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03 Oct 2017 | Peter Stöckli

Apache Tomcat RCE if readonly set to false (CVE-2017-12617)

The Vulnerability

The Apache Tomcat team announced today that all Tomcat versions before 9.0.1 (Beta), 8.5.23, 8.0.47 and 7.0.82 contain a potentially dangerous remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability on all operating systems if the default servlet is configured with the parameter readonly set to false or the WebDAV servlet is enabled with the parameter readonly set to false. This configuration would allow any unauthenticated user to upload files (as used in WebDAV). It was discovered that the filter that prevents the uploading of JavaServer Pages (.jsp) can be circumvented. So JSPs can be uploaded, which then can be executed on the server.

Now since this feature is typically not wanted, most publicly exposed system won’t have readonly set to false.

This security issue (CVE-2017-12617) was discovered after a similar vulnerability in Tomcat 7 on Windows CVE-2017-12615 has been fixed. Unfortunately it has been publicly disclosed in the Tomcat Bugtracker on the 20th of September.

Updating Tomcat to a version where the vulnerability is fixed is recommended in all cases.
(The setting could be enabled by accident or other vulnerable combinations could be discovered.)

Part of the original announcement:

CVE-2017-12617 Apache Tomcat Remote Code Execution via JSP Upload

Severity: Important

Versions Affected:
Apache Tomcat 9.0.0.M1 to 9.0.0
Apache Tomcat 8.5.0 to 8.5.22
Apache Tomcat 8.0.0.RC1 to 8.0.46
Apache Tomcat 7.0.0 to 7.0.81

When running with HTTP PUTs enabled (e.g. via setting the readonly
initialisation parameter of the Default servlet to false) it was
possible to upload a JSP file to the server via a specially crafted
request. This JSP could then be requested and any code it contained
would be executed by the server.

Users of the affected versions should apply one of the following
- Upgrade to Apache Tomcat 9.0.1 or later
- Upgrade to Apache Tomcat 8.5.23 or later
- Upgrade to Apache Tomcat 8.0.47 or later
- Upgrade to Apache Tomcat 7.0.82 or later

This issue was first reported publicly followed by multiple reports to
the Apache Tomcat Security Team.

2017-10-03 Original advisory

The Exploit

The publicly described exploit is as simple as sending a special crafted HTTP PUT request with a JSP as payload to a Tomcat server.

The code is then executed when the newly uploaded JSP is accessed via an HTTP client (e.g. web browser): uploaded JSP executed on the server

The Misconfiguration

The misconfiguration in the default servlet can be spotted by checking if the web.xml of the default servlet contains an init-param like this (typically there are other init-params set):


Please note: that the misconfiguration could also take place in code or the configuration of the WebDAV servlet (if enabled).

The documentation of the default servlet talks about the read only param like this:

Is this context "read only", so HTTP commands like PUT and DELETE are rejected? [true]

Since this sentence does not mention the dangers of this param we suggested a change of said documentation.

The Mitigation

Updating Tomcat to a version where the vulnerability is fixed (e.g. Tomcat 8.5.23) is recommended.

The readonly init-param shouldn’t be set to false. If this param is left to the default (true) an attacker has not been able to upload files.

On this occasion it’s also a good idea to make sure that you don’t have the same vulnerability in custom PUT implementations (also see: Unrestricted File Upload).

Additionally, it’s of course also possible to block PUT and DELETE requests on the frontend server (e.g. on the Web Application Firewall (WAF)).

Final Thoughts

In our eyes it is almost always wrong to set readonly to false and hopefully most publicly accessible Tomcat servers don’t have it set to false anyways.

If you are a user of Apache Tomcat it is recommended to subscribe to the tomcat-announce mailinglist to get information about new releases and security vulnerabilities directly from the Tomcat team.

Update for developers (04 Oct 2017)

On some sites on the Internet (e.g. on Stack Overflow) you find the information that you should set readonly to false to make your custom servlet accept PUT or DELETE requests. That is simply wrong!

Update (05 Oct 2017)

Updated the blog post to better point out that an upgrade to a fixed Tomcat version is (of course) recommended. Added the original announcement.

Update (09 Oct 2017)

Extended Mitigation chapter, improved wording.

