APRIL 2, 2019

New ServHelper Variant Employs Excel 4.0 Macro to Drop Signed Payload

ServHelper is a recently discovered backdoor associated with TA505. A veteran threat group that has also been associated with the infamous Dridex bank

ServHelper is a recently discovered backdoor associated with TA505. A veteran threat group that has also been associated with the infamous Dridex banking malware, the GlobeIimposter ransomware, and other high-profile malware campaigns.

Deep Instinct Threat Research unit has recently discovered a new variant of ServHelper that employes an Excel 4.0 macro Dropper. A legacy mechanism still supported by Microsoft Office, and an executable payload signed with a valid digital signature.

Since this vector came to light it has gained some traction, although it is still not widespread and is used by only a handful of threat actors.

Attack Flow
Once the malicious Excel sheet is opened the Excel 4.0 macro is executed and msiexec.exe is called in order to download and execute the payload.

[caption id="attachment_4566" align="aligncenter" width="1092"] Excel 4.0 macro snippet, msiexec.exe is called to download and execute the payload. (cropped from oledump.py)[/caption]

ServHelper’s payload, an NSIS Installer signed with a valid digital signature (further details on the certificate ahead), is downloaded by msiexec.exe to its temporary folder (C:\Windows\Installer\MSI[4-charachter-string].tmp) and executed.

Once the dropped payload is executed, it will drop a DLL file contained in the installer to \%TEMP%\xmlparse.dll, and use rundll32.exe to call the DLL’s exported function “sega”.

[caption id="attachment_4565" align="aligncenter" width="360"] xmlparse.dll’s exported functions, functions 1-3 are Delphi compiler artifacts, function 4 is not currently used.[/caption]


The malware will then write a base64 encoded PowerShell script (which is contained in xmlparse.dll as a resource) to \%TEMP%\enu1.ps1 and execute it. The script, intended for reconnaissance purposes, checks if a machine is part of a domain and if the user has Admin privileges or is part of the Admin Group.

[caption id="attachment_4567" align="aligncenter" width="790"] Caption: Decoded reconnaissance PowerShell script.[/caption]


This information is then reported back to ServHelper’s Command & Control server and if the user is part of a domain, the Command & Control server will also instruct the malware to gather a list of other users in the domain.

[caption id="attachment_4568" align="aligncenter" width="435"] Command & Control server response with command to gather a list of users in the domain[/caption]


ServHelper can receive several types of commands from its Command & Control server, including:

  • shell – execute a shell (cmd.exe) command and return its output
  • loaddll download a DLL file and load it using rundll32.exe
  • persist – write an auto-run registry entry at HK_CU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run\ as “Intel Protect”, returns “persistence established” if successful.
  • slp – enter sleep mode
  • selfkill – remove the malware from the infected machine

    [caption id="attachment_4564" align="aligncenter" width="886"] Diagram showing ServHelper attack flow[/caption]


Signed Payload and Core
Both the NSIS Installer payload and ServHelper’s core DLL are, at the time of writing, signed using a valid signature.

[caption id="attachment_4569" align="aligncenter" width="423"] ServHelper signed using a valid signature[/caption]


The certificate used to sign the malware was issued to “MASLAK LTD” of Uxbridge, Great Britain.

While this appears to be a legitimately registered company, further investigation is required to determine the validity of the certificates or whether they have been compromised and the possibility of MASLAK being a shell company.

Our analysis of “MASLAK LTD” certificates reveals another certificate issued by them that was previously used to digitally sign malware, although it has since been revoked (certificate details are provided in the IOCs section).

TA505 is a highly advanced global threat actor. It employs a vast array of sophisticated, constantly developed malware for different purposes, for which it exploits the most recently discovered and publicized weak points.

This, factually, pays off for TA505. The evasive and legitimatizing factors described above, whereby a dropper employs a lesser known and poorly detected old-school technique combined with a validly signed payload and malware core, all contribute to its evasiveness. When this variant first appeared on VirusTotal it was almost completely undetected. Below are links to each component’s initial detections at time of upload:


NSIS Payload

DLL Core

Deep Instinct Threat Research contacted DigiCert (who operate Thawte CA), and was notified that an investigation into the malicious certificate has been initiated.

Deep Instinct’s customers are fully protected against ServHelper’s activity based on D-Brain – Deep Instinct’s Deep Learning security solution.

Update (4/4/19):

Following conclusion of our initial analysis of the described ServHelper variant, Deep Instinct has noticed an uptick in ServHelper’s activity, with new droppers and infection URLs appearing in the wild, a new mildly modified payload and core signed with the same certificate, and an additional Command & Control domain (new indicators have been updated in IOC section).

Deep Instinct has been notified by DigiCert that following Deep Instinct’s report, the certificate used in this ServHelper campaign has been revoked.


Excel 4.0 macro Dropper


NSIS Payloads



ServHelper core DLL



Encoded reconnaissance PowerShell script


“MASLAK LTD” Certificates:


  • Thumbprint (SHA1): 557B9ADADAEF142B7C38AE04F6C1A9FC8E4251C1
  • Serial Number: 68DE1F7207D5EDD81E4B62093139340A


  • Thumbprint (SHA1): B4CDC78A2FCBE0A70A120D7449F956C7B7507E97
  • Serial Number: 3803B0D45F38CEA186D588606C34B63A

Payload URLs:




ServHelper Command & Control: