Palo Alto Network Issues Hotfixes for Zero-Day Bug in Its Firewall OS

A sophisticated threat actor is leveraging the bug to deploy a Python backdoor for stealing data and executing other malicious actions.

4 Min Read
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Palo Alto Networks (PAN) on April 14 released hotfixes to address a maximum severity zero-day bug in multiple versions of its PAN-OS software that a threat actor is using to deploy a novel Python backdoor on affected firewalls.

The flaw — tracked as CVE-2024-3400 — is present in PAN-OS 10.2, 11.0, and 11.1 firewalls when the GlobalProtect Gateway and device telemetry features are both enabled. PAN disclosed the flaw April 12 after researchers at Volexity found the bug when investigating suspicious activity on a customer's firewall.  

Limited Attack

PAN described the attacks targeting the flaw as limited in volume and attributed the attack activity to a single threat cluster that the company is tracking as "Operation Midnight Eclipse." However, the vendor did not rule out the potential for other attackers to exploit the flaw as well.   

When PAN disclosed the flaw last week, it recommended temporary measures that customers could take to mitigate the threat — including disabling device telemetry. On April 14, the company made available hotfix releases of PAN-OS 10.2.9-h1, PAN-OS 11.0.4-h1, PAN-OS 11.1.2-h3, and all later PAN-OS versions. The security vendor urged customers to apply the updates and promised similar hotfixes for other maintenance releases of the software.

Reports of attackers targeting the flaw before a patch was available prompted the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) last week to quickly add CVE-2024-3400 to its catalog of known exploited vulnerabilities. All civilian federal agencies have until April 19 to address the flaw. CISA has previously warned organizations on multiple occasions about high threat-actor interest in VPNs and other remote access technologies from vendors such as Pulse Secure, Cisco, and PAN because of the privileged access these devices provide to enterprise networks and data.

Max Severity Command Injection Flaw

In a blog post last week, Volexity described the flaw it discovered as a command injection vulnerability in PAN-OS GlobalProtect that gave unauthenticated remote attackers a way to execute arbitrary code on affected systems. The security vendor said it had observed an attacker — which it's tracking as UTA0218 — leveraging the flaw to create a reverse shell and download additional malware on compromised systems.

"The attacker focused on exporting configuration data from the devices, and then leveraging it as an entry point to move laterally within the victim organizations," Volexity said.

One of the additional tools that the threat actor deployed on compromised systems was a novel Python backdoor that Volexity has named Upstyle. The security vendor said it found the threat actor using the Upstyle backdoor to execute a variety of additional commands including those for lateral movement within a target network and to steal credentials and other sensitive data from it.

"The tradecraft and speed employed by the attacker suggests a highly capable threat actor with a clear playbook of what to access to further their objectives," Volexity warned. Volexity said it was not able to determine the exact scale of the exploit activity but surmised it was likely limited and targeted. The company said it had found evidence of UTA0218 attempting to exploit the vulnerability at multiple organizations on March 26 and March 27.

PAN said its analysis showed the threat actor using the backdoor to run a handful of commands on vulnerable firewalls. The commands included one for copying configuration files and exfiltrating them via HTTP requests and another that set up the firewall to receive even more commands, this time from a different URL. "Lastly, the threat actor cleaned up after themselves by removing all files associated with the backdoors and clearing their cronjobs," PAN said.

Complete Control

Karl Sigler, senior security research manager at Trustwave's SpiderLabs, says exploiting CVE-2024-3400 would give an attacker complete control over the PAN device. "This could allow the attacker a foothold to pivot further into the organization," he says. "It could also allow the attacker to disable protections provided by the device, including disabling access control lists and VPN connections."

Sigler says the vulnerability exploit in this case works by getting an affected device to log OS commands in an error log. These commands are then processed and executed with root-level permissions, he says. "Disabling device telemetry disables the log file, short-circuiting the attack," Sigler notes. "The main risk in doing so is that network admins often rely on this telemetry to troubleshoot problems with the device. Additionally, monitoring for abnormal network behavior may be evidence of an ongoing attack. Disabling telemetry may hinder those efforts."

Palo Alto itself has recommended that organizations that are unable to immediately update their software for any reason should disable device telemetry till they are able to update. According to the company, "Once upgraded, device telemetry should be re-enabled on the device."

About the Author(s)

Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year career at Computerworld, Jai also covered a variety of other technology topics, including big data, Hadoop, Internet of Things, e-voting, and data analytics. Prior to Computerworld, Jai covered technology issues for The Economic Times in Bangalore, India. Jai has a Master's degree in Statistics and lives in Naperville, Ill.

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