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14 Aug 2017 | Peter Stöckli

Misconfigured JSF ViewStates can lead to severe RCE vulnerabilities

tl;dr ViewStates in JSF are serialized Java objects. If the used JSF implementation in a web application is not configured to encrypt the ViewState the web application may have a serious remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability. So it is important that the ViewState encryption is never disabled!


After we had a look at RCEs through misconfigured JSON libraries we started analyzing the ViewStates of JSF implementations. JavaServer Faces (JSF) is a User Interface (UI) technology for building web UIs with reusable components. JSF is mostly used for enterprise applications and a JSF implementation is typically used by a web application that runs on a Java application server like JBoss EAP or WebLogic Server. There are two well-known implementations of the JSF specification:

  • Oracle Mojarra (JSF reference implementation)
  • Apache MyFaces


This blog post focuses on the two JSF 2.x implementations: Oracle Mojarra (Reference Implementation) and Apache MyFaces. Older implementations (JSF 1.x) are also likely to be affected by the vulnerabilities described in this post. (JSF 2.0.x was initially released in 2009, the current version is 2.3.x).

The state of the ViewState

A difference between JSF and similar web technologies is that JSF makes use of ViewStates (in addition to sessions) to store the current state of the view (e.g. what parts of the view should currently be displayed). The ViewState can be stored on the server or the client. JSF ViewStates are typically automatically embedded into HTML forms as hidden field with the name javax.faces.ViewState. They are sent back to the server if the form is submitted.

Server-side ViewState

If the JSF ViewState is configured to sit on the server the hidden javax.faces.ViewState field contains an id that helps the server to retrieve the correct state. In the case of MyFaces that id is a serialized Java object!

Client-side ViewState

If the JSF ViewState is configured to sit on the client the hidden javax.faces.ViewState field contains a serialized Java object that is at least Base64 encoded. You might have realized by now that this is a potential road to disaster! That might be one of the reasons why nowadays JSF ViewStates are encrypted and signed before being sent to the client.

The dangers of serialized Java objects

In 2015 at the AppSec California conference Gabriel Lawrence and Chris Frohoff held a presentation with the title Marshalling Pickles (how deserializing objects can ruin your day). This presentation shed some light on forgotten problems with Java object serialization and led to the discovery of several severe remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, it led some people to believe that the vulnerability could be mitigated by removing/updating certain versions of Apache Commons Collections. An action which can indeed help but does not solve the root cause of the problem: Deserialization of Untrusted Data (CWE 502). In other words:
The use of a 'vulnerable' Apache Commons Collections version does not mean that the application is vulnerable, neither does the absence of such a library version mean that the application is not vulnerable.

However, after a malicious hacker shut down and encrypted the systems of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency via a "Mad Gadget"/"Apache Commons Collections Deserialization Vulnerability" Google started Operation Rosehub. The aim of operation Rosehub was to find as many Java open source projects as possible which used an 'attacker-friendly' commons collections version as dependency and submit pull requests to the project owners so that those projects would stop using problematic commons collections versions in newer releases.

The attack on the ViewState

Let’s assume we have a web application with a JSF based login page:

JSF based login

That login page has a ViewState that is neither encrypted nor signed. So when we look at its HTML source we see a hidden field containing the ViewState:

Unencrypted MyFaces ViewState:
<input type="hidden" name="javax.faces.ViewState" id="j_id__v_0:javax.faces.ViewState:1" value="rO0ABXVyABNbTGphdmEubGFuZy5PYmplY3Q7kM5YnxBzKWwCAAB4cAAAAAJwdAAML2xvZ2luLnhodG1s" autocomplete="off" />

If you decode the above ViewState using Base64 you will notice that it contains a serialized Java object. This ViewState is sent back to the server via POST when the form is submitted (e.g. click on Login). Now before the ViewState is POSTed back to the server the attacker replaces the ViewState with his own malicious ViewState using a gadget that’s already on the server’s classpath (e.g. InvokerTransformer from commons-collections-3.2.1.jar) or even a gadget that is not yet known to the public. With said malicious gadget placed in the ViewState the attacker specifies which commands he wants to run on the server. The flexibility of what an attacker can do is limited by the powers of the available gadgets on the classpath of the server. In case of the InvokerTransformer the attacker can specify which command line commands should be executed on the server. The attacker in our example chose to start a calculator on the UI of our Linux based server.

