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What is a Fileless Malware Attack – Stages & How it Works

The term “fileless” itself suggests a threat or technique which does not require a file. This thing live in a machine’s memory.

What is Fileless Malware

Basically, fileless functionality includes execution, persistence, information theft, and much more. This attack chain doesn’t need to have has the true fileless. There are few parts which have the require fileless techniques.

Fileless threats will have no trace after the execution, it make things challenging and makes things detect and remove. This type of technique will allow an attacker to access the system and it enables malicious activity.

Through this, it will manipulate the exploit, macros, legitimate tool, elevate privilege, etc. The attacker also will customize the system.

Fireless attacks are effective, which include traditional security software detection. This will make the file look as written as a machine’s disk, which you can scan and assess if they are malicious.

However, there are few threats which are not visible and they can be easily executed in the system memory. For doing these, there are commonly known whitelisted tools Windows Management, PowerShell, PsExec, etc.

There are much fireless threats which abuses task automation. It also configures the framework management from PowerShell.

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This is mainly built with the Windows operating system, and these applications include programming interfaces (APIs); this is a very crucial phase for any application function.

Attackers will start appealing, which will allow them to execute the essential system and its application function. Attackers will find the things appealing where it will enable them to distribute payloads and execute the malicious commands.

Fireless Malware Techniques

Fireless Malware is also well-known as a non-malware attack. It uses the existing vulnerabilities to make the system infected. After you start using fireless malware attacker has to take advantage of the vulnerable software, and this permanently will be installed on the user’s computer. The attacker only has to take control and carry the attack.

Like the traditional malware, even for fireless malware no need to get installed or download the software in the victim’s machine. A perfect malware always uses his system and service to access the device. To carry his malicious activity, he even needs Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows PowerShell access. Many security technologies has utilities where you can easily detect malicious activity, and those actions are also legitimate.

It has not been mentioned anywhere, but it’s a fact that fireless malware exists in the computer’s random memory (RAM). This only makes things difficult where the matter comes for the detection, The user will not find any stored file to scan the defensive security system.

After that, it also leaves forensic evidence, which you can investigate after identifying the breach. Since fireless malware runs inside the computer’s RAM, and will not save to the hard drive, the attacker will have the smaller opportunity to execute his attack. After the system gets rebooted, will reinitiate attack.

Stages of a Fileless Malware Attack

Here you can see how the fireless attack happens; and you will get the step by step procedure

  • Gain access – In this the attacker gains the remote access in the victim’s system to establish at attack beachhead.
  • Steal Credential – In the previous step the attacker got access, and now he is trying to obtain the credential for the environment. The system will allow the attacker to move quickly to the other system in the same domain.
  • Maintain Persistence – Now, the attacker has to set a backdoor that will allow him to return the environment without repeat the initial step of the previous attack.
  • Exfiltrate Data – This is the last step where the attacker has to gather the data he wants and he prepare for the exfiltration. He also needs to copy one location then compress thing by using the compact method, after that attacker removes the data by uploading FTP from the victim’s environment.

How can the Organizations Defend Against Fileless Threats?

There are much techniques which allows the attack to be persistent. This will turn into an affect on any organization’s business infrastructure. There is a lack of discrete binary with fireless threats the enterprise users can still be thwart you.

By combating the fireless attack, you need to multilayer the approach which not depended on the mitigate threat with a file-based countermeasure. Organization has to be secure from the non-critical application, and it must be able to monitor the network traffic.

As an owner you also need to enjoy monitoring your business and keep track of all unusual modification software and application (PowerShell and WMI). There is a custom sandbox and intrusion detection involved, which helps to deter the suspicious traffic (data exfiltration, C&C Communication).


As you know earlier whenever any emergency comes for the computer it always give the code as red, which also shows the vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Information Service (IIS). There are a few notable fireless attacks includes

  1. SQL Slammer- This attack happened in 2003 that exploited the vulnerability through the Microsoft SQL Server.
  2. Stuxnet- It is very much sophisticated, and it was firstly uncovered in 2010. It may get developed in 2005 and mainly designed for nuclear enrichment, which is wholly related to the physical system.
  3. UIWIX- This is a threat uncovered in 2017 and exploited by some vulnerability but it was fileless.


The fireless attack is not new; these are becoming more common nowadays. The attacker can exploit the vulnerability for the company’s unpatched version, and it used to gets executed by malicious commands.

According to the study, from 2017, 77% of the breaches using fireless techniques. This report says that compared to others, it is more than ten times the chances to succeed. Attackers are continuously increasing using malware due to

  1. It shows undetected for a longer time because the antivirus software is not much effective to detect the attack.
  2. It can also exploit the vulnerability allowing then administrator access, and providing the complete control of the system.
  3. The Attacker will gather data from the target and use that for the latest attack.


As an organization owner, you need to be always careful about fileless attacks. You need to be ready to defend yourself so that you can save your organization. The above tips and techniques can help you to do that successfully

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