Microsoft Addresses Zero-Days, but Exchange Server Exploit Chain Remains Unpatched

The computing giant didn't fix ProxyNotLogon in October's Patch Tuesday, but it disclosed a rare 10-out-of-10 bug and patched two other zero-days, including one being exploited.

Band-Aid products on display at a Walgreens Flagship store.
Source: Kristoffer Tripplaar via Alamy Stock Photo

For its October Patch Tuesday update, Microsoft addressed a critical security vulnerability in its Azure cloud service, carrying a rare 10-out-of-10 rating on the CVSS vulnerability-severity scale.

The tech giant also patched two "important"-rated zero-day bugs, one of which is being actively exploited in the wild; and further, there may be a third issue, in SharePoint, that's also being actively exploited.

Notably, however, the Microsoft didn't issue fixes for the two unpatched Exchange Server zero-day bugs that came to light in late September.

In all for October, Microsoft released patches for 85 CVEs, including 15 critical bugs. Affected products run the gamut of the product portfolio as usual: Microsoft Windows and Windows Components; Azure, Azure Arc, and Azure DevOps; Microsoft Edge (Chromium-based); Office and Office Components; Visual Studio Code; Active Directory Domain Services and Active Directory Certificate Services; Nu Get Client; Hyper-V; and the Windows Resilient File System (ReFS).

These are in addition to 11 patches for Microsoft Edge (Chromium-based) and a patch for side-channel speculation in ARM processors released earlier in the month.

A Perfect 10: Rare Ultra-Critical Vuln

The 10-out-of-10 bug (CVE-2022-37968) is an elevation of privilege (EoP) and remote code-execution (RCE) issue that could allow an unauthenticated attacker to gain administrative control over Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes clusters; it could also affect Azure Stack Edge devices.

While cyberattackers would need to know the randomly generated DNS endpoint for an Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes cluster to be successful, exploitation has a big payoff: They can elevate their privileges to cluster admin and potentially gain control over the Kubernetes cluster.

"If you are using these types of containers with a version lower than 1.5.8, 1.6.19, 1.7.18, and 1.8.11 and they are available from the Internet, upgrade immediately," Mike Walters, vice president of vulnerability and threat research at Action1, warned via email.

A Pair (Maybe a Triad) of Zero-Day Patches – but Not THOSE Patches

The new zero-day confirmed as being under active exploit (CVE-2022-41033) is an EoP vulnerability in the Windows COM+ Event System Service. It carries a 7.8 CVSS score.

The Windows COM+ Event System Service is launched by default with the operating system and is responsible for providing notifications about logons and logoffs. All versions of Windows starting with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 are vulnerable, and a simple attack can lead to gaining SYSTEM privileges, researchers warned.

"Since this is a privilege escalation bug, it is likely paired with other code-execution exploits designed to take over a system," Dustin Childs, from the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), noted in an analysis today. "These types of attacks often involve some form of social engineering, such as enticing a user to open an attachment or browse to a malicious website. Despite near-constant anti-phishing training, especially during 'Cyber Security Awareness Month,' people tend to click everything, so test and deploy this fix quickly."

Satnam Narang, senior staff research engineer at Tenable, noted in an emailed recap that an authenticated attacker could execute a specially crafted application in order to exploit the bug and elevate privileges to SYSTEM.

"While elevation of privilege vulnerabilities requires an attacker to gain access to a system through other means, they are still a valuable tool in an attacker’s toolbox, and this month’s Patch Tuesday has no shortage of elevation-of-privilege flaws, as Microsoft patched 39, accounting for nearly half of the bugs patched (46.4%)," he said.

This particular EoP problem should go to the head of the line for patching, according to Action1's Walters.

"Installing the newly released patch is mandatory; otherwise, an attacker who is logged on to a guest or ordinary user computer can quickly gain SYSTEM privileges on that system and be able to do almost anything with it," he wrote, in an emailed analysis. "This vulnerability is especially significant for organizations whose infrastructure relies on Windows Server."