After the attacker has sent his modified form back to the server the JSF implementation tries to deserialize the provided ViewState. Now even before the deserialization of the ViewState has ended the command is executed and the calculator is started on the server:

calculator started via a JSF ViewState

Everything happened before the JSF implementation could have a look at the ViewState and decide that it was no good. When the ViewState was found to be invalid typically an error is sent back to the client like “View expired”. But then it’s already too late. The attacker had access to the server and has run commands. (Most real-world attackers don’t start a calculator but they typically deploy a remote shell, which they then use to access the server.)

=> All in all this example demonstrates a very dangerous unauthenticated remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability.

(Almost the same attack scenario against JSF as depicted above was already outlined and demonstrated in the 2015 presentation (pages 65 to 67): Marshalling Pickles held by Frohoff and Lawrence.)

The preconditions for a successful attack

Now, what are the ingredients for a disaster?

  • unencrypted ViewState
  • Gadget on the classpath of the server
  • In case of Mojarra: ViewState configured to reside on the client
  • In case of MyFaces: ViewState configured to reside on the client or the server

Let’s have a look at those points in relation to the two JSF implementations.

Oracle Mojarra (JSF reference implementation)

As said before Oracle Mojarra is the JSF Reference Implementation (RI) but might not be known under that name. It might be known as Sun JSF RI, recognized with the java package name com.sun.faces or with the ambiguous jar name jsf-impl.jar.

Mojarra: unencrypted ViewState

So here’s the thing: Mojarra did not encrypt and sign the client-side ViewState by default in most of the versions of 2.0.x and 2.1.x. It is important to note that a server-side ViewState is the default in both JSF implementations but a developer could easily switch the configuration to use a client-side viewstate by setting the javax.faces.STATE_SAVING_METHOD param to client. The param name does in no way give away that changing it to client introduces grave remote code execution vulnerabilities (e.g. a client-side viewstate might be used in clustered web applications).

Whilst client-side ViewState encryption is the default in Mojarra 2.2 and later versions it was not for the 2.0.x and 2.1.x branches. However, in May 2016 the Mojarra developers started backporting default client-side ViewState encryption to 2.0.x and 2.1.x when they realized that unencrypted ViewStates lead to RCE vulnerabilities.

So at least version 2.1.29-08 (released in July 2016) from the 2.1.x Branch and version 2.0.11-04 (also released in July 2016) from the 2.0.x have encryption enabled by default.

When we analyzed the Mojarra libraries we noticed that Red Hat also releases Mojarra versions for the 2.1.x and 2.0.x branches, the latest being 2.1.29-jbossorg-1 and 2.0.4-b09-jbossorg-4. Since both releases were without default ViewState encryption we contacted Red Hat and they promptly created Bug 1479661 - JSF client side view state saving deserializes data in their bugtracker with following mitigation advice for the 2.1.x branch:

A vulnerable web application needs to have set javax.faces.STATE_SAVING_METHOD to 'client' to enable client-side view state saving. The default value on Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) 6.4.x is 'server'.

If javax.faces.STATE_SAVING_METHOD is set to 'client' a mitigation for this issue is to encrypt the view by setting com.sun.faces.ClientStateSavingPassword in the application web.xml:

    <env-­entry-­value>[some secret password]</env-­entry-value>

Unfortunately, in some even older versions that mitigation approach does not work: according to this great StackOverflow answer in the JSF implementation documentation it was incorrectly documented that the param com.sun.faces.ClientStateSavingPassword is used to change the Client State Saving Password, while the parameter up until 2.1.18 was accidentally called ClientStateSavingPassword. So providing a Client State Saving Password as documented didn’t have an effect! In Mojarra 2.1.19 and later versions they changed the parameter name to the documented name com.sun.faces.ClientStateSavingPassword.

By default Mojarra nowadays uses AES as encryption algorithm and HMAC-SHA256 to authenticate the ViewState.

Mojarra: ViewState configured to reside on the client

The default javax.faces.STATE_SAVING_METHOD setting of Mojarra is server. A developer needs to manually change it to client so that Mojarra becomes vulnerable to the above described attack scenario. If a serialized ViewState is sent to the server but Mojarra uses server side ViewState saving it will not try to deserialize it (However, a StringIndexOutOfBoundsException may occur).

