PowerZure 2.1 Update

It’s been almost a year since my Azure exploitation project PowerZure received an update and in the changing world of Azure/cloud, that means several things broke. PowerZure will now continue to be my focus and receive regular support & updates, starting with the latest release, version 2.1. Several things have been changed and added, some of which need to be explained a bit.


This function will gather all Managed Identities in Azure. It works by gathering all service principals and viewing their application’s URI. If the URI contains ‘identity.azure.net’, then it’s an MI. PowerZure then maps this to their role.

Figure 1: Viewing Managed Identities in Azure


Currently this is a wrapper cmdlet, however after a bug is fixed in the Azure REST API it will allow execution on VMs via CustomScriptExtension without requiring any files.


I don’t know why Az module didn’t have a cmdlet for requesting PIM assignments, so I made one. Currently this only gathers AzureRM assignments. The AzureAD cmdlet for PIM is broke currently as the underlying Graph API request returns a 401 for any user.

Figure 2: Getting the PIM assignments in Azure.

Invoke-AzureVMUserDataAgent & Invoke-AzureVMUserDataCommand

These two functions abuse the ‘userData’ property on virtual machines in Azure

Figure 3: The ‘userdata’ field on a VM.

The userData field can be updated by users with VM write access and the VM can retrieve this property internally from the IMDS REST API. By setting up an “agent” (in this functions context, a Scheduled Task), the VM can routinely check the userData property for any commands passed in and execute them.

Figure 4: Abuse architecture for userData property.

The output is then put back into the userData property which is then readable by anyone with VM Read access. While a bit complex, this way of command execution leaves behind no logs in Azure Event Log. This technique can be abused with Invoke-AzureVMUserDataAgent, which uploads the “agent” which is just a scheduled task and some other things, and with Invoke-AzureVMUserDataCommand, which will pass in a command to the userData property and wait for output from the agent.


Invoke-AzureMIBackdoor abuses the fact that Azure VMs do not require authentication to request data from the IMDS REST API. When a Managed Identity is configured on an Azure VM, the VM can request a Json Web Token (JWT) to login as the MI via a request to IMDS. Since the VM can do this without authentication, it can be abused by exposing the IMDS REST API to the internet. By default, the IMDS REST API is only accessible internally to the VM, but through portproxying, it can be exposed to the internet which allows anyone to request a JWT for the Managed Identity. Once again, this leaves behinds no logs in Azure Event Log and can be used as a very stealthy way of persistence.

This function by default will use RDP for portproxying, meaning web requests will be forwarded from the VM to IMDS over 3389. This will break RDP until that portproxy rule is removed. There’s the -NoRDP option in PowerZure to open up a firewall port in the Network Security Group (NSG) firewall if you want to use a different port. This will obviously generate more logs.

Figure 5: Requesting an MI JWT from the internet.

Bug Fixes

  • Add-AzureSPSecret – now uses Azure REST API instead of the cmdlets to add a secret to a service principal. The secret is autogenerated. If you get a 405 error, ensure you have the correct permissions and are logged in with the correct account.
  • Gathering Graph API tokens is now more reliable and shouldn’t expire.
  • Get-AzureADUserMembership fixed
  • Get-AzureTargets more reliable and neater output
  • Set-AzureSubscription now is an interactive menu. Useful for not having to remember or write down UIDs.

Thank you for the continued support of PowerZure, I’m more than happy to help anyone with debugging issues, you can reach out to me directly on Twitter.

Abusing and Detecting Alternative Data Channel Command Execution on Azure Virtual Machines

Currently, command execution on virtual machines (VM) in Azure happens through the cmdlet Invoke-AzVMRunCommand. There are other specific ways, such as using an Azure Runbook if a RunAs account is being used. However, after some experimentation, there is another data channel that can be abused by Azure VMs to allow an attacker to run commands on a machine without the use of Invoke-AzVMRunCommand* by leveraging userData. The asterisk (*) is there because technically Invoke-AzVMRunCommand is needed once to setup this technique. Before getting into the code and examples, a few things must be covered.

The userData field on an Azure VM is used to include setup scripts or other metadata during provisioning. Through the portal, it looks like this:

Figure 1: Modifying the ‘user data’ field on an Azure VM.

While intended to be used for provisioning, it is also possible to modify the contents of this property even after the VM is created. The VM is able to fetch this property through a REST API call.