The other confirmed publicly known bug (CVE-2022-41043) is an information-disclosure issue in Microsoft Office for Mac that has a low CVSS risk rating of just 4 out of 10.

Waters pointed to another potentially exploited zero-day: a remote code execution (RCE) problem in SharePoint Server (CVE-2022-41036, CVSS 8.8) that affects all versions starting with SharePoint 2013 Service Pack 1.

"In a network-based attack, an authenticated adversary with Manage List permissions could execute code remotely on the SharePoint Server and escalate to administrative permissions," he said.

Most importantly, "Microsoft reports that an exploit has likely already been created and is being used by hacker groups, but there is no proof of this yet," he said. "Nevertheless, this vulnerability is worth taking seriously if you have a SharePoint Server open to the internet."

No ProxyNotShell Patches

It should be noted that these are not the two zero-day patches that researchers were expecting; those bugs, CVE-2022-41040 and CVE-2022-41082, also known as ProxyNotShell, remain unaddressed. When chained together, they can allow RCE on Exchange Servers.

"What may be more interesting is what isn’t included in this month's release. There are no updates for Exchange Server, despite two Exchange bugs being actively exploited for at least two weeks,” Childs wrote. “These bugs were purchased by the ZDI at the beginning of September and reported to Microsoft at the time. With no updates available to fully address these bugs, the best administrators can do is ensure the September … Cumulative Update (CU) is installed.”

"Despite high hopes that today's Patch Tuesday release would contain fixes for the vulnerabilities, Exchange Server is conspicuously missing from the initial list of October 2022 security updates," says Caitlin Condon, senior manager for vulnerability research at Rapid7. "Microsoft's recommended rule for blocking known attack patterns has been bypassed multiple times, emphasizing the necessity of a true fix."

As of early September, Rapid7 Labs observed up to 191,000 potentially vulnerable instances of Exchange Server exposed to the Internet via port 443, she adds. However, unlike the ProxyShell and ProxyLogon exploit chains, this group of bugs requires an attacker to have authenticated network access for successful exploitation.

"So far, attacks have remained limited and targeted," she says, adding, "That's unlikely to continue as time goes on and threat actors have more opportunity to gain access and hone exploit chains. We'll almost certainly see additional post-authentication vulnerabilities released in the coming months, but the real concern would be an unauthenticated attack vector popping up as IT and security teams implement end-of-year code freezes."

Admins Take Note: Other Bugs to Prioritize

As far as other issues to prioritize, ZDI's Childs flagged two Windows Client Server Run-time Subsystem (CSRSS) EoP bugs tracked as CVE-2022-37987 and CVE-2022-37989 (both 7.8 CVSS).

"CVS-2022-37989 is a failed patch for CVE-2022-22047, an earlier bug that saw some in-the-wild exploitation," he explained. "This vulnerability results from CSRSS being too lenient in accepting input from untrusted processes. By contrast, CVE-2022-37987 is a new attack that works by deceiving CSRSS into loading dependency information from an unsecured location."

Also notable: Nine CVEs categorized as RCE bugs with critical severity were also patched today, and seven of them affect the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, according to Greg Wiseman, product manager at Rapid7. "[These] require an attacker to win a race condition to exploit them," he noted via email.

Automox researcher Jay Goodman adds that CVE-2022-38048 (CVSS 7.8) affects all supported versions of Office, and they could allow an attacker to take control of a system "where they would be free to install programs, view or change data, or create new accounts on the target system with full user rights." While the vulnerability is less likely to be exploited, according to Microsoft, the attack complexity is listed as low.

And finally, Gina Geisel, also an Automox researcher, warns that CVE-2022-38028 (CVSS 7.8), a Windows Print Spooler EoP bug, as a low-privilege and low-complexity vulnerability that requires no user interaction.

"An attacker would have to log on to an affected system and run a specially crafted script or application to gain system privileges," she notes. "Examples of these attacker privileges include installing programs; modifying, changing, and deleting data; creating new accounts with full user rights; and moving laterally around networks."

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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