Mojarra: Mitigation

When using Mojarra with a server-side ViewState nothing has to be done.

When using Mojarra < 2.2 and a client-side ViewState there are following possible mitigations:

  • Update Mojarra to 2.0.11-04 respectively 2.1.29-08.
  • Use a server-side ViewState instead of a client-side ViewState.
  • When using older Versions of Mojarra and an update or switching to a server-side ViewState is not possible: set a ViewState password as temporary solution and make sure it is the right parameter (not necessarily the one in the corresponding documentation)

For later Mojarra versions:

  • Check that the ViewState encryptions is not disabled via the param: com.sun.faces.disableClientStateEncryption

Apache MyFaces

Apache MyFaces is the other big and widely used JSF implementation.

MyFaces: unencrypted ViewState

MyFaces does encrypt the ViewState by default, as stated in their Security configuration Wiki page:

Encryption is enabled by default. Note that encription must be used in production environments and disable it could only be valid on testing/development environments.

However, it is possible to disable ViewState encryption by setting the parameter org.apache.myfaces.USE_ENCRYPTION to false. (Also it would be possible to use encryption but manually set an easy guessable password). By default the ViewState encryption secret changes with every server restart.

By default MyFaces uses DES as encryption algorithm and HMAC-SHA1 to authenticate the ViewState. It is possible and recommended to configure more recent algorithms like AES and HMAC-SHA256.

MyFaces: ViewState configured to reside on the client

The default javax.faces.STATE_SAVING_METHOD setting of MyFaces is server. But: MyFaces does always deserialize the ViewState regardless of that setting. So it is of great importance to not disable encryption when using MyFaces!

(We created an issue in the MyFaces bug tracker: MYFACES-4133 Don’t deserialize the ViewState-ID if the state saving method is server, maybe this time the wish for more secure defaults will catch on.)

MyFaces: Mitigation

When using MyFaces make sure that encryption of the ViewState is not disabled (via org.apache.myfaces.USE_ENCRYPTION) regardless if the ViewState is stored on the client or the server.

Final thoughts

Most facts about JSF ViewStates and their dangers presented in this blog post are not exactly new but it seems they were never presented in such a condensed way. It showed once more that seemingly harmless configuration changes can lead to serious vulnerabilities.

=> One of the problems seems to be that there is not enough knowledge transfer between security researchers and developers who actually use and configure libraries that might be dangerous when configured in certain ways.

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13 Jun 2017 | Peter Stöckli

How to configure Json.NET to create a vulnerable web API

tl;dr No, of course, you don’t want to create a vulnerable JSON API. So when using Json.NET: Don’t use another TypeNameHandling setting than the default: TypeNameHandling.None.


In May 2017 Moritz Bechler published his MarshalSec paper where he gives an in-depth look at remote code execution (RCE) through various Java Serialization/Marshaller libraries like Jackson and XStream. In the conclusion of the detailed paper, he mentions that this kind of exploitation is not limited to Java but might also be possible in the .NET world through the Json.NET library. Newtonsoft’s Json.NET is one of the most popular .NET Libraries and allows to deserialize JSON into .NET classes (C#, VB.NET).

So we had a look at Newtonsoft.Json and indeed found a way to create a web application that allows remote code execution via a JSON based REST API. For the rest of this post we will show you how to create such a simple vulnerable application and explain how the exploitation works. It is important to note that these kind of vulnerabilities in web applications are most of the time not vulnerabilities in the serializer libraries but configuration mistakes. The idea is of course to raise awareness with developers to prevent such flaws in real .NET web applications.

The sample application

The following hypothetical ASP.NET Core sample application was tested with .NET Core 1.1. For other .NET framework versions slightly different JSONs might be necessary.


The key in making our application vulnerable for “Deserialization of untrusted data” is to enable type name handling in SerializerSettings of Json.NET. This tells Json.NET to write type information in the field “$type” of the resulting JSON and look at that field when deserializing.

