By Mark Russinovich and Thomas Garnier
Published: February 4, 2016
System Monitor (Sysmon) is a Windows system service and device driver that, once installed on a system, remains resident across system reboots to monitor and log system activity to the Windows event log. It provides detailed information about process creations, network connections, and changes to file creation time. By collecting the events it generates using
Windows Event Collection or
SIEM agents and subsequently analyzing them, you can identify malicious or anomalous activity and understand how intruders and malware operate on your network.
Note that Sysmon does not provide analysis of the events it generates, nor does it attempt to protect or hide itself from attackers.
Overview of Sysmon Capabilities
Sysmon includes the following capabilities:
- Logs process creation with full command line for both current and parent processes.
- Records the hash of process image files using SHA1 (the default), MD5, SHA256 or IMPHASH.
- Multiple hashes can be used at the same time.
- Includes a process GUID in process create events to allow for correlation of events even when Windows reuses process IDs.
- Include a session GUID in each events to allow correlation of events on same logon session.
- Logs loading of drivers or DLLs with their signatures and hashes.
- Logs opens for raw read access of disks and volumes
- Optionally logs network connections, including each connection’s source process, IP addresses, port numbers, hostnames and port names.
- Detects changes in file creation time to understand when a file was really created. Modification of file create timestamps is a technique commonly used by malware to cover its tracks.
- Automatically reload configuration if changed in the registry.
- Rule filtering to include or exclude certain events dynamically.
- Generates events from early in the boot process to capture activity made by even sophisticated kernel-mode malware.
Uses Sysmon simple command-line options to install and uninstall it, as well as to check and modify Sysmon’s configuration:
Install: Sysmon.exe -i <configfile>
[-h <[sha1|md5|sha256|imphash|*],...>] [-n [<process,...>]]
Configure: Sysmon.exe -c <configfile>
[--|[-h <[sha1|md5|sha256|imphash|*],...>] [-n [<process,...>]]
Uninstall: Sysmon.exe -u
|-c||Update configuration of an installed Sysmon driver or dump the current configuration if no other argument is provided. Optionally take a configuration file.|
|-h||Specify the hash algorithms used for image identification (default is SHA1). It supports multiple algorithms at the same time. Configuration entry: HashAlgorithms.|
|-i||Install service and driver. Optionally take a configuration file.|
|-l||Log loading of modules. Optionally take a list of processes to track.|
|-m||Install the event manifest (done on service install as well).|
|-n||Log network connections. Optionally take a list of processes to track.|
|-u||Uninstall service and driver.|
The service logs events immediately and the driver installs as a boot-start driver to capture activity from early in the boot that the service will write to the event log when it starts.
On Vista and higher, events are stored in "Applications and Services Logs/Microsoft/Windows/Sysmon/Operational"
On older systems, events are written to the System event log.
If you need more information on configuration files, use the '-? config' command. More examples are available on the Sysinternals website.
Specify -accepteula to automatically accept the EULA on installation, otherwise you will be interactively prompted to accept it.
Neither install nor uninstall requires a reboot.
Install with default settings (process images hashed with sha1 and no network monitoring)
sysmon -accepteula –i
Install with md5 and sha256 hashing of process created and monitoring network connections
sysmon -accepteula –i –h md5,sha256 –n
Install Sysmon with a configuration file (as described below)
sysmon –accepteula –i c:\windows\config.xml
Dump the current configuration
Change the configuration to use all hashes, no network monitoring and monitoring of DLLs in Lsass
sysmon –c –h * –l lsass.exe
Change the configuration of sysmon with a configuration file (as described below)
sysmon –c c:\windows\config.xml
Change the configuration to default settings
sysmon –c --
On Vista and higher, events are stored in "Applications and Services Logs/Microsoft/Windows/Sysmon/Operational", and on older systems events are written to the System event log. Event timestamps are in UTC standard time.
The following are examples of each event type that Sysmon generates.
Event ID 1: Process creation
The process creation event provides extended information about a newly created process. The full command line provides context on the process execution. The ProcessGUID field is a unique value for this process across a domain to make event correlation easier. The hash is a full hash of the file with the algorithms in the HashType field.
