Multiple APT groups are exploiting VPN vulnerabilities, NSA warns

Pierluigi Paganini October 09, 2019

NSA is warning of multiple state-sponsored cyberespionage groups exploiting enterprise VPN Flaws

Last week, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported that advanced persistent threat (APT) groups have been exploiting recently disclosed VPN vulnerabilities in enterprise VPN products in attacks in the wild. Threat actors leverage VPN vulnerabilities in Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and Pulse Secure, to breach into the target networks.

The UK agency reported that APT groups target several vulnerabilities, including CVE-2019-11510 and CVE-2019-11539 in Pulse Secure VPN solutions, and CVE-2018-13379,

The CVE-2018-13379 is a path traversal vulnerability in the FortiOS SSL VPN web portal that could be exploited by an unauthenticated attacker to download FortiOS system files. The CVE-2018-13379 flaw could be exploited to obtain administrator credentials in plain text.

The CVE-2019-11510 flaw in Pulse Connect Secure is a critical arbitrary file read vulnerability.

APT groups also exploit CVE-2018-13382, CVE-2018-13383, and CVE-2019-1579, in Palo Alto Networks products.

The vulnerabilities were first reported in July by researchers Orange Tsai and Meh Chang from DEVCORE that found several flaws in Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and Pulse Secure products. The issues could be exploited by threat actors to access corporate networks and steal sensitive documents

Microsoft researchers recently reported that the APT5 cyberespionage group (aka MANGANESE) has been exploiting VPN vulnerabilities since July, some weeks before PoC exploits were publicly discosed.

Now NSA is warning of multiple state-sponsored cyberespionage groups exploiting enterprise VPN Flaws

“Multiple Nation State Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors have weaponized CVE-2019-11510, CVE-2019-11539, and CVE-2018-13379 to gain access to vulnerable VPN devices.” reads the security advisory published by the NSA.

“If a malicious actor previously exploited the vulnerability to collect legitimate credentials, these credentials would still be valid after patching. NSA recommends resetting credentials after a vulnerable VPN device is upgraded and before it is reconnected to the external network:

  • Immediately update VPN user, administrator, and service account credentials.
  • Immediately revoke and generate new VPN server keys and certificates. This may require redistributing VPN connection information to users.
  • If compromise is suspected, review accounts to ensure no new accounts were created by adversaries.”

Both NCSC or NSA intelligence agencies confirmed that APT groups targeted several sectors, including military, government, academic, business and healthcare. The security advisories published by the agencies did not name any APTs leveraging the above VPN vulnerabilities.

In August, BadPackets experts observed a mass scanning activity targeting Pulse Secure “Pulse Connect Secure” VPN endpoints vulnerable to CVE-2019-11510. At the time, over 14,000 vulnerable Pulse Secure endpoints were hosted by more than 2,500 organizations. The number of vulnerable endpoints dropped to roughky 6,000 by October 8, most of them in the United States, Japan and the UK.
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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – VPN vulnerabilities, hacking)

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