0802, and CVE-2012-0158.[83][84]

S0341 Xbash

Xbash can attempt to exploit known vulnerabilities in Hadoop, Redis, or ActiveMQ when it finds those services running in order to conduct further execution.[85][86]


ID Mitigation Description
M1048 Application Isolation and Sandboxing

Browser sandboxes can be used to mitigate some of the impact of exploitation, but sandbox escapes may still exist. [87] [88]

Other types of virtualization and application microsegmentation may also mitigate the impact of client-side exploitation. Risks of additional exploits and weaknesses in those systems may still exist. [88]

M1050 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. [89] Control flow integrity checking is another way to potentially identify and stop a software exploit from occurring. [90] Many of these protections depend on the architecture and target application binary for compatibility.


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0015 Application Log Application Log Content
DS0009 Process Process Creation

Detecting software exploitation may be difficult depending on the tools available. Also look for behavior on the endpoint system that might indicate successful compromise, such as abnormal behavior of the browser or Office processes. This could include suspicious files written to disk, evidence of Process Injection for attempts to hide execution, evidence of Discovery, or other unusual network traffic that may indicate additional tools transferred to the system.


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