In a development security pros feared, attackers are actively targeting yet another set of critical server vulnerabilities that leave corporations and governments open to serious network intrusions.
The vulnerability this time is in BIG-IP, a line of server appliances sold by Seattle-based F5 Networks. Customers use BIG-IP servers to manage traffic going into and out of large networks. Tasks include load balancing, DDoS mitigation, and web application security.
Last week, F5 disclosed and patched critical BIG-IP vulnerabilities that allow hackers to gain complete control of a server. Despite a severity rating of 9.8 out of 10, the security flaws got overshadowed by a different set of critical vulnerabilities Microsoft disclosed and patched in Exchange server a week earlier. Within a few days of Microsoft’s emergency update, tens of thousands of Exchange servers in the US were compromised.
Day of reckoning
When security researchers weren’t busy attending to the unfolding Exchange mass compromise, many of them warned that it was only a matter of time before the F5 vulnerabilities also came under attack. Now, that day has come.
Researchers at security firm NCC Group on Friday said they’re “seeing full chain exploitation” of CVE-2021-22986, a vulnerability that allows remote attackers with no password or other credentials to execute commands of their choice on vulnerable BIG-IP devices.
“After seeing lots of broken exploits and failed attempts, we are now seeing successful in the wild exploitation of this vulnerability, as of this morning,” Rich Warren, an NCC Group researcher wrote.
After seeing lots of broken exploits and failed attempts, we are now seeing successful in the wild exploitation of this vulnerability, as of this morning https://t.co/Sqf55OFkzI
— Rich Warren (@buffaloverflow) March 19, 2021
In a blog post NCC Group posted a screenshot showing exploit code that could successfully steal an authenticated session token, which is a type of browser cookie that allows administrators to use a web-based programming interface to remotely control BIG-IP hardware.
Security firm Palo Alto Networks, meanwhile, said that CVE-2021-22986 was being targeted by a devices infected with a variant of the open-source Mirai malware. The tweet said the variant was “attempting to exploit” the vulnerability, but it wasn’t clear if the attempts were successful.
Other researchers reported Internet-wide scans designed to locate BIG-IP servers that are vulnerable.
Opportunistic mass scanning activity detected from the following hosts checking for F5 iControl REST endpoints vulnerable to remote command execution (CVE-2021-22986).
Vendor advisory: https://t.co/MsZmXEtcTn #threatintel
— Bad Packets (@bad_packets) March 19, 2021
CVE-2021-22986 is only one of several critical BIG-IP vulnerabilities F5 disclosed and patched last week. The severity In part is because the vulnerabilities require limited skill to exploit. But more importantly, once attackers have control of a BIG-IP server, they are more or less inside the security perimeter of the network using it. That means attackers can quickly access other sensitive parts of the network.
As if admins didn’t already have enough to attend to, patching vulnerable BIG-IP servers and looking for exploits should be a top priority. NCC Group provided indicators of compromise in the link above, and Palo Alto Networks has IOCs here.