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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Oracle WebLogic Exploit Used in Cryptocurrency Mining Campaign

PeopleSoft and WebLogic app servers, as well as cloud systems using WebLogic, hacked and used to net some $226K in digital currency.

Enterprises that failed to install Oracle's critical WebLogic patch last October could find their PeopleSoft and cloud-based servers churning out cryptocurrency, a new discovery shows.

A security researcher found attackers had mined 611 Monero coins, which carries a current value of $226,070, by exploiting the WebLogic Flaw in vulnerable servers around the globe. Reports began to emerge earlier this week that a malicious campaign was underway to deploy Monero cryptocurrency miners on these unpatched systems, according to a blog post by Renato Marinho, chief research officer at Morphus Labs, who made the discovery.

The attackers were using a proof-of-concept exploit released in late December by Chinese researcher Lian Zhang that uses a critical vulnerability in the WebLogic app server; Oracle issued a patch for the flaw in October, says Johannes Ullrich, dean of research for SANS Technology Institute.

The exploit's use of crypto mining was discovered in the past few weeks because it crashed several WebLogic servers, Ullrich explains. Crypto mining relies on lots of processing power generated by computers, servers, and even mobile devices, to mine crypto currency. As a result, computing systems can slow and crash when crypto miners are deployed.

In this recent case, the attackers were using the exploit solely to launch crypto miners on PeopleSoft and WebLogic app servers as well as Oracle and Amazon cloud environments that were tied to WebLogic app servers, Ullrich says. The attackers did not use the exploit to steal or alter valuable data and information contained in the PeopleSoft app servers.

PeopleSoft applications are widely used by enterprises, which rely on them to handle salesforce, human resources, financial planning, and other tasks.

"The attackers had access to all the information in PeopleSoft that is touching WebLogic servers, but rather than sell this information on the black market, which takes more work than writing a simple script to exploit the system and drop crypto mining software on it, they probably thought they could get more money by crypto mining," Ullrich says.

Bitcoin, for example, has soared from $5,000 three months ago to close at $14,000 per coin on Tuesday.

If there is a crypto miner on a server, it means the bad guys found a way to exploit the system and may have further compromised it, Ullrich warns. As a result, companies need to dig deeper if they find a crypto miner on their system and not assume that's the full extent of the attack.

Rick McElroy, security specialist at Carbon Black, expects more of these crypto mining attacks to increase this year as nation states, such as North Korea, get involved in cryptocurrency. "Mining will be a more prevalent problem because it now has become part of their economy, so you can expect more of these attacks abroad," he says.

Deploying Oracle Patches

Enterprises tend to be slow in deploying Oracle updates, fearing it will break their mission-critical systems. "The Oracle and PeopleSoft ecosystems are very complex, and on top of that companies customize a lot of their code," Ullrich says, estimating 10% to 20% of companies do not update when Oracle issues a patch.

Virtual patching by creating a Web application firewall is one workaround that enterprises may want to consider if they are hesitant to deploy an Oracle patch, advises Ullrich. "This type of patching is easy to do if you are trying to block a specific exploit," he says. "It doesn't work as well if you are trying to block all exploits in general because it may block something you want to allow in."

Sebastian Bortnik, head of Onapsis Research Labs, says although enterprises have shown some improvement in recent years with patching business-critical applications, they remain far better at patching endpoints or OS layer patching.

"Despite that, some companies have improved and have started building repeatable patch schedules, and ensuring ERP systems have no more than three- to six months of pending patches," Bortnik says.

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Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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