The speed at which malicious attackers recently exploited a remote code execution flaw in the Drupal content management system (CMS) should serve as fresh warning about the need for organizations to test processes for quickly responding to vulnerability disclosures.
Drupal administrators last Wednesday rushed out an out-of-cycle security release warning about a highly critical vulnerability (CVE-2018-7602) affecting Drupal 7.x and 8.x versions. The new vulnerability — related to an even more severe and somewhat incompletely fixed flaw (CVE-2018-7600) from March — potentially gives threat actors multiple ways to attack a Drupal site, maintainers of the open source CMS platform warned.
They urged website owners and operators to immediately update to the most recent version of Drupal 7 or Drupal 8 core. Sites running 7.x were asked to upgrade to Drupal 7.59; those using 8.5.x to Drupal 8.5.3; and those on Drupal 8.4.x to Drupal 8.4.8. For organizations unable to update quickly enough, the Drupal administrators issued a security patch to mitigate the risk of the vulnerability being exploited.
But barely hours after the advisory was posted, attackers began actively exploiting the flaw to try, among other things, to upload cryptocurrency miners on vulnerable sites or to use compromised sites to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks. In virtually no time at all — and certainly before a vast majority of site owners had an opportunity to upgrade or apply mitigations — thousands of host systems around the world became potential targets for compromise.
The speed at which attackers attempted to take advantage of the newly disclosed Drupal flaw was in stark contrast to March, when it took about two weeks for the first attacks against CVE-2018-7600 to surface. Hacker activity around March's so-called Drupalgeddon 2.0 was so low initially that it prompted security vendor Imperva to wonder if hackers were getting lazy.
"Unlike CVE-2018-7600, which took two weeks to exploit, CVE-2018-7602 was exploited within 24 hours," says Koby Kilimnik, security researcher at Imperva. In fact, a public exploit was publicly published for CVE-2018-7602 just a few hours after the vulnerability was disclosed, he says.
"The ongoing vulnerabilities announced around Drupal and the speed through which proof-of-concept exploit code was developed only further highlights the importance and need of organizations to understand their attack surface," says Steve Ginty, senior product manager at RiskIQ.
Responding to such threats requires organizations to be able to quickly identify vulnerable assets — including those that are likely being managed by third parties — in order to secure them appropriately. "While organizations may not be able to patch these vulnerable platforms, visibility into the scope of the impact on an enterprise allows an organization to make an informed risk decision," Ginty says.
The trend toward faster exploitation of vulnerabilities puts enterprises between a rock and a hard place. Faulty patches and badly implemented ones can create as much or even greater problems than the security issues they are meant to address. Many enterprises prefer to thoroughly test patches before putting them into production environments — a process that can take anywhere from a couple of days to several months, depending on size. While that might be a safe approach, delaying patch deployment can expose organizations to considerable risk as well, as last week's Drupal flaw showed.
"The challenge of maintaining security patches while preventing disruption of production systems is a huge problem for IT professionals," says Justin Jett, director of audit and compliance for Plixer. Many security patches — including those for commonly used software like Drupal — do not alter the core functionality of the software and so can be deployed without too much risk.
"While major software releases can typically wait until thorough testing has been completed, minor security-related patches should be completed as soon as possible, if not immediately after the patch is made publicly available," Jett says.
At the same time, past experience has shown that relying entirely on vendor patches is not always the best idea, says Imperva's Kilimnik. "Vendors might be in a hurry to publish a patch without proper tests, so it could have a dangerous effect in your environment," he says. "We cannot always predict how patching one system might affect the other," so other mitigations might become necessary, he adds.