Cybersecurity authorities just issued alert AA22-117A, which provides information on the top 15 Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) most frequently used and exploited by malicious cyber actors in 2021. This important alert was co-authored by the cybersecurity authorities from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, key participants included the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Please note that there are approximately 611 more dangerous CVEs in the CISA Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog.
The 1,000-Foot View
Throughout 2021, dangerous threat actors targeted newly disclosed critical software vulnerabilities against targeted entities to include both public and private sector organizations worldwide. Malicious cyber actors targeted internet-facing systems, such as email servers and virtual private network (VPN) servers, with exploits of newly disclosed vulnerabilities. For most of the top exploited vulnerabilities, researchers or other actors released proof of concept (POC) code within two weeks of the vulnerability’s disclosure, likely facilitating exploitation by a broader range of malicious actors.
Threat actors continued to exploit publicly known, older software vulnerabilities across a broad spectrum of targets. The exploitation of older vulnerabilities illustrates the continued risk to organizations that fail to patch software in a timely manner or are using software that is no longer supported by a vendor.
Highlighting Some Top Exploited 2021 Vulnerabilities
- CVE-2021-44228. This vulnerability, known as Log4Shell, affects Apache’s Log4j library, an open-source logging framework. An actor can exploit this vulnerability by submitting a specially crafted request to a vulnerable system that causes that system to execute arbitrary code. The request allows a cyber actor to take full control over the system. The actor can then steal information, launch ransomware, or conduct other malicious activity. Log4j is incorporated into thousands of products worldwide. This vulnerability was disclosed in December 2021; the rapid widespread exploitation of this vulnerability demonstrates the ability of malicious actors to quickly weaponize known vulnerabilities and target organizations before they patch.
- CVE-2021-26855, CVE-2021-26858, CVE-2021-26857, CVE-2021-27065. These vulnerabilities, known as ProxyLogon, affect Microsoft Exchange email servers. Successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities in combination (i.e., “vulnerability chaining”) allows an unauthenticated cyber actor to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable Exchange Servers, which, in turn, enables the actor to gain persistent access to files and mailboxes on the servers, as well as to credentials stored on the servers. Successful exploitation may additionally enable the cyber actor to compromise trust and identity in a vulnerable network.
- CVE-2021-34523, CVE-2021-34473, CVE-2021-31207. These vulnerabilities, known as ProxyShell, also affect Microsoft Exchange email servers. Successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities in combination enables a remote actor to execute arbitrary code. These vulnerabilities reside within the Microsoft Client Access Service (CAS), which typically runs on port 443 in Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) (e.g., Microsoft’s web server). CAS is commonly exposed to the internet to enable users to access their email via mobile devices and web browsers.
- CVE-2021-26084. This vulnerability, affecting Atlassian Confluence Server and Data Center, could enable an unauthenticated actor to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable systems. This vulnerability quickly became one of the most routinely exploited vulnerabilities after a POC was released within a week of its disclosure. Attempted mass exploitation of this vulnerability was observed in September 2021.
- Three of the top 15 routinely exploited vulnerabilities were also routinely exploited in 2020: CVE-2020-1472, CVE-2018-13379, and CVE-2019-11510. Their continued exploitation indicates that many organizations fail to patch software in a timely manner and remain vulnerable to malicious cyber actors.
The table below shows the top 15 vulnerabilities:
Top 15 Routinely Exploited Vulnerabilities in 2021
|CVE||Vulnerability Name||Vendor and Product||Type|
|CVE-2021-44228||Log4Shell||Apache Log4j||Remote code execution (RCE)|
|CVE-2021-40539||Zoho ManageEngine AD SelfService Plus||RCE|
|CVE-2021-34523||ProxyShell||Microsoft Exchange Server||Elevation of privilege|
|CVE-2021-34473||ProxyShell||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|CVE-2021-31207||ProxyShell||Microsoft Exchange Server||Security feature bypass|
|CVE-2021-27065||ProxyLogon||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|CVE-2021-26858||ProxyLogon||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|CVE-2021-26857||ProxyLogon||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|CVE-2021-26855||ProxyLogon||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|Atlassian Confluence Server and Data Center||Arbitrary code execution|
|CVE-2021-21972||VMware vSphere Client||RCE|
|CVE-2020-1472||ZeroLogon||Microsoft Netlogon Remote Protocol (MS-NRPC)||Elevation of privilege|
|CVE-2020-0688||Microsoft Exchange Server||RCE|
|CVE-2019-11510||Pulse Secure Pulse Connect Secure||Arbitrary file reading|
|CVE-2018-13379||Fortinet FortiOS and FortiProxy||Path traversal|
The cybersecurity authorities encourage organizations to apply the recommendations which are delineated within the Mitigations section of the alert. These mitigations include applying timely patches to systems and implementing a centralized patch management system to reduce the risk of compromise by malicious cyber actors.
DNS Remains a Dangerous Attack Vector
DNS, as always, is constantly leveraged by threat actors. It is almost impossible for attack chains to unfold without using DNS services. Security through DNS, such as that provided by BloxOne Threat Defense, is designed to prevent users’ connection to malicious destinations, and to detect anomalous behaviors in the network such as C&C communications, advanced persistent threat activity, domain generation algorithm (DGA) activity, botnet communications, DNS tunneling, and data exfiltration.
Infoblox security also integrates with Security Orchestration Automation and Remediation (SOAR) systems, ITSM solutions, vulnerability scanners and other security ecosystem tools to trigger remediation actions automatically when any malicious activity is detected. This can help speed up an organization’s response to security events and rapid threat containment.
DNS logs hold a wealth of data which can be leveraged across your cybersecurity ecosystem. Analyzing DNS logs is a highly effective way to see what resources a client has been accessing historically. DHCP fingerprint and IPAM (IP Address Management) metadata provide contextual information on compromised devices such as type of device, OS information, network location and current and historical IP address allocations. All this information helps your security operations center (SOC) team more rapidly correlate events and understand the scope of a breach.
To find out more about how Infoblox can help improve your security posture, please reach out to us via https://info.infoblox.com/contact-form/.
A June 2021 Gartner report recommends organizations leverage DNS logs for threat detection and forensic purposes with their Security Information and Event Management platforms.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could impact organizations both within and beyond the region, to include malicious cyber activity against the U.S. homeland, including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our allies and partners. Evolving intelligence indicates that the Russian Government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks. Every organization—large and small—must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber incidents. As the nation’s cyber defense agency, CISA stands ready to help organizations prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the impact of cyberattacks. When cyber incidents are reported quickly, we can use this information to render assistance and as a warning to prevent other organizations and entities from falling victim to a similar attack.
Organizations should report anomalous cyber activity and/or cyber incidents 24/7 to firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 282-0870.