Windows Exploit Released For Microsoft ‘Zerologon’ Flaw

microsoft windows exploit

Security researchers and U.S. government authorities alike are urging admins to address Microsoft’s critical privilege escalation flaw.

Proof-of-concept (PoC) exploit code has been released for a Windows flaw, which could allow attackers to infiltrate enterprises by gaining administrative privileges, giving them access to companies’ Active Directory domain controllers (DCs).

The vulnerability, dubbed “Zerologon,” is a privilege-escalation glitch (CVE-2020-1472) with a CVSS score of 10 out of 10, making it critical in severity. The flaw was addressed in Microsoft’s August 2020 security updates. However, this week at least four public PoC exploits for the flaw were released on Github, and on Friday, researchers with Secura (who discovered the flaw) published technical details of the vulnerability.

“This attack has a huge impact: It basically allows any attacker on the local network (such as a malicious insider or someone who simply plugged in a device to an on-premise network port) to completely compromise the Windows domain,” said researchers with Secura, in a Friday whitepaper. “The attack is completely unauthenticated: The attacker does not need any user credentials.”

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The flaw stems from the Netlogon Remote Protocol, available on Windows domain controllers, which is used for various tasks related to user and machine authentication.

Specifically, the issue exists in the usage of AES-CFB8 encryption for Netlogon sessions. The AES-CFB8 standard requires that each “byte” of plaintext have a randomized initialization vector (IV), blocking attackers from guessing passwords. However, Netlogon’s ComputeNetlogonCredential function sets the IV to a fixed 16 bits – not randomized –  meaning an attacker could control the deciphered text.

In a real-world attack, attackers could send a number of Netlogon messages in which various fields are filled with zeroes, allowing them to bypass these authentication measures, and access and change the computer password of the domain controller that is stored in the Active Directory (AD), researchers said.

“Due to incorrect use of an AES mode of operation it is possible to spoof the identity of any computer account (including that of the [Domain Controller] itself) and set an empty password for that account in the domain,” according to Secura researchers.

windows Zerologon attack

The Zerologon attack. Credit: Secura

Of note, in order to exploit this vulnerability, the attacker would need to launch the attack from a machine on the same local-area network (LAN) as their target – meaning they would already need a foothold inside the targeted network.

“A vulnerable client or DC exposed to the internet is not exploitable by itself,” according to researchers with Tenable in an analysis of the flaw. “The attack requires that the spoofed login works like a normal domain login attempt. Active Directory (AD) would need to recognize the connecting client as being within its logical topology, which external addresses wouldn’t have.”

However, if attackers are able to exploit the flaw, they can impersonate the identity of any machine on a network when attempting to authenticate to the Domain Controller – enabling further attacks, including the complete takeover of a Windows domain, researchers said.

“In a hypothetical attack, one could use this vulnerability to deploy ransomware throughout an organization and maintain a persistent presence if cleanup and restoration efforts miss any additional malicious scripts,” said Tenable researchers. “Organizations with network-accessible backups could end up with a perfect storm if a ransomware group destroys backups to increase their likelihood of payout from the victim organization.”

With at least four PoC exploits now available on GitHub, security researchers and U.S. government authorities alike are urging admins to ensure they apply Microsoft’s August patches. These patch address this problem by enforcing Secure Netlogon Remote Protocol (i.e. Netlogon signing and sealing) for all Windows servers and clients in the domain.

Microsoft for its part is addressing the vulnerability in a phased rollout. The initial deployment phase started with Windows updates being released on August 11, 2020, while the second phase, planned for the first quarter of 2021, will be an “enforcement phase.”

“The DCs will be placed in enforcement mode, which requires all Windows and non-Windows devices to use secure Remote Procedure Call (RPC) with Netlogon secure channel or to explicitly allow the account by adding an exception for any non-compliant device,” said Microsoft.

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