Historically, Raphael Mudge, the creator of Cobalt Strike, didn’t typically talk about the Cobalt Strike roadmap publicly. He preferred to play his cards close to his chest and only revealed the details about each release when it went live (and he didn’t give much warning about the release date, either). That was his way of building excitement for each release. For the most part we’ve continued that tradition, but I’d like to spend a little time being a bit more transparent about our future development plans, before dropping back into the shadows.
I spent about a year working closely with Raphael after HelpSystems acquired Strategic Cyber, amongst other things being educated on what makes Cobalt Strike so special. One of the many things that he instilled in me is that the fundamental principles of Cobalt Strike are stability and flexibility. He was excited to see a team of experienced, professional software engineers being built around the product to provide the stability and we’ve continued to add flexibility over the past few releases – for example, with the recent sleep mask kit and user defined reflective loader kit. That’s our mantra: Stability and Flexibility.
Raphael also cautioned against adding cutting edge, out of the box evasion techniques to Cobalt Strike. The obvious danger is that once they’re inevitably fingerprinted, we’d get stuck in an endless loop of fixing those issues rather than working on new features. Cobalt Strike’s defaults are easily fingerprinted and that’s by design. The idea is that you bring your own tools and techniques to Cobalt Strike and use those. That’s what makes it unique.
We spend a lot of time engaging with our user community on social media, Slack and Discord, sometimes engaging directly in those threads and sometimes via DM, email or on video calls. I love that aspect of my role. It’s great to get the opportunity to interact directly with people that are using Cobalt Strike and see first-hand what’s working and what isn’t.
We’ve had a lot of feedback recently that some users just don’t have the time to work on their own tools because they’re so busy on engagements. We created the Cobalt Strike Community Kit to act as a central repository of extensions written by our users to make it easier to find useful tools but obviously there are cases where specific tools just don’t exist and you don’t have time to write them yourselves. We don’t want to abandon our core philosophy and start adding out of the box evasion to the core product, but we are making some changes.
Firstly, we are expanding the development team to provide additional capacity. Secondly, and more importantly, we are changing our development cycle so that we can give you your cake AND let you eat it.
Up until now, we have aimed to get at least three releases out per year. We are moving to a model where we will release updates to core Cobalt Strike (Stability and Flexibility) twice per year. One release will be in the Summer, and another in the Winter. You’re confused. I can sense it. “How does reducing the number of releases help?” Well, the second part of the new release schedule is to ramp up research activities and start releasing more tools outside the regular release schedule. What does this mean? The plan is that essentially, in between those core releases (which should contain more features due to the extended development time between them), we’ll be releasing a steady stream of tools into the Community Kit and/or into the Cobalt Strike arsenal. The location of each tool pretty much depends on the type of tool being released and whether we’re releasing the source as well.
There is a caveat to this, though. There is a little short-term pain while we pivot to this new release model. There will be a small, intermediate Cobalt Strike release this Spring (late March or early April) that doesn’t really have a lot of flashy new features for you, our users, but sets the foundation for future releases. We have a much bigger release planned that should ship around July/August to mark Cobalt Strike’s 10-year anniversary.
The future is bright. HelpSystems continues to invest in Cobalt Strike and expand the team around it. We will continue to listen to our users and give you the product and features that you need.
Feature requests can be submitted to [email protected] and I’m always happy to talk to users on social media, Slack and Discord.