Cyber Security News

Multiple Chinese Hacking Groups Exploiting Ivanti Connect Secure VPN Flaw

Cybersecurity firm Mandiant has uncovered a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeting Ivanti Connect Secure VPN appliances.

These attacks, attributed to multiple Chinese nexus espionage groups, exploit critical vulnerabilities to facilitate lateral movement and compromise Active Directory systems.

This article delves into the intricate details of the CVEs involved, the clustering and attribution of these attacks, the deployment of new TTPs and malware, and the implications of such breaches.

CVEs: The Gateway to Exploitation

The initial disclosure of CVE-2023-46805 and CVE-2024-21887 on January 10, 2024, marked the beginning of a series of incident response engagements by Mandiant.

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These vulnerabilities, an authentication bypass and a command injection flaw, have been the focal points of exploitation attempts by suspected Chinese nexus espionage actors.

The exploitation of these vulnerabilities underscores the critical need for timely patching and the application of appropriate mitigations.

As per the latest report by Google, several Chinese hacking groups are currently leveraging the vulnerability in Ivanti Connect Secure VPN to carry out their malicious activities.

Clustering and Attribution

Mandiant’s investigations have led to the clustering of these cyberattacks under the activities of two primary groups: UNC5325 and UNC5337.

Both groups are suspected of having ties to China and using the CVEs above to compromise Ivanti Connect Secure VPN appliances.

The attribution to these groups is based on deploying custom malware families and evolving their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to exploit appliance-specific functionalities.

New TTPs and Malware

The evolution of attacker methodologies has been evident in deploying new TTPs and malware.

UNC5337, in particular, has been observed leveraging multiple custom malware families, including the SPAWNSNAIL passive backdoor, SPAWNMOLE tunneler, SPAWNANT installer, and SPAWNSLOTH log tampering utility.

These tools facilitate the persistence and lateral movement within compromised networks, showcasing the sophistication of these threat actors.

SPAWN Malware Family

The SPAWN malware family represents a significant advancement in the arsenal of these espionage groups.

PAWN malware family diagram

Each family component serves a unique purpose, from establishing backdoor access to facilitating network tunneling and tampering with logs to evade detection.

The deployment of these tools highlights the attackers’ strategic planning and technical prowess.

While the focus has been on exploiting Ivanti Connect Secure VPN appliances, Mandiant has also identified a campaign dubbed BRICKSTORM.

This campaign leverages similar tactics and malware to target other critical infrastructures, indicating a broader threat landscape and the adaptability of these espionage groups.

Lateral Movement Leading to Active Directory Compromise

One of the most concerning aspects of these attacks is the threat actors’ ability to leverage lateral movement techniques to compromise Active Directory systems.

UNC5330 attack path diagram

This not only allows for the escalation of privileges but also facilitates the exfiltration of sensitive information and the deployment of additional payloads across the network.

Multiple Chinese nexus espionage groups exploit Ivanti Connect Secure VPN flaws, representing a significant threat to global cybersecurity.

The deployment of new TTPs and malware, coupled with the ability to compromise critical systems, underscores the need for vigilant cybersecurity practices and the timely application of patches and mitigations.

As these threat actors evolve their strategies, the cybersecurity community must remain proactive in its defense measures to protect against such sophisticated attacks.

Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)

Host-Based Indicators (HBIs)

libdsproxy. soMD5Description
.liblogblock.so4acfc5df7f24c2354384f7449280d9e0 SPAWNSLOTH
.dskey3ef30bc3a7e4f5251d8c6e1d3825612dSPAWNSNAIL private key
logd.spec.cfg846369b3a3d4536008a6e1b92ed09549SLIVER persistence
N/A8e429d919e7585de33ea9d7bb29bc86bSLIVER downloader
Table 4: Host-based indicators

Network-Based Indicators (NBIs)

Network IndicatorTypeDescription
8.218.240[.]85IPv4Post-exploitation activity
98.142.138[.]21IPv4Post-exploitation activity
103.13.28[.]40IPv4Post-exploitation activity
103.27.110[.]83IPv4Post-exploitation activity
103.73.66[.]37IPv4Post-exploitation activity
193.149.129[.]191IPv4Post-exploitation activity
206.188.196[.]199IPv4Post-exploitation activity
oast[.]funDomainPre-exploitation validation
cpanel.netbar[.]orgDomainWARPWIRE Variant C2 server
pan.xj[.]hkDomainPost-exploitation activity[.]toDomainSLIVER C2 server
opra1.oprawh.workers.devDomainBRICKSTORM C2 server
Table 5: Network-based indicators

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Divya is a Senior Journalist at Cyber Security news covering Cyber Attacks, Threats, Breaches, Vulnerabilities and other happenings in the cyber world.

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