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Ramesh RamachandranQUALYSBLOG:1D4C1F32168D08F694C602531AEBC9D9
HistoryJul 18, 2023 - 1:38 p.m.

Part 2: An In-Depth Look at the Latest Vulnerability Threat Landscape (Attackers’ Edition)

2023-07-1813:38:53
Ramesh Ramachandran
blog.qualys.com
41

10 High

CVSS3

Attack Vector

NETWORK

Attack Complexity

LOW

Privileges Required

NONE

User Interaction

NONE

Scope

CHANGED

Confidentiality Impact

HIGH

Integrity Impact

HIGH

Availability Impact

HIGH

CVSS:3.1/AV:N/AC:L/PR:N/UI:N/S:C/C:H/I:H/A:H

10 High

CVSS2

Access Vector

NETWORK

Access Complexity

LOW

Authentication

NONE

Confidentiality Impact

COMPLETE

Integrity Impact

COMPLETE

Availability Impact

COMPLETE

AV:N/AC:L/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C

0.976 High

EPSS

Percentile

100.0%

The previous blog from this three-part series showcased an overview of the vulnerability threat landscape. To summarize quickly, it illustrated the popular methods of exploiting vulnerabilities and the tactical techniques employed by threat actors, malware, and ransomware groups. Perhaps more crucially, we stated that commonly used solutions (CISA KEV/EPSS) often fall short in identifying high-risk vulnerabilities.

In this blog, we will focus on an insider's perspective on the threat landscape, viewing it through the eyes of an attacker. We will examine how quickly vulnerabilities get exploited in the wild, identify popularly sought-after vulnerabilities by threat actors, malware, and ransomware groups, and explore their underlying motives.

We will also provide insights on what measures to take you can take to safeguard your organizations from these vulnerabilities.

So, let's dive headfirst into this intriguing world without further ado.

How Fast Are Vulnerabilities Getting Exploited (Time to CISA KEV)?

We've already highlighted one of the most noteworthy efforts by the team at CISA - the creation of the known exploited vulnerabilities catalog in our previous blog. Initiated as part of Binding Operational Directive 22-01 in 2021, this project was born out of the need to minimize risks associated with these vulnerabilities. In its early years, there was a substantial backlog to address. Still, by 2023, the CISA team has had their operation running like a well-oiled machine and is swiftly updating the catalog with newly exploited vulnerabilities as soon as evidence emerges.

So, let's dive deep into understanding how quickly the vulnerabilities get exploited in the wild, as disclosed by the National Vulnerability Database(NVD).

The following graph illustrates the average duration it takes to include a vulnerability in the Known Exploited Vulnerabilities (KEV) catalog from when it was published in NVD.

For those CVEs disclosed in 2023, the gap to time to KEV was just eight days.

Average Time to CISA KEV in daysFig 1. Average Time in Days to CISA KEV Catalog

Defenders, therefore, have limited time to respond to vulnerabilities. The only viable response is through automation to patch these vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them. Note that the average timeframe mentioned here, as in some instances, vulnerabilities are exploited almost instantly.

Which Vulnerabilities Are Exploited and by Whom?

So which vulnerabilities are exploited in the wild? And who is exploiting them? Are there any specific vulnerabilities that are more sought-after than others? If so, which ones?

To understand these questions, let's examine three main groups of attackers.

  • Threat Actor groups
  • Malwares
  • Ransomware groups

Although there is some overlap within each group, it appears to favor a slightly different set of vulnerabilities depending on the use case.

Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Threat Actors

Here’s a list of the top ten vulnerabilities exploited by threat actors.

The chart below shows the number of threat actors known to exploit a given vulnerability.

Fig 2. Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Threat Actors for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Title CVEs Threat Actor Count TruRisk Score**(QVS)** Description
Microsoft Office/WordPad Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-0199 53 100 Allows a malicious actor to download Visual Basic script containing PowerShell commands. Works reliably well across a wide attack surface. Popular with APT Groups.
Microsoft Office Equation Editor Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-11882 52 100 Exploits Office's default Equation Editor feature by tricking the user to open a malicious file. This one is the hacking group’s most favorite vulnerability, especially groups such as Cobalt or other malware as you will see in the next section.
Windows Common Controls Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2012-0158 45 100 Executes remote code by tricking the user to click on a malicious link or specially crafted malicious file.
Apache Log4j RCE (Log4Shell) CVE-2021-44228 26 100 Log4Shell. Do we need to say anything more?
Microsoft Office Memory Corruption Vulnerability CVE-2018-0802 24 100 Executes remote code by tricking the user to open a specially crafted malicious file in Office or WordPad.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyLogon) CVE-2021-26855 22 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server in its default configuration. Heavily exploited by the Hafnium group among others.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-34473 20 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server. Can be clubbed with other CVE’s CVE-2021-34523 and CVE-2021-31207 making it more attractive to cybercriminals.
Arbitrary file write vulnerability in Exchange CVE-2021-27065 19 95 Requires authentication that can then write arbitrary file write vulnerability in Exchange. Leveraged as part of the attack chain once an attacker has initial access. Exploited by Hafnium group among others.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-34523 17 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server. Can be chained with other CVE’s CVE-2021-34473 and CVE-2021-31207 making it more attractive to cybercriminals.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-31207 17 95 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server. Can be chained with other CVE’s CVE-2021-34473 and CVE-2021-31207 making it more attractive to cybercriminals.

