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Starting a Process from KernelMode

, 25 Mar 2006
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How to start a Win32 process from within a driver
Sample Image - KernelExec.jpg


After many unsuccessful attempts trying to find a way to start a working Win32 process from KernelMode, I finally stumbled upon a promising piece of code that was both original and innovative (Note: the idea belongs to Valerino).

Unfortunately that code didn't seem to work properly on my machine, and it always ended up crashing it, or just a process (in the most fortunate cases). So I've decided to reimplement Mighty Valerino's idea in my own way (although the structure of the code is basically the same).

So let's get started. First, you must know of...


APC, standing for Asynchronous Procedure Call, represents a kernel procedure that is queued to a particular thread for execution. In other words, it's a code that is forcibly executed in a thread's context (This method is mostly employed by the I/O Manager). That is the SIMPLEST explanation I can give you, and that's all you need to know for now. There are three types of APCs:

  1. Kernel APCs - They can be queued to any kernel thread and they will execute only if the specified thread isn't already executing a Kernel APC.
  2. Special Kernel APCs - Basically the same as above. They run at IRQL APC_LEVEL and cannot be blocked except by running at a raised IRQL. They can always preempt normal Kernel APCs.
  3. User APCs - These are APCs that can be queued to UserMode threads, but there's a catch: the thread must have previously called a wait service like WaitForSingleObject with the Alertable field set to TRUE. The APC will be invoked next time the thread returns from KernelMode. This is the kind of APC that we will be dealing with from now on.

Enough talking. Let's get to the fun part.

Running That Process

A brief description of the idea behind starting a Win32 process is the following:

  1. We loop through the list of running processes until we find Explorer.exe. Why explorer.exe? Because it's a desktop-interactive service (I tried popping up a message box from WinLogon.exe and I could only hear the sound of it). It also has many waiting threads (both alertable and non-alertable), so it works best with this code.
  2. Once we've found Explorer.exe, we iterate through its threads searching for an alertable thread. If no such thread is found, we simply save a pointer to a non-alertable one and set its ApcState.UserApcPending to TRUE, thus making it alertable (Notice: in this case it usually takes a few seconds for the thread to return to KernelMode).
  3. Now we have the PEPROCESS of Explorer.exe and one of its PETHREADs. Next we queue our APC object (which will contain the code to be executed in UserMode) and when it completes, we just release the memory that we have previously allocated for it. That's all.

The Implementation

The main procedure is RunProcess(LPSTR lpProcess) where lpProcess must be the FULL PATH to the application that is to be run (c:\RawWrite.exe in our example):

void RunProcess(LPSTR lpProcess)
  PEPROCESS pTargetProcess = NULL;//self explanatory
  PKTHREAD pTargetThread = NULL;  //thread that can be either
                                  //alertable or not
  PKTHREAD pNotAlertableThread = NULL;//non-alertable thread
  PEPROCESS pSystemProcess = NULL; //May not necessarily be the
                                   //'System' process

  PETHREAD pTempThread = NULL;
  PLIST_ENTRY  pNextEntry, pListHead, pThNextEntry;


We start off by retrieving a pointer to the 'System' process:

  pSystemProcess = PsGetCurrentProcess();
  //make sure you are running at IRQL PASSIVE_LEVEL

pSystemProcess->ActiveProcessLinks is a LIST_ENTRY field that contains links(pointers) to other processes (PEPROCESS) running on the machine. Let's search for Explorer.exe and save a pointer to it and to one of its threads. (Note: you can queue an APC to ANY process, even CSRSS or SVCHOST, but the system will probably crash.) Once we've got a pointer to Explorer.exe and one of its threads (I will not explain how to do that here), it's time to queue our APC to that thread:

  //No alertable thread was found, so let's hope
  //we've at least got a non-alertable one
  pTargetThread = pNotAlertableThread;

  DbgPrint("KernelExec -> Targeted thread: 0x%p",
  //We have a thread, now install the APC

InstallUserModeApc has the following prototype...

                   IN LPSTR lpProcess,
                   IN PKTHREAD pTargetThread,
                   IN PEPROCESS pTargetProcess);

... where pTargetProcess points to the PEPROCESS of Explorer.exe and pTargetThread is the PKTHREAD which the APC will be queued to. Let's now allocate some memory for that APC and for an MDL (Memory Descriptor List) to map our UserMode code:

ULONG dwSize = 0; //Size of code to be executed in Explorer's address space

pApc = ExAllocatePool (NonPagedPool,sizeof (KAPC));

dwSize = (unsigned char*)ApcCreateProcessEnd-
         (unsigned char*)ApcCreateProcess;
pMdl = IoAllocateMdl (ApcCreateProcess, dwSize, FALSE,FALSE,NULL);

//Probe the pages for Write access and make them memory resident
MmProbeAndLockPages (pMdl,KernelMode,IoWriteAccess);

Our APC is now valid and pMdl is memory resident and maps our UserMode code (ApcCreateProcess() that is. We'll get to that later). So what now? Should we deliver our APC to the thread and watch our Win32 process run? No no no.. not so fast!

