CitrixBleed' Linked to Ransomware Hit on China's State-Owned Bank

CISA this week joined several others in urging customers of Citrix NetScaler devices not to delay patching any longer amid reports of mass-exploit activity; 5,000 ors remain exposed.

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A disruptive ransomware attack on Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) this week, may be tied to a critical vulnerability that Citrix disclosed in its NetScaler technology last month and highlights why organizations need to immediately patch against the threat if they haven’t done so already.

The so-called “CitrixBleed” vulnerability (CVE-2023-4966) affects multiple on-premises versions of Citrix NetScaler ADC and NetScaler Gateway application delivery platforms.

The vulnerability has a severity score of 9.4 out of a maximum possible 10 on the CVSS 3.1 scale and gives attackers a way to steal sensitive information and hijack user sessions.

Mass Exploitation

Threat actors have been actively exploiting the flaw since August 2023, or several weeks before Citrix issued updated versions of affected software on October 10. Researchers at Mandiant who discovered and reported the flaw to Citrix have also strongly recommended that organizations terminate all active sessions on each affected NetScaler device because of the potential for authenticated sessions to persist even after the update.

The ransomware attack on the US arm of the state owned ICBC, one of the largest banks in the world, appears to be one public manifestation of the exploit activity. In a statement earlier this week, the bank disclosed that it had experienced a ransomware attack on Nov 8 that had disrupted some of its systems. The Financial Times and other outlets quoted sources as informing them about LockBit ransomware operators as being behind the attack.

Security researcher Kevin Beaumont pointed to an unpatched Citrix NetScaler at ICBC box on Nov 6 as one potential attack vector for the LockBit actors. “As of writing this toot, over 5000 orgs still haven’t patched #CitrixBleed,” Beaumont said. “It allows complete, easy bypass of all forms of authentication and is being exploited by ransomware groups. It is as simple as pointing and clicking your way inside orgs - it gives attackers a fully interactive Remote Desktop PC the other end.”

Attacks on unmitigated NetScaler devices have assumed mass exploitation status in recent weeks. Publicly available technical details of the flaw has fueled at least some of the activity.

A report from ReliaQuest this week indicated that at least four organized threat groups are currently targeting the flaw. One of the groups has automated exploitation of CitrixBleed. ReliaQuest reported observing “multiple unique customer incidents featuring Citrix Bleed exploitation” just between Nov 7 and Nov 9.

“ReliaQuest has identified multiple cases in customer environments in which threat actors have used the Citrix Bleed exploit,” ReliaQuest said. “Having gained initial access, the adversaries quickly enumerated the environment, with a focus on speed over stealth,” the company noted. In some incidents the attackers exfiltrated data and in others they appear to ahev attempted to deploy ransomware, ReliaQuest said.

Latest data from Internet traffic analysis firm GreyNoise shows attempts to exploit CitrixBleed from at least 51 unique IP addresses—down from around 70 in late October.

CISA Issues Guidance on CitrixBleed

The exploit activity has prompted the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue fresh guidance and resources this week on addressing the CitrixBleed threat. CISA warned of “active, targeted exploitation” of the bug in urging organizations to “update unmitigated appliances to the updated versions” that Citrix released last month.

The vulnerability itself is a buffer overflow issue that enables sensitive information disclosure. It affects on-premises versions of NetScaler when configured as an Authentication, Authorization and Accounting (AAA) or as a gateway device such as a VPN virtual server or an ICA or RDP Proxy,

Citrix has described the flaw as remotely exploitable and involving low attack complexity, no special privileges, and no user interaction.

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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