Table 1. Top 10 Vulnerabilities Exploited by Threat Actors for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Top Ten Highly Active Threat Actors

Next, let’s talk about some of the most active threat actors known to leverage the maximum number of vulnerabilities as part of their arsenal capable of compromising systems across the globe.

Fig 3. Most Active Threat Actors for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Threat Actor CVEs Exploited Description
Equation Group** ** 51 Uses a variety of malware, including backdoors, trojans, and rootkits, often targeting zero-day vulnerabilities. Such kinds of malware are often challenging to detect and remove.
Fancy Bear** ** 44 Best known as APT28 or Sofacy, it uses advanced malware and spear-phishing tactics. The group is also known for using “watering hole” attacks. In 2016, APT28 reportedly attempted to interfere with the U.S. presidential elections.
Wicked Panda** ** 30 Also known by Axiom, Winnti, APT41, or Bronze Atlas. This group conducts financially motivated operations. It's been observed to target healthcare, telecom, technology, and video game industries in 14 countries.
Ricochet Chollima** ** 26 Also known as APT37, Reaper, and ScarCruft, they primarily target financial institutions, academics, and journalists.
Labyrinth Chollima** ** 24 This is a sub-group of the Lazarus Group that has been attributed to the Reconnaissance General Bureau. It was reportedly responsible for the November 2014 destructive wiper attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment as part of a known campaign called The Operation Blockbuster campaign by Novetta.
Stardust Chollima** ** 22 Also known as BlueNoroff, it is a sub-group of the Lazarus Group and has been attributed to the Reconnaissance General Bureau, target banks, financial institutions, casinos, cryptocurrency exchanges, SWIFT system endpoints, and ATMs in at least 38 countries worldwide.
Carbon Spider** ** 22 Also known as Carbanak, FIN7, and Anunak, this threat actor is a financially motivated threat group that targets the U.S. retail, restaurant, and hospitality sectors, often using point-of-sale malware.
Cozy Bear** ** 20 Also known as APT29, often targets government networks in Europe and NATO member countries, research institutes, and think tanks.
APT37** ** 20 It is also linked to the following campaigns between 2016-2018: Operation Daybreak, Operation Erebus, Golden Time, Evil New Year, Are You Happy? FreeMilk, North Korean Human Rights, and Evil New Year 2018.

Table 2. Most Active Threat Actors for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Top Ten Most Exploited Vulnerabilities by Malware

Now, let’s check some of the commonly exploited vulnerabilities by malware.

Fig 4. Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Malware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Title CVEs Malware Count TruRisk Score (QVS) Description
Microsoft Office Equation Editor Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-11882 467 100 The absolute granddaddy of all CVEs most exploited by malware.
In the history of CVEs, this would be the most beloved malware CVE of all time.
Microsoft Office/WordPad Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-0199 92 100 Allows a malicious actor to download Visual Basic script containing PowerShell commands. Works reliably well across a wide attack surface. Popular with APT Groups.
Java Applet Field Bytecode Verifier Cache RCE CVE-2012-1723 91 100 Exploits the vulnerability in JRE to download and install files of an attacker’s choice onto the system.
Microsoft Office Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-8570 52 100 Executes remote code by tricking the user to open a malicious RTF file. Bypasses the patch from CVE-2017-0199. Known to be used in malware spam campaigns.
Windows Graphics Device Interface (GDI) RCE CVE-2019-0903 30 93 Exploits vulnerability in the Graphics Component which is fundamental part of the Windows OS used for rendering graphics.
Microsoft Office Memory Corruption Vulnerability CVE-2018-0802 29 100 Exploits a vulnerability that was not patched by CVE-2017-11882.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyLogon) CVE-2021-26855 19 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server in its default configuration. Heavily exploited by Hafnium group among others.
Microsoft Windows Netlogon Privilege Escalation (ZeroLogon) CVE-2020-1472 17 100 Allows an unauthenticated attacker with network access to a domain controller to completely compromise all Active Directory identity services.
Lets the attacker instantly become an admin on enterprise networks.
Microsoft Windows CryptoAPI Spoofing Vulnerability CVE-2020-0601 17 95 Enables attackers to execute spoofing attacks, masquerading malicious programs as legitimate software, apparently authenticated with a genuine digital signature.
This essentially allows for the delivery of malware under the guise of legitimate software.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-34473 12 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server.
It can be chained with other CVE’s CVE-2021-34523 and CVE-2021-31207 making it more attractive to cybercriminals.

