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Environment Variable-based DLL Hijacking


This repo contains all scripts used to find Environment Variable-based DLL Hijacking candidates on Windows 11 (version 21H2), as described in this blog post.


The first step is to create 'dummy' DLLs for all legitimate DLLs that can be found in trusted locations, such as c:\windows\system32.

This project leverages objdump and windres from binutils to get all exports (including ordinals) and resources from a given DLL, respectively. It then uses x86_64-w64-mingw32-gcc to compile a DLL that embeds the same resources and implements the same exports, forwarding any calls to the legitimate DLL file in its original location.

The second step is to find vulnerable programs. To see if an executable is vulnerable, point its relevant environment variables to an attacker-controlled location containing the compiled DLLs, and run it. If the DLL was successfully loaded, a file will be generated in c:\users\public\, containing the name of the executable as well as the DLL it loaded.


The input/ folder of this repository represents the C: root of the target machine. Because the generated DLL files will forward calls to the original/legitimate DLL file, it is important to maintain the folder structure of the original DLL.

For example, if you want to create a clone of c:\windows\system32\dbghelp.dll:

  1. Copy a legitimate version of the DLL to input/windows/system32/dbghelp.dll;
  2. Update template.c if necessary;
  3. Run the bash script (see Usage section below);
  4. Find the compiled DLL file in the output/ folder.


Docker container

To run this project in a Docker container, do the following:

  1. Clone this project and cd into the repository's folder;
  2. Build the Docker image via
    docker build -t wietze/mingw-tools:1.0 .
  3. Run the script via:
    docker run --rm -ti -v `pwd`:/mnt wietze/mingw-tools:1.0 /bin/bash


To run this project on a Linux-based machine, do the following:

  1. Ensure binutils-mingw-w64-x86-64 is installed, e.g. via:
    apt install binutils-mingw-w64-x86-64 # Debian-based systems only
  2. Verify at least version 38.0 is installed via:
    x86_64-w64-mingw32-objdump -v
    If an older version is present and cannot be upgraded, you will have to build binutils-mingw-w64-x86-64 yourself. This can be done by executing:
  3. Clone this project and cd into the repository's folder;
  4. Run the script via:

Finding DLL Hijacking candidates

The next step is to run a target executable with one of its environment variables set to the location that holds your compiled DLLs.

To do this in PowerShell, you could use the following snippet:

$startinfo = New-Object System.Diagnostics.ProcessStartInfo
$p = New-Object System.Diagnostics.Process
$p.StartInfo = $startinfo

Ensure you update the target process (line 2), the environment variable name (line 3-4) and the path to your folder (line 4). This path will depend on where you put the DLL files, as well as the expected format of the used environment variable.

To test every signed executable in c:\windows\system32 with the SYSTEMROOT environment variable, you could use this PowerShell script.

Repos Contents

Item Description Main project file. For any legitimate files put in the input/ folder, compiles corresponding dummy DLLs to the output/ folder. See instructions above.
template.c The C code template that will be used for compiling the target DLLs.
execute_signed_system32_exes.ps1 PowerShell script that can be used to perform Environment Variable-based DLL Hijacking with %SYSTEMROOT% against signed Microsoft executables in c:\windows\system32. File that can be used to build the latest version of binutils-mingw-w64-x86-64 - optional.
Dockerfile A Dockerfile that when built into a Docker image, can be used for compilation.
LICENSE The licence file of this project. This file.


Project for identifying executables and DLLs vulnerable to environment-variable based DLL hijacking.