Critical Citrix Bug Exploited as a Zero-Day, 'Patching Is Not Enough'

The latest threat to Citrix NetScaler, CVE-2023-4966, was exploited as a zero-day bug for months before a patch was issued. Researchers expect exploitation efforts to surge.

computer code with gold magnifying glass with bug in lens
Source: ronstik via Alamy Stock Photo

A critical security vulnerability in Citrix NetScaler patched last week is under active attack — and has been since at least August.

Making matters worse, the bug (CVE-2023-4966, CVSS score 9.4), can't be fully remediated by simply applying the patch, Mandiant warns.

To that point, "organizations should ... terminate all active sessions," Mandiant CTO Charles Carmakal explained in a LinkedIn post on the active Citrix exploitation this week. "These authenticated sessions will persist after the update to mitigate CVE-2023-4966 has been deployed. Therefore, even after the patch is applied, a threat actor could use stolen session data to authenticate to resources until the sessions are terminated."

Technically an information-disclosure vulnerability, the flaw allows cyberattackers to hijack existing authenticated sessions and potentially bypass multifactor authentication (MFA). The result is full control over NetScaler environments, which control and manage application delivery within enterprises.

Zero-Day Exploitation Since August

Mandiant has traced attacks exploiting the bug back to late summer, carried out by an unknown threat actor. Carmakal said that the ongoing exploitation appears focused on cyberespionage, with professional services, technology, and government organizations so far in the unknown attackers' sights.

"We anticipate other threat actors with financial motivations will exploit this over time," he added.

That's a likely prediction given that organizations have a poor track record when it comes to mitigating known threats against Citrix gear. For instance, earlier in the month it came to light that legions of attackers are still targeting CVE-2023-3519 (CVSS score of 9.8), a critical pre-authentication remote code-execution (RCE) vulnerability in Citrix NetScaler gateways that was addressed in July (but exploited as a zero-day for a month before that).

Thousands of credential-theft attacks ensued after the disclosure, cresting in August as patching lagged. As of early October, according to the Shadowserver Foundation, more than 1,300 backdoored NetScaler instances were still appearing in scans.

As far as the latest critical security bug goes, customer-managed Citrix NetScaler ADC and NetScaler Gateway installations are affected; cloud instances are not, as outlined in the Citrix bug advisory, which also includes information about patched versions. Mandiant on Wednesday also offered updated, detailed remediation guidance for CVE-2023-4966.

About the Author(s)

Tara Seals, Managing Editor, News, Dark Reading

Tara Seals has 20+ years of experience as a journalist, analyst and editor in the cybersecurity, communications and technology space. Prior to Dark Reading, Tara was Editor in Chief at Threatpost, and prior to that, the North American news lead for Infosecurity Magazine. She also spent 13 years working for Informa (formerly Virgo Publishing), as executive editor and editor-in-chief at publications focused on both the service provider and the enterprise arenas. A Texas native, she holds a B.A. from Columbia University, lives in Western Massachusetts with her family and is on a never-ending quest for good Mexican food in the Northeast.

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