Table 3. Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Malware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Top Ten Most Active Malware

And here’s a list of the ten most common malware names that are known to exploit vulnerabilities that compromise systems.

Fig 5. Most Active Malware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Malware CVEs Count Description
Heuristic 117 Heuristic viruses can refer to malware detected by heuristic analysis or the virus Heur. The Invader, which compromises a device’s security and antivirus measures. Some examples of heuristic viruses include adware and Trojans.
Wacatac 94 Also known as Trojan: Win32/Wacatac.B, is a trojan horse that is designed to steal personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.
Pidief 73 Pidief malware is a file infector, that can infect executable files, such as .exe files, it will modify the file to execute the Pidief malware.
Skeeyah 52 Skeeyah malware is a file infector that can infect executable files, such as .exe files. It will modify the file in a way that will execute the Skeeyah malware when the file is opened.
Bitrep 49 Trojan horse virus that infiltrates a computer via a vulnerability in Adobe Flash. Swifi is downloaded from a malicious website without user knowledge or consent and may cause performance degradation, and security malfunctions leading to unauthorized users gaining remote access
Meterpreter 46 Meterpreter is a malicious trojan-type program that allows cyber criminals to remotely control infected computers, without writing anything to disk. This malware can log keystrokes - recording keyboard input (keys pressed) to steal credentials (logins, passwords) linked with various accounts and personal information.
Swifi 42 Trojan horse virus that infiltrates a computer via a vulnerability in Adobe Flash. Swifi is downloaded from a malicious website without user knowledge or consent, and may cause performance degradation, and security malfunctions leading to unauthorized users gaining remote access
IFrame 38 The iframes are used to inject malicious content into a website and can be spread through malicious websites that contain iframes with malicious content.
Lotoor 35 It can infect Android devices, often spread through malicious apps available on third-party app stores. These apps may appear to be legitimate, but they actually contain the Lotoor malware.
Redirector 34 Redirects users to malicious websites without their knowledge or consent. This type of malware can be very dangerous, leading users to download other malicious software or enter personal information.

Table 4. Most Active Malware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Ransomware

Lastly, let's examine the vulnerabilities that ransomware tends to exploit. Ransomware is a particular type of malware that encrypts data on storage systems, rendering them inaccessible unless the victim pays a ransom, typically in Bitcoin. Since the notorious WannaCry crypto-ransomware incident in May 2017, the use of such malicious software has notably escalated.

The latest report on such escalating threat involves a data breach during a MOVEit transfer, for which the BlackCat ransomware gang claimed responsibility. This same group alleges to be behind the data theft attack on Reddit.

Fig 6. Top Ten Vulnerabilities Exploited by Ransomware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Title CVEs Ransomware Count TruRisk****Score (QVS) Description
Microsoft Office Equation Editor Remote Code Execution Vulnerability CVE-2017-11882 14 100 Allows an unauthenticated attacker to exploit the vulnerability in SMBv1 to completely compromise systems. It was used by the WannaCry crypto worm as part of a worldwide cyberattack.
Java AtomicReferenceArray deserialization RCE CVE-2012-0507 42 100 Exploits the vulnerability in JRE to download and install files of an attacker’s choice onto the system by tricking the user to visit a malicious link. Old CVE, but still relevant.
Java Applet Field Bytecode Verifier Cache RCE CVE-2012-1723 13 100 Exploits the vulnerability in JRE to download and install files of an attacker’s choice onto the system.
Windows SMB v1 Remote Code Execution (WannaCry) CVE-2017-0145 13 100 Allows an unauthenticated, remote attacker to read arbitrary files allowing the attacker to access private keys or user/password information, which is then used to gain further unauthorized access.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-34473 12 100 Allows an unauthenticated user to run arbitrary commands on the exchange server. It Can be chained with other CVE’s CVE-2021-34523 and CVE-2021-31207 making it more attractive to cybercriminals.
Pulse Connect Secure SSL VPN Vulnerability CVE-2019-11510 12 100 Allows an unauthenticated attacker to exploit the vulnerability in SMBv1 that completely compromises systems. It was leveraged by the WannaCry crypto worm as part of a worldwide cyberattack.
Windows SMB v1 Remote Code Execution (WannaCry) CVE-2017-0144 12 95 Allows an unauthenticated attacker with network access to a domain controller to completely compromise all Active Directory identity services. It lets the attacker instantly become an admin on enterprise networks.
Microsoft Windows Netlogon Privilege Escalation (ZeroLogon) CVE-2020-1472 11 93 Allows an unauthenticated attacker with network access to a domain controller to completely compromise all Active Directory identity services. It lets the attacker instantly become an admin on enterprise networks.
Microsoft Exchange Server Remote Code Execution Vulnerability (ProxyShell) CVE-2021-34523 10 100 Allows an unauthenticated attacker with network access to a domain controller to completely compromise all Active Directory identity services.
It lets the attacker instantly become an admin on enterprise networks.
Citrix Application Delivery Controller/NetScaler RCE CVE-2019-19781 10 100 Allows an unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code on the system. Was leveraged to drop NOTROBIN malware to maintain persistent access.

