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Metasploit Framework, Part 2

Created: 07 Sep 2004 • Updated: 02 Nov 2010 | 1 comment
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by Pukhraj Singh, K.K. Mookhey

Editor's Note: This document has been completely rewritten, incorporates a few important bug fixes from the previous article, and discusses changes with MSF version 2.2.
Translation Note: A French translation of this document is also available (PDF), in addition to the Crash Course (PDF) translation on MSF, also in French.

1. Introduction

In the first part of this article series, we discussed how writing exploits is still a painful and time-consuming process. We discussed the common obstacles faced during exploit development and how the Metasploit Framework can solve some of the problems. This article will start off with a brief introduction to the console interface and explain how to select and use an exploit module. We will then cover the environment system, how it works, and what features can be enabled through it.

2. Getting Your Feet Wet

The installed MSF has three work environments, the msfconsole, the msfcli interface and the msfweb interface. However, the primary (and preferred) work area for MSF is the msfconsole. It is an efficient command-line interface that has its own command set and environment system. Although the Framework was designed to run on a Unix-like system, such as Linux or BSD, it will also run on Windows through the Cygwin environment. The Windows installer, from the web site, includes a pre-configured and stripped down version of Cygwin.

During the initialization of msfconsole, standard checks are performed. If everything works out fine we will see the display as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Now the command prompt (msf>) for msfconsole is active. The console is very flexible, and if the user enters any unknown commands, it will search the PATH environment variable for any matching executable. If a matching file is found it is executed much like a standard command prompt.

Instinctively, typing the help command displays a list of commands available as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

The command show exploits lists out the currently available exploits. There are remote exploits for various platforms and applications like Windows, Linux, IIS, Apache, and so on, which help to test the flexibility and understand the working of MSF. This is shown in Figure 3, below.

Figure 3

As you may have noticed, the default installation of the Metasploit Framework 2.0 comes with 18 exploits and 27 payloads, which is quite an impressive stockpile.

To list out the payloads present, execute the show payloads command. The payloads are neat, efficient and very well written. These payloads accomplish a wide array of tasks, such as binding a command shell to a listening port, adding new user accounts, or uploading and executing the program of your choice. MSF even has support for dynamic payload creation, using the InlineEgg library as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Specific information about an exploit can be culled with the command info exploit exploit_name which provides information such as available targets, exploit requirements, details of vulnerability itself, and even references where you can find more information! This is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5

In the same manner, information about a specific payload can be gained by the command info payload payload_name. Starting with version 2.2 of MSF, you can use info module_name, without having to specify the type, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6

3. Using An Exploit

Now we will describe the procedure to select a specific exploit and then run it. The command use exploit_name activates the exploit environment for the exploit exploit_name.

If you select the Microsoft RPC DCOM MSO3-026 exploit using the name msrpc_dcom_ms03_026, you may have noticed the prompt changes from msf> to msf msrpc_dcom_ms03_026 >. This notifies that we are working in the temporary environment of that exploit. The show command can be used to view information about the current exploit. The show options command displays the various parameters which are required to be use the exploit, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7

It's clear that this exploit requires two parameters, RHOST (the target's address) and RPORT (and the target's port, defaults to 135 in this case). The show targets command will list all available targets for the selected exploit module. As you can see, this module only has one target, which works on NT 4.0 SP6, plus all versions of Windows 2000, and all versions of Windows XP.

The show payloads command will list all payloads that are compatible with the selected exploit. MSF does a good job of preventing you from using the wrong payload for a given exploit.

We must set each of the options listed as 'required' before we can use this exploit. In this exploit we only have a single target option, so we set the TARGET variable to 0, with the command set TARGET 0. Many exploits will choose a reasonable default target for you. We now set the target server's IP address with the command set RHOST

Next we need to set the required payload (shellcode) for the exploit. Here we set PAYLOAD to winbind, using the command set PAYLOAD winbind. The payload names may change between versions of MSF, so always check the output of show payloads after an upgrade. This particular payload will cause the server to listen on a port and spawn a command shell when a connection is made. This displays the extensible flexibility of the MSF payload system. Every single exploit included in MSF allows for arbitrary payloads to be selected and used, even custom ones you develop yourself. Notice the prompt changes from msf msrpc_dcom_ms03_026 > to msf msrpc_dcom_ms03_026(winbind) > after selecting a payload. Now we use the show options command to check which options have been set and which are required to be set. As we can see, we still need to supply a value for the LPORT variable as shown in Figure 8. We set it using the command set LPORT 1536.

