Sunday, June 16, 2024

Hackers Created Rogue VMs in Recent MITRE’s Cyber Attack

State-sponsored hackers recently exploited vulnerabilities in MITRE’s Networked Experimentation, Research, and Virtualization Environment (NERVE).

They used rogue virtual machines (VMs) to evade detection and maintain persistence in a cyberattack.

The attack, attributed to a China-linked group tracked as UNC5221, underscores the growing sophistication of cyber threats and the challenges even top cybersecurity organizations face in defending against them.

The breach began in late December 2023 when the attackers exploited two zero-day vulnerabilities in Ivanti Connect Secure appliances, identified as CVE-2023-46805 and CVE-2024-21887.

These vulnerabilities allowed the hackers to bypass multi-factor authentication through session hijacking, gaining unauthorized access to MITRE’s NERVE environment.

The initial signs of exploitation were detected in April 2024, prompting a thorough investigation by MITRE and third-party digital forensics teams.

Persistence Through Rogue VMs

Once inside the NERVE environment, the attackers moved laterally using compromised administrator credentials, targeting the VMware infrastructure.

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They created rogue VMs using a default service account named ‘VPXUSER,’ which allowed them to operate outside the visibility of centralized management interfaces like Center.

This tactic enabled the attackers to maintain control over the compromised systems while minimizing the risk of detection.

The hackers deployed a backdoor named BrickStorm and a web shell called BeeFlush within these rogue VMs.

The BeeFlush shell was placed under the vCenter Server’s Tomcat server to execute a Python-based tunneling tool, facilitating SSH connections between the adversary-created VMs and the ESXi hypervisor infrastructure.

This setup allowed the attackers to establish persistent communication channels with their command-and-control (C2) servers and administrative subnets within NERVE.

MITRE’s response to the breach included taking the NERVE environment offline and conducting a comprehensive forensic analysis.

In a blog post, the organization shared detailed insights into the attackers’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), emphasizing the importance of monitoring for unusual SSH activity and manually checking for unregistered VMs using specific command lines.

MITRE also provided scripts, such as Invoke-HiddenVMQuery and VirtualGHOST, to help other organizations detect and mitigate similar threats in their VMware environments.

The incident highlights the evolving nature of cyber threats and the need for continuous vigilance and advanced defense mechanisms.

The organization has committed to sharing its findings and best practices to help others enhance their security measures and mitigate future risks.

The MITRE cyberattack demonstrates the sophisticated methods employed by state-sponsored hackers to infiltrate and persist within high-value targets.

By exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities and leveraging rogue VMs, the attackers were able to evade detection and maintain control over compromised systems.

MITRE’s proactive response and transparency in sharing lessons learned provide valuable insights for the cybersecurity community, underscoring the importance of robust defense strategies and continuous monitoring to counteract advanced persistent threats.

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Guru baran
Guru baran
Gurubaran is a co-founder of Cyber Security News and GBHackers On Security. He has 10+ years of experience as a Security Consultant, Editor, and Analyst in cybersecurity, technology, and communications.

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