Attackers compromise Cisco Web VPNs to steal login credentials, backdoor target networks

Another Cisco product is being targeted by attackers looking for a permanent way into the computer networks and systems of various organizations, Volexity researchers warn.

“The Cisco Clientless SSL VPN (Web VPN) is a web-based portal that can be enabled on an organization’s Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) devices,” the researchers explained. “Once a user is authenticated to the Web VPN, based on the permissions the user has, they may be able to access internal web resources, browse internal file shares, and launch plug-ins that allow them to telnet, ssh, or VNC to internal resources.”


The attackers are either leveraging a vulnerability in the product or manage to gain administrator access in other ways, but the end goal is the same: to implant JavaScript code on the login pages to the VPN in order to harvest employee credentials.

The aforementioned vulnerability (CVE-2014-3393) has been patched over a year ago. Nevertheless, organizations have been slow in implementing the fix, and attackers are taking advantage of the flaw.

The malicious, data stealing JavaScript injected in the Cisco Web VPN login page of targeted organizations is usually hosted on legitimate but compromised sites, and is “pulled” from them each time the portal is accessed by a user.

According to the researchers, spotted attacks were made against medical and academic institutions, electronics/manufacturing businesses, as well as think tanks, NGOs, and governments.

“Volexity knows it is 100% possible and surmises it may be likely in some cases that the attackers leveraged credentialed administrative access to a Cisco ASA appliance in order to modify the login page,” the researchers noted, and explained that this can be done via the Cisco Adaptive Security Device Manager (ASDM), a Java administrative interface for Cisco firewalls that can be accessed via a web browser.

“Access to the devices ASDM should be restricted through access control lists (ACLs) as tightly as possible. At minimum, this is not an interface that should be open to the Internet. Attackers that are able to access this interface by having access to a victim’s environment or due to an ACL misconfiguration can easily modify code that is loaded via the Cisco Web VPN login page,” they noted.

Unfortunately, two-factor authentication would not help prevent this particular attack, as the attackers could easily modify the code of the login page in order to steal session cookies (amazingly enough, Cisco Web VPN does not disconnect one of two users with the same authenticated session), or steal and reuse the authentication token.

As this type of attack against network devices is difficult to spot with the usual security tools and measures, administrators would do well to make sure to often check networking gear for indicators of compromise.

Less than a month ago FireEye researchers discovered malicious router implants on Cisco routers around the world, opening a permanent entry point into target networks.

“Firewalls, network devices, and anything else an attacker might be able to gain access to should be scrutinized just as much as any workstation or server within an organization,” the researchers commented.




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