Figure 8

The EXITFUNC variable is available for almost every Windows payload. This variable controls how the payload will clean up after itself once it accomplishes its task. Quite a few vulnerabilities can be exploited repeatedly, simply by using a different value for EXITFUNC. Fortunately, you rarely have to worry about this as many exploits automatically select the best value for you. Unless you know what you are doing, this value should not set. Setting the wrong value can wreak havoc on the exploited system.

Many exploits and payloads have another set of options, called advanced options. These can be displayed with the command show advanced. Advanced options can perform tasks such as modifying an exploit request to avoid an IDS signature, changing brute force settings, or specifying exact return addresses to use.

At this point, everything is ready and all variables have been set. We make a final check on the exploit with the show options command and verify that we are good to go.

Everything seems perfect. It's show time!

The exploit command actually launches the attack, doing whatever it needs to do to have the payload executed on the remote system.

The check command can be used to whether or not the target system is vulnerable to attack. The check feature is not available with every exploit, but can be useful when you are trying to determine if a system is patched before trying to exploit it.

4. Adding New Exploits/Modules

Adding new exploits to MSF is a breeze. The MSF-compatible remote exploit for IIS 5.x SSL PCT Buffer Overflow was publicly released on 24/04/2004 ( For the purposes of this article we will add the exploit to our MSF stockpile.

After downloading the exploit, the user must note the naming of the Perl module for the exploit. The file name must be the same as the package name, in other words, Msf::Exploit::iis5x_ssl_pct should be saved as Now copy the module to the exploits subdirectory (in case you're using Windows it's /home/framework-2.0/exploits). As soon as the file is copied over, it is ready for use, and you do not even need to restart the console. Use the show exploits command to verify that the module has been loaded correctly.

 msf > show exploits Metasploit Framework Loaded Exploits ==================================== apache_chunked_win32       Apache Win32 Chunked Encoding exchange2000_xexch50       Exchange 2000 MS03-46 Heap Overflow ia_webmail                 IA WebMail 3.x Buffer Overflow iis50_nsiislog_post        IIS 5.0 nsiislog.dll POST Overflow iis50_printer_overflow     IIS 5.0 Printer Buffer Overflow iis50_webdav_ntdll         IIS 5.0 WebDAV ntdll.dll Overflow iis5x_ssl_pct              IIS 5.x SSL PCT Overflow imail_ldap                 IMail LDAP Service Buffer Overflow msrpc_dcom_ms03_026        Microsoft RPC DCOM MSO3-026 mssql2000_resolution       MSSQL 2000 Resolution Overflow poptop_negative_read       PoPToP Negative Read Overflow ... 

    The exploit has been successfully added to the list. The exploit is run in the same way as any other exploit in MSF. Version 2.2 of MSF allows users to keep their own private directory of exploits, payloads, encoders, and nops. Installing a new exploit can be either system-wide, or per-user.

    5. Console Environments

    In previous paragraphs, we made quite a few references to variables and environments, without explaining what they are. An environment is simply a name space for variables. When you set a variable in MSF, it creates a new entry in your current environment. Environments are used to specify exploit parameters and configure various parts of the system. MSF is divided into two logical environments, the Global Environment and the Temporary Environment. Each exploit, when selected, has a temporary environment which overrides the global environment.

    5.1 Global Environment

    The global environment is accessed through the setg and unsetg commands. Calling setg displays the current global environment and calling unsetg flushes out all global environment settings.

    As shown below in Figure 9, we set the value of LHOST, LPORT and PAYLOAD in the global environment to permanent values and save the changes with the save command.

    Figure 9

    The save command writes out all the current environments to a file on disk. Versions 2.0 and 2.1 place this data into the file $HOME/.msfconfig, and version 2.2 places the saved environments into $HOME/.msf/config. The saved environments are loaded the next time any of the MSF user interfaces are started. It is common practice to set global environments such as LHOST and LPORT and save them to disk, removing the need to set them on a per-exploit basis.

