Hackers Compromise Cisco Servers Via SaltStack Flaws

Attackers compromised six Cisco VIRL-PE servers that are affected by critical SaltStack vulnerabilities.

Cisco said attackers have been able to compromise its servers after exploiting two known, critical SaltStack vulnerabilities. The flaws exist in the open-source Salt management framework, which are used in Cisco network-tooling products.

Two Cisco products incorporate a version of SaltStack that is running the vulnerable salt-master service. The first is Cisco Modeling Labs Corporate Edition (CML), which gives users a virtual sandbox environment to design and configure network topologies. The second is Cisco Virtual Internet Routing Lab Personal Edition (VIRL-PE), used to design, configure and operate networks using versions of Cisco’s network operating systems.

Hackers were able to successfully exploit the flaws incorporated in the latter product, resulting in the compromise of six VIRL-PE backend servers, according to Cisco. Those servers are: us-1.virl.info, us-2.virl.info, us-3.virl.info, us-4.virl.info, vsm-us-1.virl.info and vsm-us-2.virl.info.

“Cisco infrastructure maintains the salt-master servers that are used with Cisco VIRL-PE,” according to Cisco’s Thursday alert. “Those servers were upgraded on May 7, 2020. Cisco identified that the Cisco maintained salt-master servers that are servicing Cisco VIRL-PE releases 1.2 and 1.3 were compromised.”

Cisco said the servers were remediated on May 7. The company also released software updates for the two vulnerable products. Cisco said that the update is “critical,” ranking it 10 out of 10 on the CVSS scale.

The SaltStack bugs were first made public by the Salt Open Core team on April 29. The flaws can allow full remote code execution as root on servers in data centers and cloud environments. They include an authentication bypass issue, tracked as CVE-2020-11651, and a directory-traversal flaw, CVE-2020-11652, where untrusted inputs (i.e. parameters in network requests) are not sanitized correctly. This in turn allows access to the entire file system of the master server, researchers found.

SaltStack released patches for the flaw in release 3000.2, on April 30 – however, researchers with F-Secure, who discovered the flaw, said a preliminary scan revealed more than 6,000 potentially vulnerable Salt instances exposed to the public internet — and warned that exploits in the wild are imminent.

Those predictions have proved true: In the beginning of May, for instance, hackers targeted the publishing platform Ghost by exploiting critical vulnerabilities in SaltStack, used in Ghost’s server management infrastructure to launch a cryptojacking attack against its servers that led to widespread outages.

Cisco said that for Cisco CML and Cisco VIRL-PE (software releases 1.5 and 1.6) if the salt-master service is enabled “the exploitability of the product depends on how the product has been deployed.” A full list of the impact and recommended action for each deployment option, for each Cisco software release, can be found on Cisco’s alert.

To be exploited, the salt-master service must be reachable on TCP ports 4505 and 4506, Cisco said. The company added that administrators can check their configured Cisco salt-master server by navigating to VIRL Server > Salt Configuration and Status.

“Cisco continues to strongly recommend that customers upgrade to a fixed software release to remediate these vulnerabilities,” Cisco said.

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