Event ID 2: A process changed a file creation time
The change file creation time event is registered when a file creation time is explicitly modified by a process. This event helps tracking the real creation time of a file. Attackers may change the file creation time of a backdoor to make it look like it was installed with the operating system. Note that many processes legitimately change the creation time of a file; it does not necessarily indicate malicious activity.
Event ID 3: Network connection
The network connection event logs TCP/UDP connections on the machine. It is disabled by default. Each connection is linked to a process through the ProcessId and ProcessGUID fields. The event also contains the source and destination host names IP addresses, port numbers and IPv6 status.
Event ID 4: Sysmon service state changed
The service state change event reports the state of the Sysmon service (started or stopped).
Event ID 5: Process terminated
The process terminate event reports when a process terminates. It provides the UtcTime, ProcessGuid and ProcessId of the process.
Event ID 6: Driver loaded
The driver loaded events provides information about a driver being loaded on the system. The configured hashes are provided as well as signature information. The signature is created asynchronously for performance reasons and indicates if the file was removed after loading.
Event ID 7: Image loaded
The image loaded event logs when a module is loaded in a specific process. This event is disabled by default and needs to be configured with the –l option. It indicates the process in which the module is loaded, hashes and signature information. The signature is created asynchronously for performance reasons and indicates if the file was removed after loading. This event should be configured carefully, as monitoring all image load events will generate a large number of events.
Event ID 8: CreateRemoteThread
The CreateRemoteThread event detects when a process creates a thread in another process. This technique is used by malware to inject code and hide in other processes. The event indicates the source and target process. It gives information on the code that will be run in the new thread: StartAddress, StartModule and StartFunction. Note that StartModule and StartFunction fields are inferred, they might be empty if the starting address is outside loaded modules or known exported functions.
Event ID 9: RawAccessRead
The RawAccessRead event is generated when a process opens a disk or volume for raw read access.
Event ID 255: Error
This event is generated when an error occurred within Sysmon. They can happen if the system is under heavy load and certain tasked could not be performed or a bug exists in the Sysmon service. You can report any bugs on the Sysinternals forum or over twitter (
Configuration files can be specified after the -i (installation) or -c (installation) configuration switches. They make it easier to deploy a preset configuration and to filter captured events.
A simple configuration xml file looks like this:
The configuration file contains a schemaversion attribute on the Sysmon tag. This version is independent from the Sysmon binary version and allows the parsing of older configuration files. You can get the current schema version by using the “-? config” command line.
Configuration entries are directly under the Sysmon tag and filters are under the EventFiltering tag. The schema was simplified on version 2.0 so it is not necessary to enable a particular event and define its filtering. An event is enabled or disabled automatically based on its filter.
Configuration entries are similar to command line switches. Command line switches have their configuration entry described in the Sysmon usage output. Parameters are optional based on the tag. If a command line switch also enables an event, it needs to be configured though its filter tag.
Event filtering entries
Event filtering allows you to filter generated events. In many cases events can be noisy and gathering everything is not possible. For example, you might be interested in network connections only for a certain process, but not all of them. You can filter the output on the host reducing the data to collect.
Each event has its own filter tag under EventFiltering:
|2||FileCreateTime||File creation time|
|3||NetworkConnect||Network connection detected|
You can also find these tags in the event viewer on the task name.
The onmatch filter is applied if events are matched. It can be changed with the "onmatch" attribute for the filter tag. If the value is ‘include’, it means only matched events are included. If it is set to ‘exclude’, the event will be included except if a rule match.
Each tag under the filter tag is a fieldname from the event. Each field entry is tested against generated events, if one matches, the rule is applied and the rest is ignored.
For example, this rule will discard any process event where the IntegrityLevel is medium:
<ProcessCreate onmatch="exclude ">
Field entries can use other conditions to match the value. The conditions are as follow (all are case insensitive):
|is||Default, values are equals|
|is not||Values are different|
|contains||The field contains this value|
|excludes||The field does not contain this value|
|begin with||The field begins with this value|
|end with||The field ends with this value|
|less than||Lexicographical comparison is less than zero|
|more than||Lexicographical comparison is more than zero|
|image||Match an image path (full path or only image name). For example: lsass.exe will match c:\windows\system32\lsass.exe|
You can use a different condition by specifying it as an attribute. For our previous example:
<IntegrityLevel condition="contains">medium</IntegrityLevel >