Like everybody, SCRT has been adjusting to life under Covid-19 over the last weeks. Thankfully, we’ve been prepared for working from home for quite some time now as many of us do so during normal circumstances anyways. This is however not the case for all companies and we’ve unfortunately been called in to help some of them deal with the unwanted consequences of poorly setting up their remote access (read: they got hacked). So here is a quick blog post detailing the main issues we see with remote access systems and what can be done to avoid them.
From an attacker’s perspective, there are essentially three ways of exploiting a remote access system to reach a company’s internal network:
- Compromise the device of an end user and wait until he or she legitimately connects to the system to either steal the credentials or the session
- Compromise valid credentials
- Compromise the remote access system itself
When we look at it this way, most people will probably be wary of the end user devices connecting to the corporate network as a “new” attack vector since everybody is working from home. But before getting into that, I want to mention the other categories first, as up to now they have been the ones which have been causing the most problems (that we have seen).
Compromising valid credentials
Whatever the remote access system you have setup, whether it be a simple RDP server exposed to the Internet, a Citrix Netscaler or any flavour of SSL-VPN, if the users connecting to them use a single authentication factor (a password), their accounts will get compromised and attackers will gain access to the system. It’s as simple as that.
Some people might be thinking that a “complex” password policy and rotating passwords every few months will avoid this, but the truth is there is always someone within the company who will be using Geneva2020! (supposing your company is based in Geneva) as their password. A decent attacker will quickly find the appropriate account and connect to the system with it.
The only solution here is implementing a second authentication factor. Microsoft wrote a nice post about passwords which can be found here, which shows pretty well why any other measure will be ineffective.
Not all authentication factors are born equal though and there are differences between tokens, certificates or SMSs but whatever the second factor is, it will be better than relying on a single password. If a machine certificate is used as an authentication factor, it does have the advantage of being “unphishable”, unlike any other factor which has to be entered by the user.
So the first recommendation, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, is to implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for your remote access system. Even if it obviously doesn’t provide perfect security, it is a big step in the right direction.
Compromising the Remote Access System
If 2019 taught us anything, it’s that remote access systems are not as secure as vendors will try to make us believe. Last year, most SSL-VPN vendors were hit by at least one serious vulnerability allowing attackers to break into the protected network:
- Netscaler (CVE-2019-19781)
- Fortinet (CVE-2018-13382)
- Pulse Secure (CVE-2019-11510)
- SonicWall (CVE-2019-7482)
- Palo Alto (no CVE)
Let’s add to that Bluekeep (CVE-2019-0708) for RDP and we’ve already got a lot of systems covered. And these are just the ones that were made public!
So the second takeaway here is to always ensure your remote access systems are up to date. Vulnerabilities in these systems have important consequences and are usually very quickly exploited, so make sure you have a way of being notified when a new patch is available and apply it as soon as possible.
Compromising an end user device
And now we get to the final aspect of this post which is attempting to secure your systems from potentially compromised end user devices. In many cases, companies are now allowing employees to remotely connect to the corporate network with their own personal devices on which the company has absolutely no control. There might not even be AppLocker on the device!
The bottom line is that unfortunately, if a compromised device is used to connect to a remote access system, an attacker can pretty much do anything the legitimate user can. Whether you have multi-factor authentication setup or not will not protect you against this. For example, an attacker can simply wait for the legitimate user to authenticate to the SSL-VPNs Web interface and then steal the generated session cookie. If the cookie is bound to the user’s IP address, the attacker can proxy his/her connections through the victim’s workstation.
Preventing a device from being compromised in the first place entirely depends on the end user (in the case where he or she is using their own personal device). Awareness trainings can help, though often only employees who are interested in the subject and therefore need it the least attend unless they are mandatory. Nevertheless, talking about the subject and discussing cases with employees, and therefore integrating them into the company’s defense mechanism will raise awareness and increase the chances of at least detecting the attacks.
MELANI wrote a short document on how users can protect themselves which can be found here. It covers several topics, but I’d say the main recommendation is that if it is at all possible, have a separate work computer from your private one and make sure nobody else uses it.
Protecting against a compromised private device is akin to protecting against a malicious insider. Much like dealing with Covid19, there are mainly two options here:
This is not rocket science, but most companies still have a hard time properly segmenting their internal network and implementing strict firewall rules, which makes it difficult to truly isolate a malicious user. On the upside, these are issues which all companies should be tackling, whether it’s due to the current situation leading to increased Work from Home, or not.
When I say isolation, I essentially mean applying the least-privilege principle and ensuring a user only has access to what he or she absolutely needs in order to work efficiently. In this way, even if the user’s device is compromised, the attacker can still only access what the user has access to.
When it comes to detection, it is all about detecting patterns of actions which deviate from the norm. Why is someone from IT suddenly attempting to read files on the accounting share? Probably because it’s not really them doing it! This requires some kind of base for comparison, and some intelligence to detect the outliers. A flurry of solutions based, for example, on machine learning techniques exist to do this, but I won’t go so far as to recommend one over the other.
So to summarize the contents of this post, my recommendations to secure a remote access solution are:
- Use multiple authentication factors, and if possible one which is unknown to the user
- Make sure your remote access solution is up to date
- Have your employees use a dedicated machine for accessing the network whenever possible
- Apply the least privileges principle and restrict access to the strict minimum for all users
- Detect abnormal patterns and behaviours
Without working on these aspects, companies will essentially be blind and very vulnerable to attacks targeting these remote access solutions.