Everything in this post was done on a Windows 10 22H2 machine. Kernel version was: 10.0.19041.2486


Microsoft Warbird is an undocumented encryption technology generally used for things relating to software licensing (DRM) and security mechanisms. There has been some, but not much, previous open source research. Some links which provide further insight:

  • https://github.com/KiFilterFiberContext/warbird-obfuscator
  • https://github.com/KiFilterFiberContext/microsoft-warbird/

In addition, Alex Ionescu talked about Warbird in depth during this presentation.

The Warbird technology is appears to be designed to be integrated at compile time, and could function either as an obfuscation approach on the existing code, or as some type of “enclave” block encryptor. This second approach is what this post will dive into.


There is a semi-undocumented system information class for NtQuerySystemInformation called SystemControlFlowTransition (0xB9) which when called ends up in the WbDispatchOperation function. Placing a breakpoint on this function will show that the sppsvc.exe process periodically calls this. More on this later. WbDispatchOperation will branch into several different functions depending on the operation value passed when calling NtQuerySystemInformation. The struct looks something like this:

typedef struct _WB_OPERATION
	ULONG Operation;
	PVOID Buffer;
    ... (operation dependent data)

These are the operations:

  • 1 = WbDecryptEncryptionSegment
  • 2 = WbReEncryptEncryptionSegment
  • 3 = WbHeapExecuteCall
  • 4 = non symbol name function
  • 5 = non symbol name function.
  • 6 = same as case 5
  • 7 = WbRemoveWarbirdProcess
  • 8 = WbProcessStartup
  • 9 = WbProcessModuleUnload
    Each one of these operations has some type of unique operation dependent data attached to the initial struct. Reversing the sppsvc.exe can give us hints on how these structures should be formatted and how they are called. The decrypt and re-encrypt steps can occur multiple times. The rough pseudocode based on sppsvc.exe for calling WbProcessStartup looks like this:
SystemInfo[0] = 8;                      // Operation (WbProcessStartup)

SystemInfo[1] = &buffer;
NtQuerySystemInformation(0xB9, SystemInfo, 0x10, NULL);

Where buffer:

    ULONG: 0,
    ULONG: 0x64,
    ULONG64: 0,
    ULONG: 0

The name WbProcessStartup seems to suggest that sometype this call does some form of initialization which is required before decrypting/reencrypting data. However, this does not appear to be the case, and the calls to decrypt/reencrypt seem to work without. The rough pseudocode based on sppsvc.exe for calling WbDecyptEncryptionSegment looks like this:

SystemInfo[0] = 1;                      // Operation

SystemInfo[1] = WarbirdPayload;         // At this point it is encrypted

SystemInfo[2] = PEBaseAddress;          // Base Address of the PE

SystemInfo[3] = 0x140000000;            // Image Base

SystemInfo[4] = UnknownLong64;          // Possibly something relating to encryption        

SystemInfo[5] = 0x2;                    // Unknown flags

result = NtQuerySystemInformation(0xB9, SystemInfo, 0x30u, NULL);

It’s important to note that the WarbirdPayload is actually embedded in the sppsvc.exe binary in a section named ?g_Encry. There are multiple of these sections.

Payload Format

For decryption (WbDecyptEncryptionSegment) the payload is in the format of WB_PAYLOAD structure.

typedef struct _WB_SEGMENT 
	ULONG Flags;
	ULONG Length;

typedef struct _FEISTEL_ROUND
	ULONG Three;
	ULONG Four;

typedef struct _WB_PAYLOAD {
	BYTE Hash[0x20];        // SHA 256 hash of the payload sha256(payload size - 0x20)

	ULONG TotalSize;		// Total size (includes all segments)

	ULONG Reserved;			// Set to 0

	ULONG PayloadRVA;		// Offset between start of payload struct and actual start of the data passed (WarbirdPayload) in the NtQuerySystemInformation call

	ULONG SecondStageRVA;	// Offset between start of second stage struct and actual start of the data passed (WarbirdPayload) in the NtQuerySystemInformation call

	ULONG SecondStageSize;	// Size of the UnknownData in DWORDs

	ULONG UnknownLong;		// Looks like this is reserved. Must be 0?

	ULONG64 ImageBase;		// PE image base

	BYTE Unknown2[0x8];		// Looks like this is reserved. Must be 0?

	ULONG64 FeistelKey;
	FEISTEL_ROUND Rounds[10];
	ULONG SegmentCount;		// Number of segments

	WB_SEGMENT Segments[1]; // Segment struct(s)


The most important field is the Segments, an array of WB_SEGMENT structures. These point (using RVA) to the encrypted blocks of code to be decrypted. The flags field in the WB_SEGMENT specify what protection the segment should be decrypted as. If any value is present, it is a PAGE_EXECUTE_READ else it is PAGE_READONLY.

How to Encrypt

As you may have noticed in the supported operations values, and from the description of the sppsvc.exe usage, there is no encrypt. This is most likely because this API is intended to be used only after a binary is compiled with the Warbird encrypted chunks. To get around this, you can use the WbReEncryptEncryptionSegment functionality to first decrypt some random data, replace that data with the bytes we want to encrypt. Then, reencrypt this same memory. If you then save this strucutre (the segment bytes as well as the payload structure) you can then have memory that when restored, can simply be decrypted.

The Mitigation

Note that sppsvc.exe is a Windows signed binary. This brings us to a problem. In Alex Ionescu’s talk he explained that part of the patch Microsoft made to fix the bug he found was only allow decryption of payloads that were signed by the Windows team at Microsoft. The kernel does this by calling ZwQueryVirtualMemory with the MemoryImageInformation class on the memory passed as the payload. Process Hacker’s NT headers have the structure for this undocumented memory class. The ImageFlags is then compared to ensure the memory was backed with the appropriate signature.

The Bypass

This however, is not a perfect mitigation as at runtime memory which has been backed by a PE with specific signatures can be modified simply by changing the existing virtual memory protections (RX to RW or RWX).

Putting it all Together

Here is a simplified view of how this whole process will work. The “code” resides within the address space of a signed image. WB Diagram

PoC Code

This PoC will simply follow the steps above. In summary, this will load a signed DLL as the scratch space, then decrypting, writing code, reencrypting, and finally decrypting again.