Modify System Image

Adversaries may make changes to the operating system of embedded network devices to weaken defenses and provide new capabilities for themselves. On such devices, the operating systems are typically monolithic and most of the device functionality and capabilities are contained within a single file.

To change the operating system, the adversary typically only needs to affect this one file, replacing or modifying it. This can either be done live in memory during system runtime for immediate effect, or in storage to implement the change on the next boot of the network device.

ID: T1601
Sub-techniques:  T1601.001, T1601.002
Tactic: Defense Evasion
Platforms: Network
Permissions Required: Administrator
Version: 1.0
Created: 19 October 2020
Last Modified: 22 October 2020


ID Mitigation Description
M1046 Boot Integrity

Some vendors of embedded network devices provide cryptographic signing to ensure the integrity of operating system images at boot time. Implement where available, following vendor guidelines. [1]

M1045 Code Signing

Many vendors provide digitally signed operating system images to validate the integrity of the software used on their platform. Make use of this feature where possible in order to prevent and/or detect attempts by adversaries to compromise the system image. [2]

M1043 Credential Access Protection

Some embedded network devices are capable of storing passwords for local accounts in either plain-text or encrypted formats. Ensure that, where available, local passwords are always encrypted, per vendor recommendations. [3]

M1032 Multi-factor Authentication

Use multi-factor authentication for user and privileged accounts. Most embedded network devices support TACACS+ and/or RADIUS. Follow vendor prescribed best practices for hardening access control.[4]

M1027 Password Policies

Refer to NIST guidelines when creating password policies. [5]

M1026 Privileged Account Management

Restrict administrator accounts to as few individuals as possible, following least privilege principles. Prevent credential overlap across systems of administrator and privileged accounts, particularly between network and non-network platforms, such as servers or endpoints.


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0022 File File Modification

Most embedded network devices provide a command to print the version of the currently running operating system. Use this command to query the operating system for its version number and compare it to what is expected for the device in question. Because this method may be used in conjunction with Patch System Image, it may be appropriate to also verify the integrity of the vendor provided operating system image file.

Compare the checksum of the operating system file with the checksum of a known good copy from a trusted source. Some embedded network device platforms may have the capability to calculate the checksum of the file, while others may not. Even for those platforms that have the capability, it is recommended to download a copy of the file to a trusted computer to calculate the checksum with software that is not compromised. [6]

Many vendors of embedded network devices can provide advanced debugging support that will allow them to work with device owners to validate the integrity of the operating system running in memory. If a compromise of the operating system is suspected, contact the vendor technical support and seek such services for a more thorough inspection of the current running system. [7]