Thousands of Organizations Remain at Risk From Critical Zero-Click IP Camera Bug

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had wanted federal agencies to implement the fix for the RCE flaw in Hikvision cameras by Jan. 24, 2022.

4 Min Read
Hikvision video surveillance camera
Source: Karolis Kavolelis via Shutterstock

Some 2,300 organizations worldwide — many of them in the United States — remain at risk of major compromise via a known critical remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability in Hikvision IP video cameras that was disclosed last year.

The bug (CVE-2021-36260) is a command injection vulnerability that is present in the Web server of several Hikvision cameras. Attackers can exploit the vulnerability to launch commands that allow them to gain complete root-shell access to an affected device — something that even the owners don't have, according to the researcher that discovered the flaw.

The organizations using the unpatched devices are at risk of network compromise, and potentially even physical attack; attackers could use the zero-click vulnerability to take complete control of affected Hikvision cameras. From there, they could disable them ahead of a physical breach, or use them to breach connected enterprise networks, launch denial-of-service attacks on them, add them to a botnet, steal data, and carry out other malicious actions. 

"This is the highest level of critical vulnerability — a zero click unauthenticated remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability affecting a high number of Hikvision cameras. Connected internal networks at risk," according to the bug report.

The firmware vulnerability was discovered in June 2021 and reported to the hardware vendor, which then issued a patch for it last September. However, close to a year later, tens of thousands of affected devices — whose users include at least some federal civilian agencies — remain unpatched against the vulnerability.

Hikvision Camera Analysis

Researchers from Cyfirma recently analyzed a sample of 285,000 Internet-facing Hikvision cameras and found some 80,000 of them that are still open to exploit via the vulnerability

The countries with the greatest number of vulnerable devices were China (12,690), the US (10,611), and Vietnam (7,394). Other countries with a sizeable number of vulnerable Hikvision cameras included the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Thailand, and South Africa. The cameras belong to more than 2,300 organizations scattered across these and other countries.

In its vulnerability disclosure last September, Hikvision listed dozens of its products as being impacted by the vulnerability — some going as far back as 2016. The company had urged organizations using affected Hikvision cameras to install updated firmware to patch the flaw and guard against potential attacks targeting the flaw. 

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) added CVE-2021-36260 to its catalog of known exploited vulnerabilities on Jan. 10 this year, and it required federal agencies using Hikvision cameras to install the firmware updates by Jan. 24.

According to Cyfirma, nearly a year after the flaw was disclosed, attacker interest in it remains high. The security vendor said it had observed multiple instances where threat actors sought to collaborate with each other to exploit the flaw.

"Specifically in the Russian forums, we have observed leaked credentials of Hikvision camera products available for sale," Cyfirma said. "These can be leveraged by hackers to gain access to the devices and exploit further the path of attack to target an organization's environment." Cyfirma noted it has reason to believe that a few Chinese threats actors, including APT41 and APT10, are also looking to exploit the vulnerability to breach target networks where possible.

In a blog post this week, security vendor Malwarebytes noted that adversaries have few obstacles to exploitation given several proofs-of-concept that have been published. These include a potential exploit for it that was published on Packet Storm last October; a Metasploit module based on CVE-2021-36260 that Packet Storm published this February; and reports of a Mira botnet variant called Moobot that was spreading via the Hikvision vulnerability. 

"Given the amount of available information, it is trivial even for a 'copy and paste criminal' to make use of the unpatched cameras," Malwarebytes warned.

The researcher who discovered the flaw — who goes by the handle "Watchful_IP" — described the vulnerability as trivial to exploit, giving attackers the ability to take complete remote control of Hikvision cameras simply by accessing the camera's http(s) server port, which usually is 80/443.

"No username or password [is] needed, nor any actions need to be initiated by the camera owner," the security researcher observed in his initial vulnerability disclosure last year. "It will not be detectable by any logging on the camera itself."

Vulnerabilities in IoT devices — which can be anything from video cameras and building management systems to critical Internet-connected systems in medical, industrial control systems (ICS), and operational technology (OT) networks — present a growing challenge for enterprise organizations. A new report from Claroty this week noted a 57% year-over-year increase in vulnerability disclosures involving IoT products. 

The security vendor's study showed that for the first time the percentage of disclosed firmware vulnerabilities, like the one in Hikvision cameras, was nearly the same as the percentage of software vulnerabilities — 46% vs. 48%. In addition, the combined number of IoT vulnerabilities and vulnerabilities in medical IoT devices exceeded IT vulnerabilities for the first time as well. Claroty noted: "This indicates enhanced understanding on the part of vendors and researchers to secure these connected devices as they can be a gateway to deeper network penetration."

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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