Table 5. Top 10 Vulnerabilities Exploited by Ransomware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Fig 7. Most Active Ransomware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Ransomware CVEs****Count Description
Conti 30 "Conti" is a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) targeting corporations and agencies by stealing and threatening to publish their sensitive data unless a ransom is paid. It uses unique encryption keys for each file and victim and leverages the Windows Restart Manager to unlock files for encryption. Cerber

Table 6. Most Active Ransomware for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

Prioritizing Exploited Vulnerabilities with The Qualys VMDR and TruRisk

Oftentimes, malicious actors frequently target diverse sets of vulnerabilities to accomplish their objectives. As such, keeping track of who is exploiting what can be daunting, and it's certainly not an efficient use of the time for practitioners or security & risk management leaders.

Hence, The Qualys VMDR with TruRisk facilitates this process, substantially simplifying the prioritization process by translating the risk associated with vulnerabilities, assets, and asset groups into an easily understandable score that both technical and non-technical teams can comprehend this scoring system.

When you carefully observe, each vulnerability mentioned above has a TruRisk Score (QVS) of over 90. TruRisk considers these factors daily, consistently assigning a score higher than 90.

So, from a prioritization standpoint, any issue with a score of 90 or above should be immediately prioritized and remedied.

Let’s take CVE-2017-11882 as an example. The TruRisk score clearly indicates why this is a high-risk vulnerability, with more than 400 malware and 50 threat actors exploiting it, and we see evidence of exploitation as recently as July 16th, 2023, for a 6-year-old vulnerability.

Fig 8. Microsoft Office Memory Corruption Vulnerability: CVE-2017-11882

Assess Your Organizations Exposure to Risk / TruRisk Dashboard

The Qualys VMDR helps organizations get instant visibility into high-risk vulnerabilities, especially those exploited in the wild.

Fig 9. Qualys VMDR TruRisk Dashboard for High-Risk Vulnerabilities

The fastest method to gain insights into your TruRisk is by downloading and importing the TruRisk Dashboard into your VMDR subscription.

The TruRisk VMDR Dashboard is available – Download the Dashboard Here

And once you have the visibility patch with Qualys Patch management instantly reduce the risk.

Key Insights & Takeaways

  • The time to Known Exploited Vulnerability (KEV) is down to eight days for CVEs published in 2023. Defenders should leverage automation to patch high-risk vulnerabilities.
  • CVE-2017-11882 stands out as the pinnacle among CVEs in its exploitation by malware, threat actors, and ransomware groups. With over 400 malware, 50 threat actors, and 14 ransomware groups taking advantage of this vulnerability, it will likely be remembered as the most cherished attacker CVE ever.
  • Attackers prominently exploit vulnerabilities in popular applications such as Microsoft Office, Microsoft Exchange, Windows Operating systems, Java, Pulse Secure SSL VPN, and Citrix ADC/NetScaler. Attackers seek these applications** primarily due to their widespread usage and potential for exploiting security weaknesses.**
  • Organizations should leverage threat intelligence to prioritize vulnerabilities that reduce the risk of exploitation.
  • The Qualys VMDR with TruRisk automatically prioritizes vulnerabilities exploited in the wild with a TruRisk score of 90 or higher, greatly simplifying the prioritization process.

Concluding this series in the next blog we will discuss the 15 most exploited vulnerabilities ever.

Watch out for our next blog.

References

Additional Contributor

Shreya Salvi, Data Scientist, Qualys

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10 High

CVSS3

Attack Vector

NETWORK

Attack Complexity

LOW

Privileges Required

NONE

User Interaction

NONE

Scope

CHANGED

Confidentiality Impact

HIGH

Integrity Impact

HIGH

Availability Impact

HIGH

CVSS:3.1/AV:N/AC:L/PR:N/UI:N/S:C/C:H/I:H/A:H

10 High

CVSS2

Access Vector

NETWORK

Access Complexity

LOW

Authentication

NONE

Confidentiality Impact

COMPLETE

Integrity Impact

COMPLETE

Availability Impact

COMPLETE

AV:N/AC:L/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C

0.976 High

EPSS

Percentile

100.0%

Related for QUALYSBLOG:1D4C1F32168D08F694C602531AEBC9D9