Windows 10 security question: How do miscreants use these for post-hack persistence?

Crafty infosec researchers have figured out how to remotely set answers to Windows 10’s password reset questions “without even executing code on the targeted machine”.

Thanks to some alarmingly straightforward registry tweaks allied with a simple Python script, Illusive Networks’ Magal Baz and Tom Sela were not only able to remotely define their own choice of password reset answers, they were also able to revert local users’ password changes.

Part of the problem is that Windows 10’s password reset questions are in effect hard-coded; you cannot define your own questions, limiting users to picking one of Microsoft’s six. Thus questions such as “what was your first’s pet name” are now defending your box against intruders.

The catch is that to do this, one first needs suitable account privileges. This isn’t an attack vector per se but it is something that an attacker who has already gained access to your network could use to give themselves near-invisible persistence on local machines, defying attempts to shut them out.


“In order to prevent people from reusing their passwords, Windows stores hashes of the old passwords. They’re stored under AES in the registry. If you have access to the registry, it’s not that hard to read them. You can use an undocumented API and reinstate the hash that was active just before you changed it. Effectively I’m doing a password change and nobody is going to notice that,” he continued, explaining that he’d used existing features in the post-exploitation tool Mimikatz to achieve that.

As for protecting against this post-attack persistence problem? “Add additional auditing and GPO settings,” said Sela. The two also suggested that Microsoft allows custom security questions as well as the ability to disable the feature altogether in Windows 10 Enterprise. The presentation slides are available here (PDF)

Source: Windows 10 security question: How do miscreants use these for post-hack persistence? • The Register

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