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T1218.002 Control Panel

Adversaries may abuse control.exe to proxy execution of malicious payloads. The Windows Control Panel process binary (control.exe) handles execution of Control Panel items, which are utilities that allow users to view and adjust computer settings.

Control Panel items are registered executable (.exe) or Control Panel (.cpl) files, the latter are actually renamed dynamic-link library (.dll) files that export a CPlApplet function.12 For ease of use, Control Panel items typically include graphical menus available to users after being registered and loaded into the Control Panel.1 Control Panel items can be executed directly from the command line, programmatically via an application programming interface (API) call, or by simply double-clicking the file.1 23

Malicious Control Panel items can be delivered via Phishing campaigns23 or executed as part of multi-stage malware.4 Control Panel items, specifically CPL files, may also bypass application and/or file extension allow lists.

Adversaries may also rename malicious DLL files (.dll) with Control Panel file extensions (.cpl) and register them to HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Control Panel\Cpls. Even when these registered DLLs do not comply with the CPL file specification and do not export CPlApplet functions, they are loaded and executed through its DllEntryPoint when Control Panel is executed. CPL files not exporting CPlApplet are not directly executable.5

Item Value
ID T1218.002
Sub-techniques T1218.001, T1218.002, T1218.003, T1218.004, T1218.005, T1218.007, T1218.008, T1218.009, T1218.010, T1218.011, T1218.012, T1218.013, T1218.014
Tactics TA0005
Platforms Windows
Permissions required Administrator, SYSTEM, User
Version 2.0
Created 23 January 2020
Last Modified 11 March 2022

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
G1003 Ember Bear Ember Bear has used control panel files (CPL), delivered via e-mail, for execution.12
S0260 InvisiMole InvisiMole can register itself for execution and persistence via the Control Panel.5
S0172 Reaver Reaver drops and executes a malicious CPL file as its payload.4


ID Mitigation Description
M1038 Execution Prevention Identify and block potentially malicious and unknown .cpl files by using application control 6 tools, like Windows Defender Application Control7, AppLocker, 8 9 or Software Restriction Policies 10 where appropriate. 11
M1022 Restrict File and Directory Permissions Restrict storage and execution of Control Panel items to protected directories, such as C:\Windows, rather than user directories.


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0017 Command Command Execution
DS0022 File File Creation
DS0011 Module Module Load
DS0009 Process OS API Execution
DS0024 Windows Registry Windows Registry Key Modification


  1. M. (n.d.). Implementing Control Panel Items. Retrieved January 18, 2018. 

  2. Mercês, F. (2014, January 27). CPL Malware - Malicious Control Panel Items. Retrieved January 18, 2018. 

  3. Bernardino, J. (2013, December 17). Control Panel Files Used As Malicious Attachments. Retrieved January 18, 2018. 

  4. Grunzweig, J. and Miller-Osborn, J. (2017, November 10). New Malware with Ties to SunOrcal Discovered. Retrieved November 16, 2017. 

  5. Hromcova, Z. and Cherpanov, A. (2020, June). INVISIMOLE: THE HIDDEN PART OF THE STORY. Retrieved July 16, 2020. 

  6. Beechey, J. (2010, December). Application Whitelisting: Panacea or Propaganda?. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 

  7. Gorzelany, A., Hall, J., Poggemeyer, L.. (2019, January 7). Windows Defender Application Control. Retrieved July 16, 2019. 

  8. Tomonaga, S. (2016, January 26). Windows Commands Abused by Attackers. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 

  9. NSA Information Assurance Directorate. (2014, August). Application Whitelisting Using Microsoft AppLocker. Retrieved March 31, 2016. 

  10. Corio, C., & Sayana, D. P. (2008, June). Application Lockdown with Software Restriction Policies. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 

  11. Microsoft. (2012, June 27). Using Software Restriction Policies and AppLocker Policies. Retrieved April 7, 2016. 

  12. Unit 42. (2022, February 25). Spear Phishing Attacks Target Organizations in Ukraine, Payloads Include the Document Stealer OutSteel and the Downloader SaintBot. Retrieved June 9, 2022.