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Decrypt “encrypted stub data” in Wireshark

I often use Wireshark to analyze Windows and Active Directory network protocols, especially those juicy RPC 😉 But I’m often interrupted in my enthusiasm by the payload dissected as “encrypted stub data”:

Can we decrypt this “encrypted stub data?” 🤔

The answer is: yes, we can! 💪 We can also decrypt Kerberos exchanges, TGTs and service tickets, etc! And same for NTLM, as I will show you near the end.

Wait, is that magic?

Wireshark is very powerful, as we know, but how can it decrypt data? Actually there’s no magic required because we’ll just give it the keys it needs.

The key depends on the chosen algorithm (RC4, AES128, AES256…) during the Kerberos exchange, and they derive from the password (this is simplified but you didn’t come here to read the Kerberos RFC, right? 🤓).

My preferred method to get the Kerberos keys is to use mimikatz DCSync for the target user:

You’ll directly notice the AES256, AES128, and DES keys at the bottom, but what about the RC4 key? As you may have guessed, it’s simply the NT hash 😉

Just remember that modern Windows environments will likely use AES256 so that’s what we’ll target.

Keep tabs on the keys

Kerberos keys are commonly stored in “keytab” files, especially on Linux systems. By the way, if you find a keytab during a pentest, don’t forget to extract its keys because you’ll be able to create a silver ticket against the service, as I once did (see below ️⬇️️), or access other services with this identity.

Clément Notin on Twitter: "#Pentest success story:1. Steal .keytab file from a Linux server for a webapp using Kerberos authentication🕵️2. Extract Kerberos service encryption key using https://t.co/itX7S337o03. Create silver ticket using #mimikatz🥝 and pass-the-ticket4. Browse the target5. Profit!😉 pic.twitter.com/yI9yfoXDrb / Twitter"

Pentest success story:1. Steal .keytab file from a Linux server for a webapp using Kerberos authentication🕵️2. Extract Kerberos service encryption key using https://t.co/itX7S337o03. Create silver ticket using #mimikatz🥝 and pass-the-ticket4. Browse the target5. Profit!😉 pic.twitter.com/yI9yfoXDrb

So it’s no surprise that Wireshark expects its keys in a keytab too. It’s a binary format which can contain several keys, for different encryption algorithms, and potentially for different users.

Wireshark wiki describes how to create the keytab file, using various tools like ktutil. But the one I found the most convenient is keytab.py, by Dirk-jan @_dirkjan Mollema, who wrote it to decrypt Kerberos in his research on Active Directory forest trusts. I especially like that it doesn’t ask for the cleartext password, just the raw keys, contrary to most other tools.

First, download keytab.py (you don’t even need the entire repo). Additionally, install impacket if you have not already done so.

Then, open the script and edit lines 112 to 118 and add all the keys you have (in hexadecimal format) with the number corresponding to their type. For example, as we said, most of the time AES256 is used, corresponding to type 18.

The more keys you have, the better 🎉 If you are hesitant, you can even include the RC4 and AES256 keys for the same user. As Dirk-jan comments in the code, you can include the “krbtgt” key, “user” keys (belonging to the client user), “service” keys (belonging to the service user), and even “trust” keys (if you want to decrypt referral tickets in inter-realm Kerberos authentications). You can also add “computer account” keys to decrypt machines’ Kerberos communications (machine accounts in AD are users after all! Just don’t forget the dollar at the end when requesting their keys with DCSync). You don’t need to worry about the corresponding username or domain name in the keytab; it doesn’t matter for Wireshark.

Finally, run the script and pass the output filename as argument:

$ python keytab.py keytab.kt

Back to Wireshark


Now that you have the keytab, open the Wireshark Preferences window, and under Protocols, look for “KRB5”.

Check “Try to decrypt Kerberos blobs” and Browse to the location of the keytab file you just generated.

Decrypt Kerberos

Now you can try opening some Kerberos exchanges. Everything that is properly decrypted will be highlighted in light blue. Here are a couple examples:

AS-REQ with the decrypted timestamp
AS-REP with the decrypted PAC (containing the user’s privileges, see [MS-PAC])
TGS-REP with its two parts, including the service ticket, both containing the same session key

⚠️ If you notice parts highlighted in yellow it means that the decryption failed. Perhaps the corresponding key is missing in the keytab, or its value for the selected algorithm was not provided (check the “etype” field to see which algorithm is used). For example:

👩‍🎓 Surprise test about Kerberos theory: can you guess whose key I provided here, and whose key is missing?

Answer: We observe that Wireshark can decrypt the first part which is the TGT encrypted with the KDC key, but it cannot decrypt the second part which is encrypted with the client’s key. Therefore, here the keytab only contains the krbtgt key.

Decrypt other protocols

Do you remember how this all began? I wanted to decrypt RPC payloads, not the Kerberos protocol itself!

And… it works too! 💥

Quick reminder first, the same color rule applies: blue means that decryption is ok, and yellow means errors. If you see some yellow during the authentication phase of the protocol (here the Bind step) the rest will certainly cannot be decrypted:

Here are some examples where it works, notice how the “encrypted stub data” is now replaced with “decrypted stub data” 🏆

It also works with other protocols, like LDAP:

workstation checking if its LAPS password is expired, and thus due for renewal

Additional tips

A modified keytab file does not take effect immediately in Wireshark. Either you have to open the Preferences, disable Kerberos decryption, confirm, then re-open it to re-enable it, which is slow and annoying… Or the fastest I’ve found is to save the capture, close Wireshark and re-open the capture file.

What about NTLM? Can we do the same decryption if NTLM authentication is used? The answer is yes! 🙂

In the Preferences, scroll to the “NTLMSSP” protocol, and type the cleartext password in the “NT Password” field. This is described in the Wireshark NTLMSSP wiki page where I have added some examples. Some limitations contrary to Kerberos: you need the cleartext password and it must be ASCII only (this limitation is mentioned in the source code) so it is not applicable to machine account passwords, and you can only provide one at a time, contrary to the keytab which can hold keys for several users.


I hope these tips will help you in your journey to examine “encrypted stub data” payloads using Wireshark. This is something that we often do at Tenable when doing research on Active Directory, and I hope it will benefit you too!

Protocols become increasingly encrypted by default, which is a very good thing… Therefore, packet capture analysis, without decryption capabilities, will become less and less useful, and I’m thankful to see those tools including such features. Do you know other protocols that Wireshark can decrypt? Or perhaps with other tools?

Decrypt “encrypted stub data” in Wireshark was originally published in Tenable TechBlog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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