$userData = Invoke-RestMethod -Headers @{"Metadata"="true"} -Method GET -NoProxy -Uri ""
Figure 2: Calling the REST API to gather the ‘userdata’ property contents from within the VM.

The REST API in this case runs on the Azure Instance Metadata Service (IMDS). IMDS is intended to be something query-able from the VM in order to fetch metadata about itself, such as name, region, disk space, etc. and is only able to be reached by the localhost as the security boundary for IMDS is the resource it is bound to, which in this case it is the virtual machine. The userData property can then be retrieved through the VM locally over via IMDS and it can also be edited through the Azure portal and Graph REST API.

Invoke-RestMethod -Method PATCH -Uri https://management.azure.com/subscriptions/{subscriptionId}/resourceGroups/{resourceGroupName}/providers/Microsoft.Compute/virtualMachines/{vmName}?api-version=2021-07-01 -Body $Json -Header $Headers -ContentType 'application/json'

While the local VM can query the IMDS REST API with a GET request, GET is the only approved verb, meaning PUT and PATCH was not possible with the URI (IMDS), meaning the local VM cannot modify any metadata (including userData) through IMDS. The metadata can only be modified with the Azure REST API. The permission needed to modify this property is Microsoft.Compute/virtualMachines/write which is included in your typical VM management RBAC roles (VM Contributor, Contributor, etc.).

To summarize:

  • VMs can locally retrieve the userData property from the IMDS REST API
  • Users can modify this property through the portal or Azure REST API

The hypothesized technique then looks like this:

The first challenge was then automating the Azure VM to poll the IMDS REST API for the userData field. If commands are constantly sent, then the VM will have to autonomously make the request to IMDS, decode the command, then run the command. Basically, the VM needs an agent. The simplest method I could think of for a basic agent, was to create a PowerShell script that can be uploaded with Invoke-AzVMRunCommand and will do three things:

  1. Create a Scheduled Task that will run the script when an Event occurs. The chosen event was an Azure-specific event ID that happens several times every minute, ensuring the script is constantly executing.
  2. Make the IMDS REST API request to retrieve the uploaded data/command.
  3. Run the command and upload the result back to the userData field

The final challenge was then sending back the output of the command that was run. Since VMs cannot upload data to IMDS, but it is possible to upload over Azure REST, then including the Azure REST AccessToken in the original uploaded data would allow the VM to make authenticated requests to the Azure REST API and thus use the URI https://management.azure.com/subscriptions/ which does support PATCH & PUT.

To summarize the full technique:

  • By using Invoke-AzVMRunCommand, a PowerShell script is uploaded that will act as an “agent”. The script is autonomous and will deploy a Scheduled Task that will execute the rest of the script on an Event.
  • The initial upload to the userData field that contains the arbitrary command to be run will also include the Azure REST API access token. The data that is uploaded to the userData property will then be the arbitrary command to be run and the Azure REST API access token.
  • The VM will call the IMDS REST API to get the contents of the userData property, decode it, run the command, then use the Azure REST API to make a PUT request to upload the results of the command, which is done by using the smuggled access token.
  • The userData property can then be queried again to see the results of the command.

In PowerZure, this can now be accomplished with the two commands Invoke-AzureVMUserDataCommand and Invoke-AzureVMUserDataAgent.

Detection and Threat Hunting Azure Alternate Data Channels

There’s several assumptions made for this attack to be successful.

  1. The account used to upload data has VM write privileges
  2. Invoke-AzVMRunCommand is able to be executed by users without approval
  3. The VM is on and running

If any of these assumptions are not true, then the technique will fail. In addition, there’s several artifacts left behind by this technique.

  • The scripting agent from PowerZure is located in C:\WindowsAzure\SecAgent\AzureInstanceMetadataService.ps1
  • Invoke-AZVmRunCommand leaves behind the command or script that was run in C:\Packages\Plugins\Microsoft.CPlat.Core.RunCommandWindows\1.1.9\Downloads

Within Azure, Invoke-AzVMRunCommand will leave behind a log in the Activity log.

These logs should always trigger alerts and should be reviewed. Finally, since commands are just being executed from within the PS script agent, PowerShell logging will capture all activity. I personally have never seen the ‘userData’ field ever populated in the Azure portal, so check if anything is there and review its purpose.


Special thank you to @_wald0, @jsecurity101, and @matterpreter.