SharpShell: The Worst Scripting Engine of All-Time by Ryan Cobb


In my last post I introduced SharpGen, a .NET Core console application that utilizes the Roslyn C# compiler to quickly cross-compile .NET Framework console applications and libraries. In this post I’ll introduce a very similar, but slightly different tool: SharpShell!

To preface, I view SharpShell mostly as a fun proof-of-concept that demonstrates some C# tradecraft possibilities for future operational projects. I view SharpGen as a more operationally useful tool.


The idea of SharpShell is very similar to SharpGen, in that it uses the RoslynC# compiler to cross-compile .NET Framework assemblies. However, unlike SharpGen, SharpShell is designed to compile and execute the compiled assemblies in memory. SharpShell provides a rudimentary shell-like interface and acts as a very basic scripting engine.

By very basic, I mean very basic. Every one-liner exists on it’s own, no variables are carried over between one-liners, and it has no tab-completion or any of the other nice features or syntax you might be used to having in a legitimate scripting engine. SharpShellessentially just takes C# one liners, embeds them into a class, compiles them into assemblies, executes them, and outputs the results as text. This is why I like to refer to it as the worst scripting engine of all time!

SharpShell is broken up into three distinct C# projects:

  • SharpShell — SharpShell is the most straightforward of the three projects. It acts as an interactive shell and scripting engine for C# code compiled against chosen source code, references, and resources. The main caveat with SharpShell is that it depends upon .NET Framework 4.6 and 3.5/4.0 being installed on the system. This is because SharpShell depends upon the Roslyn API, which requires 4.6, and executes an assembly in memory cross-compiled for you choice of versions 3.5 or 4.0.
  • SharpShell.API — SharpShell.API and SharpShell.API.SharpShell are two projects meant to be used in tandem. To avoid the opsec limitations and .NET Framework 4.6 requirements of SharpShell, SharpShell.APIacts as a web-server that handles the compilation for SharpShell.API.SharpShell. SharpShell.API is a ASP.NET Core 2.1 application and is cross-platform.
  • SharpShell.API.SharpShell — SharpShell.API.SharpShell provides the same interface as SharpShell, but doesn’t have the .NET Framework 4.6 requirement. SharpShell.API.SharpShell runs on .NET Framework 3.5, but also requires network communication with a SharpShell.API server for handling compilation of assemblies.

Standalone SharpShell

Let’s walkthrough an example using the standalone version of SharpShell. We start up SharpShell and are given a shell-like interface:

As the name suggests, we can execute C# code through this shell interface:

SharpShell expects a return statement somewhere in your code, and will transform the returned value into a string and display it as output:

You can specify multi-line code strings by using the \ escape symbol. The logic can be as complex as you like, as long as you have a return statement:

SharpShell starts to become more powerful once combining this shell-like interface with the capabilities of SharpGen, such as compiling against chosen source code, references, and resources. SharpShell by default compiles against the SharpSploitsource code:

For simple one-liners, SharpShell will add the return statement for you:

SharpShell can be configured with custom source code, references, and embedded resources in just the same way as SharpGen by editing YAML configuration files. Reference the SharpGen blog post for configuration details.

Finally, SharpShell will print out the compilation errors in the event that you experience a typo (I’m sure this will never happen):

Opsec Considerations

There are some important opsec considerations when using the standalone SharpShell. First, there is the obvious consideration that the SharpShellbinary and all configuration files have to be present on disk. As mentioned before, SharpShell is a proof-of-concept. However, SharpShell could fairly easily be weaponized to remove all need for those files to be present on disk.

When developing SharpShell, I also assumed that conducting the compilation on the target system itself would result in temporary compilation files being written to disk. This is what happens when compiling with csc.exe, PowerShell’s Add-Type, or the System.CodeDom.Compilernamespace. For instance, an example of using PowerShell’s Add-Typemodule:

With ProcMon, we can see that powershell.exe spawns off csc.exe and writes several temporary files in the %TEMP% directory, including a *.cs file containing the source code to be compiled. These files are quickly deleted, but appear in a predictable location that could allow an EDR or other endpoint product to create signatures on the compilation of malicious code.

During development, I was under the impression that SharpShell would suffer from this opsec limitation as well. If that were the case, this would be an opsec limitation that would be difficult to avoid. However, I discovered that by using the Roslyn API, we avoid this limitation. This library does not spawn csc.exe and compiles truly in memory.


SharpShell.API is an extremely simple API that abstracts the compilation process away from the client-side project, SharpShell.API.SharpShell. SharpShell.API is a ASP.NET Core 2.1 application, so you must install dotnet core to use this project. However, this also makes the project cross-platform.

You can start SharpShell.API by using the dotnet command-line tool: dotnet .\SharpSploit.API.dll

This starts up a locally-bound web server on port 5000. SharpSploit.API also includes a Swagger page for interactive API usage:

SharpShell.API is very simple and only includes a single API endpoint that accepts compilation requests and returns the compiled assembly. All the configuration details are included in the compilation requests:

SharpShell.API.SharpShell uses this web server to request source code to be compiled. SharpShell.API is really only meant to be used for this simple proof-of-concept. SharpShell.API is not C2, please don’t use SharpShell.APIas C2.


I created SharpShell.API.SharpShell as a proof-of-concept that does not have a dependency on .NET Framework 4.6, runs only on .NET Framework 3.5, doesn’t write or expect any extraneous files on disk, and still provides the same shell interface as the standalone SharpShell.

Once SharpShell.API has been started, we can start SharpShell.API.SharpShell and it will connect to our SharpShell.APIinstance and function just the same as SharpShell:

We can also point SharpShell.API.SharpShell at a remote address to communicate with a remote SharpShell.API:


While Microsoft doesn’t appear to yet have any guidance on .NET optics or detection, it does appear that they are beginning to implement these optics. Matt Graeber discovered an undocumented ETW provider that could be utilized to begin taking advantage of these optics:

Matt published a script for collecting these type of events here.

In order to demonstrate how this ETW provider could be utilized to detect SharpShellactivity, I published a slightly modified copy of Matt’s script to make it a bit easier to use and is available here. I’ll be using this script to in the examples below.

First, we’ll start the collector by using the Start-DotNetEventCollectionmethod:

Now that we have begun event collection, we will use SharpShell to execute a shell command and use the Mimikatz coffee command:

We will use the Get-DotNetEvents command to gather .NET events from the specified process:

You can see in the AssembliesLoaded property the SharpShell and Microsoft.CodeAnalysis (Roslyn) assemblies being loaded. While this would not be a particularly resilient detection, defenders could look for these assemblies being loaded to detect SharpShell or assembly compilation activity.

You’ll also be able to look through any of the other properties collected by Matt’s script:

While this script may not be scalable to the enterprise level, defenders could look to collect this type of data using something like KrabsETW.

For more information on .NET optics and detection, I’d recommend watching Luke Jenning’s recent talk at Bluehat that covers this topic.


To describe it succinctly, SharpShell is best for convenience and ease-of-use as a simple proof-of-concept C# scripting engine, and SharpShell.API and SharpShell.API.SharpShell are a proof-of-concept of how this could be properly weaponized.

I see SharpShell.API and SharpShell.API.SharpShell as an example of what could be accomplished over a legitimate C2 channel. Even though SharpShell does accomplish compilation on the target without writing temporary files to disk, I still think it is always safer to compile on the server-side, since there is no real benefit from compiling on the target. And in realistic scenarios, we typically have a convenient C2 communication channel we can use to bring down pre-compiled assemblies to be executed.



Originally posted:

March 25, 2019
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