How is Explorer.exe's thread supposed to invoke our APC routine if it doesn't have access to the Kernel memory? It cannot do that! Fine then, let's map our APC code to UserMode memory:


//Attach to the Explorer's address space

//Now map the physical pages (our code) described by pMdl
pMappedAddress =

To continue, first I must show you how ApcCreateProcess (the code mapped to UserMode memory, into Explorer's address space) works:

void ApcCreateProcess(
  PVOID NormalContext,
  PVOID  SystemArgument1,
  PVOID SystemArgument2)
    mov eax,0x7C86114D
    push 1
    push 0xabcd
    call eax
    jmp end
    //...about 400 nop's here
    ret 0x0c

void ApcCreateProcessEnd(){}
//Used only to calculate the size of the code above

We move the address of WinExec into eax (0x7C86114D is its address, on WinXP SP2), we push 1 on the stack (SW_SHOWNORMAL) and then we push... 0xabcd before calling WinExec. Why 0xabcd you might ask? Well, push 0xabcd is the first parameter of WinExec and it points to the path of the application to be executed. But that means 0xabcd cannot possibly point to the path all the time!

Why don't you simply push lpProcess from RunProcess(LPSTR lpProcess) then? Answer - Because WinExec will NOT be able to access it and it will throw an 'Access Violation' at you! You cannot access Kernel memory from UserMode, remember? Instead, right after we map our code to UserMode memory, we copy the path to the location right after the first nop instruction (that's why there are so many nops in there) and we modify 0xabcd to point to it. Now here's the code:

ULONG *data_addr=0; //just a helper to change the address of the 'push' instruction
                    //in the ApcCreateProcess routine
ULONG dwMappedAddress = 0; //same as above

pMappedAddress =
dwMappedAddress = (ULONG)pMappedAddress;

//zero everything out except our assembler code
memset ((unsigned char*)pMappedAddress + 0x14, 0, 300);

//copy the path to the executable
memcpy ((unsigned char*)pMappedAddress + 0x14,
        strlen (lpProcess));

data_addr = (ULONG*)((char*)pMappedAddress+0x9);//address pushed on the stack
                                                //(originally 0xabcd)...
*data_addr = dwMappedAddress+0x14; //gets changed to point to our exe's path

//all done, detach now
KeUnstackDetachProcess (&ApcState);

What's left now is to initialize the APC and queue it to the thread. I will not explain how KeInitializeApc and KeInsertQueueApc work as Tim Deveaux has already done that here.

  //Initialize the APC...
                  &ApcKernelRoutine, //this will fire after
                                     //the APC has returned

  //...and queue it

  //is this a non-alertable thread?
    //if yes then alert it
    pTargetThread->ApcState.UserApcPending = TRUE;


Compiling the Code

This is simple - do a cd sys_path, where sys_path is the path to the driver project, then run build -ceZ. Or just press the F7 key in Microsoft Visual Studio 6.

Now copy KernelExec.sys to your C:\ directory, run Dbgview to see the output of the driver. Then double-click on Start_KE_Driver.exe to install and start the driver. Et voila! RawWrite.exe's window should be on your screen right now!

P.S.: Make sure you first put an application called RawWrite.exe in your c:\ directory, because that is what the driver attempts to run.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Stan Alex
Web Developer
Romania Romania
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

GeneralError at run Start_KE_Driver.exe PinmemberIL_Agent22-Oct-09 22:08 
GeneralRe: Error at run Start_KE_Driver.exe PinmemberIL_Agent22-Oct-09 22:15 
GeneralOpinia mea Pinmembereuacela6-May-09 4:22 
GeneralRe: Opinia mea PinmemberStan Alex7-May-09 21:08 
Generalrawwrite Pinmemberdeshiko24-Feb-09 2:16 
GeneralRe: rawwrite Pinmembergddcxysqw28-Feb-13 5:13 
QuestionQuestion? Pinmemberdeshiko23-Feb-09 20:37 
AnswerRe: Question? PinmemberStan Alex24-Feb-09 4:16 
GeneralRe: Question? Pinmemberdeshiko24-Feb-09 18:26 
QuestionCompilation Errors in VC6 and XP DDK PinmemberSecureCode20-May-08 0:55 
Questionsome question Pinmemberbaisix9-May-07 15:52 
Questionit seems everything ok,but can't run apply process,why? Pinmemberlsxredrain112-Feb-07 15:24 
GeneralGood solution, but it has a problem of compatability with the any new Windows updates... PinmemberRealBobEx24-Nov-06 4:43 
GeneralRe: Good solution, but it has a problem of compatability with the any new Windows updates... PinmemberJimD.99991-May-07 4:54 
GeneralDemo not working [modified] PinmemberSharath C V14-Aug-06 19:55 
GeneralCalling process from Kernel mode in Vista PinmemberSharath C V2-Aug-06 0:49 
GeneralRe: Calling process from Kernel mode in Vista PinmemberStan Alex2-Aug-06 12:04 
GeneralRe: Calling process from Kernel mode in Vista PinmemberSharath C V10-Aug-06 0:38 
Hi Stan,
One more query, which is away from this topic. Is it possible to get the inbuilt administrator token even when the logged in user is a standard user? Any suggestion on this? I am looking for the same in Vista but if you have any suggestion about the same in XP it would be helpful too.
Thanks in advance for your help.
Generalafter reboot Pinmembersysnet17-Jul-06 11:58 
GeneralRe: after reboot PinmemberStan Alex17-Jul-06 15:06 
GeneralRe: after reboot Pinmembersysnet18-Jul-06 23:58 
GeneralRe: after reboot Pinmembergddcxysqw28-Feb-13 5:17 
GeneralError when build Pinmembercgf9925-Mar-06 20:08 
GeneralRe: Error when build Pinmemberwanjianxin11-Sep-06 16:46 
Generalso good code Pinmembercgf9925-Mar-06 19:54 

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