Import Adress Table (IAT) Hooking


  • Windows portable executable contains a structure called Import Address Table (IAT)

  • IAT contains pointers to information that is critical for an executable to do its job:

    • a list of DLLs it depends on for providing the expected functionality

    • a list of function names and their addresses from those DLLs that may be called by the binary at some point

  • It is possible to hook function pointers specified in the IAT by overwriting the target function's address with a rogue function address and optionally to execute the originally intended function

Below is a simplified diagram that attempts to visualize the flow of events before and after a function (MessageBoxA in this example, but could be any) is hooked:

Before hooking

  1. the target program calls a WinAPI MessageBoxA function

  2. the program looks up the MessageBoxA address in the IAT

  3. code execution jumps to the kernel32!MessageBoxA address resolved in step 2 where legitimate code for displaying the MessageBoxA (green box) lives

After hooking

  1. the target program calls MessageBoxA like before hooking

  2. the program looks up the MessageBoxA address in the IAT

  3. this time, because the IAT has been tampered with, the MessageBoxA address in the IAT is pointing to a rogue hookedMessageBox function (red box)

  4. the program jumps to the hookedMessageBox retrieved in step 3

  5. hookedMessageBox intercepts the MessageBoxA parameters and executes some malicous code

  6. hookedMessageBox calls the legitimate kernel32!MessageBoxA routine


In this lab I'm going to write a simple executable that will hook MessageBoxA in its process memory space by leveraging the IAT hooking technique and redirect it to a function called hookedMessageBox as per above visualisation and then transfer the code execution back to the intended MessageBoxA routine.

IAT hooking is usually performed by a DLL injected into a target process, but for the sake of simplicity and illustration, in this lab, the IAT hooking is implemented in the local process.

To hook the MessageBoxA we need to:

  1. Save memory address of the original MessageBoxA

  2. Define a MessageBoxA function prototype

  3. Create a hookedMessageBox (rogue MessageBoxA) function with the above prototype. This is the function that intercepts the original MessageBoxA call, executes some malicious code (in my case, it invokes a MessageBoxW) and transfers code execution to the original MessageBoxA routine for which the address is retrieved in step 1

  4. Parse IAT table until address of MessageBoxA is found

    1. More about PE parsing in Parsing PE File Headers with C++

    2. More about Import Address Table parsing in Reflective DLL Injection

  5. Replace MessageBoxA address with address of the hookedMessageBox

As a reminder, we can check the IAT of any binary using CFF Explorer or any other PE parser. Below highlighted is one of the IAT entries - the target function MessageBoxA that will be patched during runtime and swapped with hookedMessageBox:


Below is the code and key comments showing how IAT hooking could be implemented:

#include <iostream>
#include <Windows.h>
#include <winternl.h>

// define MessageBoxA prototype
using PrototypeMessageBox = int (WINAPI *)(HWND hWnd, LPCSTR lpText, LPCSTR lpCaption, UINT uType);

// remember memory address of the original MessageBoxA routine
PrototypeMessageBox originalMsgBox = MessageBoxA;

// hooked function with malicious code that eventually calls the original MessageBoxA
int hookedMessageBox(HWND hWnd, LPCSTR lpText, LPCSTR lpCaption, UINT uType)
	MessageBoxW(NULL, L"Ola Hooked from a Rogue Senor .o.", L"Ola Senor o/", 0);
	// execute the original NessageBoxA
	return originalMsgBox(hWnd, lpText, lpCaption, uType);

int main()
	// message box before IAT unhooking
	MessageBoxA(NULL, "Hello Before Hooking", "Hello Before Hooking", 0);
	LPVOID imageBase = GetModuleHandleA(NULL);
	PIMAGE_NT_HEADERS ntHeaders = (PIMAGE_NT_HEADERS)((DWORD_PTR)imageBase + dosHeaders->e_lfanew);

	IMAGE_DATA_DIRECTORY importsDirectory = ntHeaders->OptionalHeader.DataDirectory[IMAGE_DIRECTORY_ENTRY_IMPORT];
	importDescriptor = (PIMAGE_IMPORT_DESCRIPTOR)(importsDirectory.VirtualAddress + (DWORD_PTR)imageBase);
	LPCSTR libraryName = NULL;
	HMODULE library = NULL;

	while (importDescriptor->Name != NULL)
		libraryName = (LPCSTR)importDescriptor->Name + (DWORD_PTR)imageBase;
		library = LoadLibraryA(libraryName);

		if (library)
			PIMAGE_THUNK_DATA originalFirstThunk = NULL, firstThunk = NULL;
			originalFirstThunk = (PIMAGE_THUNK_DATA)((DWORD_PTR)imageBase + importDescriptor->OriginalFirstThunk);
			firstThunk = (PIMAGE_THUNK_DATA)((DWORD_PTR)imageBase + importDescriptor->FirstThunk);

			while (originalFirstThunk->u1.AddressOfData != NULL)
				functionName = (PIMAGE_IMPORT_BY_NAME)((DWORD_PTR)imageBase + originalFirstThunk->u1.AddressOfData);
				// find MessageBoxA address
				if (std::string(functionName->Name).compare("MessageBoxA") == 0)
					SIZE_T bytesWritten = 0;
					DWORD oldProtect = 0;
					VirtualProtect((LPVOID)(&firstThunk->u1.Function), 8, PAGE_READWRITE, &oldProtect);
					// swap MessageBoxA address with address of hookedMessageBox
					firstThunk->u1.Function = (DWORD_PTR)hookedMessageBox;


	// message box after IAT hooking
	MessageBoxA(NULL, "Hello after Hooking", "Hello after Hooking", 0);
	return 0;


Our binary's base address (ImageBase) in memory is at 0x00007FF69C010000:

Before IAT manipulation, MessageBoxA points to 0x00007ffe78071d30:

If interested, we can manually work out that MessageBoxA is located at 0x00007ffe78071d30 by:

  1. adding the ImageBase 0x00007FF69C010000 and Relative Virtual Address (RVA) of the First Thunk of MessageBoxA 0x000271d0 which equals to 0x00007FF69C0371D0

  2. dereferrencing 0x00007FF69C0371D0

Dereferrencing 0x00007FF69C0371D0 (0x00007FF69C010000 + 0x000271d0) reveals the MessageBoxA location in memory 0x00007ffe78071d30:

Now, our hookedMessageBox is located at 0x00007ff396d5440:

After the IAT manipulation code executes, MessageBoxA points to hookedMessageBox at 0x00007ff396d5440

Once the function pointers are swapped, we can see that calling the MessageBoxA with an argument Hello after Hooking does not print Hello after Hooking, rather, the message text is that seen in the hookedMessageBox routine, confirming that the IAT hook was successful and the rouge function was called first:

Below shows the entire flow of key events that happen in this program:

  1. Before hooking, MessageBoxA is called with an argument Hello Before Hooking and the program displays the message as expected

  2. After IAT hooking, MessageBoxA is called with an argument Hello after Hooking, but the program gets redirected to a hookedMessageBox function and displays Ola Hooked from a Rogue Senor .o.

  3. Finally, hookedMessageBox calls the original MessageBoxA which prints out the intended Hello after Hooking


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