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From Delivery To Execution: An Evasive Azorult Campaign Smuggled Through Google Sites

Mar 15 2024


Netskope Threat Labs has observed an evasive Azorult campaign in the wild that employs multiple defense evasion techniques from delivery through execution to fly under the defender’s radar as it steals sensitive data.

Azorult is an information stealer first discovered in 2016 that steals sensitive information including user credentials, browser information, and crypto wallet data. Azorult is on the rise and is currently one of the top malware families that Netskope Threat Labs has observed targeting the healthcare industry over the last year.

In this blog post, Netskope Threat Labs performs a detailed teardown of an evasive AzoruIt malware campaign we observed in the wild.  This campaign is noteworthy for the following reasons:

  • It delivers its initial payload through HTML smuggling, a detection evasion technique that is gaining popularity among adversaries. This defense evasion technique was also used by a nation-state group to smuggle a remote access trojan, and by Nokoyawa ransomware, where they started the infection process through HTML smuggling.
  • It uses an unorthodox HTML smuggling technique where the malicious payload is embedded in a separate JSON file hosted on an external website.
  • It executes the fileless Azorult infostealer stealthily by using reflective code loading, bypassing disk-based detection and minimizing artifacts.
  • It uses an AMSI bypass technique to evade being detected by a variety of host-based anti-malware products, including Windows Defender.
  • It steals sensitive data, including information for 137 distinct crypto wallets, login credentials, browser files, and important documents.

Google Sites serves as a decoy for HTML smuggling

HTML smuggling is a defense evasion technique that aims to bypass web controls that block risky file types. It abuses legitimate HTML5 download attributes and Javascript blobs to construct malicious payloads on the client side, bypassing network security filters. 

As part of Netskope Threat Labs’ threat hunting activities, we uncovered a campaign wherein an attacker created fake Google Docs pages on Google Sites from which they used HTML smuggling to download malicious payloads. They lure their victims to the fake Google Docs pages to trick them into believing the downloaded file was from Google Docs. In most cases that we see in the wild, the adversary embeds the smuggled malicious payload in the Javascript itself. In this example, the adversary embedded the malicious payload in a separate JSON file as a BASE64 encoded string. When the victim accesses the website, it sends a GET request to download the JSON file from a separate domain (mahmudiyeresort[.]com[.]tr) and extracts the payload from there.

HTML smuggling code that collects Payload From Compromised Domain

Smuggling With A Captcha

Usually, when a victim accesses a website that uses HTML smuggling to deliver malicious payloads, the payload is downloaded immediately. For this campaign, the attacker’s website hosted on Google Sites initiates a CAPTCHA, which serves as an additional layer of protection against URL scanners. This helps the HTML file to remain undetected in public scanners like Virustotal, which cannot proceed past the CAPTCHA.

HTML smuggling code that collects Payload From Compromised Domain

Malicious shortcut downloading multiple Powershell and Javascripts

Once the user passes the CAPTCHA test, the HTML smuggling Javascript code reconstructs the payload and downloads it to the victim’s machine. The payload is an LNK shortcut file that uses a PDF icon to trick users into clicking it. Clicking on the LNK file kicks off the following chain of events.

  1. The LNK file spawns a command prompt where it saves a base64 encoded Powershell command to a batch file named Fyap4cKJ.bat
  2. The Powershell command is then decoded using a Windows native application named certutil.exe and overwrites Fyap4cKJ.bat
  3. It then creates a scheduled task named t09pxsrXKG that executes the batch file Fyap4cKJ.bat
  4. The batch file Fyap4cKJ.bat will execute a Powershell script that uses Invoke-WebRequest to download a PHP file from sqjeans[.]com and saves it as qtoW0vI2.js in the temp folder. It will then execute qtoW0vI2.js using wscript.exe.
  5. The Powershell command from the batch file Fyap4cKJ.bat then deletes the scheduled task t09pxsrXKG created earlier.
LNK payload with PDF icon

The Javascript qtoW0vI2.js then performs the following three tasks:

  1. Copies itself in the %ProgramData%, and renames itself as agent.js
  2. Checks and deletes itself if a file named  7z52OJFPXT4J exists in the temp folder. 
  3. Downloads two Powershell scripts named agent1.ps1 and agent3.ps1 using Invoke-WebRequest, and executes them using Invoke-Expression.
qtoW0vI2.js from the compromised domain

Azorult Fileless Malware Loaded Through Reflective Code Loading

Another defense evasion technique the attacker uses is to execute the Azorult infostealer in memory using reflective code loading. Reflective code loading of a portable executable file means that instead of writing and running the malware on disk where it leaves more footprints and artifacts, it loads code into a running Powershell process’s own memory. Let’s look at how they accomplish reflective code loading with the two Powershell scripts executed.


The first powershell script (agent1.ps1) executed is used to bypass the Antimalware Scan Interface (AMSI). It does so by setting AmsiInitFailed to a True value so that AMSI initialization fails, which means no scan will be performed for the current process.

The value of AmsiInitFailed is defined by the Javascript qtoW0vI2.js as it executes agent1.ps1.

AMSI bypass from agent1.ps1


The second powershell script (agent3.ps1) is set to perform the following tasks:

1. Download an Azorult loader

The Powershell script (agent3.ps1) starts by downloading the Azorult loader (service.exe) from the earlier compromised domain using Invoke-WebRequest. The executable was likely compiled in November 2023 and was first submitted to VirusTotal in February.

Azorult Loader General Information using Detect It Easy

The loader downloaded is not actually written on disk but is later executed in an allocated memory. The binary content is stored as a byte array in the variable $image, and later stored in a memory block buffer $imagebBuf using a copy function from System.Runtime.InteropServices.Marshal

Powershell script storing the loader into byte array and later allocated into a memory block

The loader contains some anti-analysis features where it terminates its process when it matches its list of common sandbox usernames and hostnames. The following usernames and hostnames are monitored: “Paul Jones”, “Joe Cage”, “PJones”, “STRAZNJICA GRUBUTT”, “WillCarter-PC”, “FORTI-PC”.