    5.2 Temporary Environment

    The temporary environments are sub-environments which override global settings. The Temporary environment is tied to the currently selected exploit. Every exploit's environment is isolated from the rest, allowing the user to easily switch between preconfigured exploits with the use command.

    5.3 Advanced Environment Settings

    MSF provides quite a few advanced settings which are configured through environment variables. These settings include the logging system, socket options, and debugging parameters.

    5.3.1 Logging Options

    The logging features can be activated by setting the Logging (global as well as temporary name) variable to a non-zero value. The directory for logs is set by changing the LogDir (global as well as temporary name) variable which defaults $HOME/.msflogs. The msflogdump utility can be used to view the session logs. Starting with version 2.2, the logs are stored in $HOME/.msf/logs.

    5.3.2 Socket Options

    The various timeout and proxy settings can be changed by setting the following environment variables.

    Msf::Socket::Proxies (global name) or Proxies (temporary name): This variable can used to set the proxy (SOCKS4 and HTTP) settings for network connections. It supports proxy chains which can be specified in the format chain type:host:port and is separated by commas for each proxy server.

    Msf::Socket::RecvTimeout (global name) or RecvTimeout (temporary name): This specifies the maximum number of seconds allowed for reading from a socket.

    Msf::Socket::ConnectTimeout (global name) or ConnectTimeout (temporary name): This is to specify the connect timeout period of a socket (defaults to 10 seconds).

    Msf::Socket::RecvTimeoutLoop (global name) or RecvTimeoutLoop (temporary name): Set the maximum time (in seconds) to wait for a connection before the socket is closed. This loop is reactivated at every data receive.

    5.3.3 Debugging Options

    The environment variable DebugLevel sets the debugging level and the verbosity options for the Framework and modules. The verbosity increases depending on the value of the variable, which ranges between 0 and 5.

    5.3.4 Payload Options

    By default, the encoding process will cycle through all the modules until it finds one that avoids the particular restricted character set for the current exploit. The precedence of encoding modules can be set in an order separated by commas in the environment variable Encoding. In the same way, the Nop variable is used to specify the nop generating routine precedence. This can be useful when you need to avoid certain IDS signatures.

    The RandomNops variable tells the nop generator module to use randomizes sequences of nop-like instructions instead of the standard nop opcode. This can be also be used to avoid IDS signatures. Version 2.2 includes support for smart random nop generation, where each exploit can specify the registers which should not be modified by the nop-like opcodes.

    6. Conclusion

    After reading the second part of this article, you should have a solid grasp of what the Metasploit Framework is and how you can start using it. We described the msfconsole interface, the general process for selecting and using an exploit, and how environment system works.

    This article paves the way for the third and final part of this article series. In part three, we will explain the other user interfaces, the included helper utilities, and some basic guidelines for developing your own exploit modules. We will discuss its future potential by anticipating the new features which will be added to the framework.


    About the authors

    Pukhraj Singh is a security researcher at Network Intelligence (I) Pvt. Ltd. His areas of interest include working with exploits, monitoring honeypots, intrusion analysis and penetration testing.

    K. K. Mookhey is the CTO and Founder of Network Intelligence.

    View more articles by K.K. Mookhey on SecurityFocus.

    Comments or reprint requests can be sent to the editor.

    This article originally appeared on -- reproduction in whole or in part is not allowed without expressed written consent.

    Comments 1 CommentJump to latest comment

    Zahid.Haseeb's picture


    its a very nice article. I have read the part2. Few queries :

    1.) What is exploit and payload ?

    what I understand that the exploit is just setting the target machine IP and ports and it itself dont have any code/script and the payload is actually a code or can say payload is a gun for attack.

    2.) The payload which is design to exploit a vulnerability , that vulnerability should be present in the target system (correct) ? 

    3.) if point no.2 is correct let suppose we scan a system via nessus or via any vulnerability scanner and found any vulnerability on a system, So is that possible that we can search that vulnerability's payload in the MSF ? 

    Any comment will be appreciated. Mark as Solution if your query is resolved
    Thanks in Advance
    Zahid Haseeb

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