In our sample application we set this SerializerSettings globally in the ConfigureServices method in Startup.cs:

services.AddMvc().AddJsonOptions(options =>
    options.SerializerSettings.TypeNameHandling = TypeNameHandling.All;

Following TypeNameHandlings are vulnerable against this attack:


In fact the only kind that is not vulnerable is the default: TypeNameHandling.None

The official Json.NET TypeNameHandling documentation explicitly warns about this:

TypeNameHandling should be used with caution when your application deserializes JSON from an external source. Incoming types should be validated with a custom SerializationBinder when deserializing with a value other than None.

But as the MarshalSec paper points out: not all developers read the documentation of the libraries they’re using.

The REST web service

To offer a remote attack possibility in our web application we created a small REST API that allows POSTing a JSON object.

public IActionResult Post([FromBody]Info value)
    if (value == null)
        return NotFound();
    return Ok();

As you may have noticed we accept a body value from the type Info, which is our own small dummy class:

public class Info
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public dynamic obj { get; set; }

The exploitation

To “use” our newly created vulnerability we simply POST a type-enhanced JSON to our web service:

POSTed JSON with HTTP Client

Et voilà: we executed code on the server!

Wait… what? But how?

Here’s how it works

When sending a custom JSON to a REST service that is handled by a deserializer that has support for custom type name handling in combination with the dynamic keyword the attacker can specify the type he’d like to have deserialized on the server.

So let’s have a look at the JSON we sent:

Rogue JSON
	"obj": {
		"$type": "System.IO.FileInfo, System.IO.FileSystem",
		"fileName": "rce-test.txt",
		"IsReadOnly": true

The line:

"$type": "System.IO.FileInfo, System.IO.FileSystem",

specifies the class FileInfo from the namespace System.IO in the assembly System.IO.FileSystem.

The deserializer will instantiate a FileInfo object by calling the public constructor public FileInfo(String fileName) with the given fileName “rce-test.txt” (a sample file we created at the root of our insecure web app). Json.NET prefers parameterless default constructors over one constructor with parameters, but since the default constructor of FileInfo is private it uses the one with one parameter. Afterwards it will set “IsReadOnly” to true. However, this does not simply set the “IsReadOnly” flag via reflection to true. What happens instead is that the deserializer calls the setter for IsReadOnly and the code of the setter is executed.

What happens when you call the IsReadOnly setter on a FileInfo instance is that the file is actually set to read-only.

We see that indeed the read-only flag has been set on the rce-test.txt file on the server: rce-test.txt file properties with read-only flag set

A small side effect of this vulnerable service implementation is that we also can check if a file exists on the server. If the file sent in the “fileName” field does not exist an exception is thrown when the setter for IsReadOnly is called and the server returns NotFound(404) to the caller.

To perform even more sinister work an attacker could search the .NET framework codebase or third party libraries for classes that execute code in the constructor and/or setters. The FileInfo class here is just used as a very simple example.


When providing Json.NET based REST services always leave the default TypeNameHandling at TypeNameHandling.None. When other TypeNameHandling settings are used an attacker might be able to provide a type he wants the serializer to deserialize and as a result unwanted code could be executed on the server.

The described behavior is of course not unique to Json.NET but is also implemented by other libraries that support Serialization e.g. when using System.Web.Script.Serialization.JavaScriptSerializer with a type resolver (e.g. SimpleTypeResolver).

Update (28 Jul 2017)

At Black Hat USA 2017 Alvaro Muñoz and Oleksandr Mirosh held a talk with the title “Friday the 13th: JSON Attacks”. Muñoz and Mirosh had an in-depth look at different .NET (FastJSON, Json.NET, FSPickler, Sweet.Jayson, JavascriptSerializer DataContractJsonSerializer) and Java (Jackson, Genson, JSON-IO, FlexSON, GSON) JSON libraries. The conclusions regarding Json.NET are the same as in this blog post: Basically to not use another TypeNameHandling than TypeNameHandling.None or use a SerializationBinder to white list types (as in the documentation of Json.NET).

They also presented new gadgets, which allow more sinister attacks than the one published in this blog post (the gadgets might not work with all JSON/.NET framework combinations):

  • System.Configuration.Install.AssemblyInstaller: "Execute payload on local assembly load"
  • System.Activities.Presentation.WorkflowDesigner: "Arbitrary XAML load"
  • System.Windows.ResourceDictionary: "Arbitrary XAML load"
  • System.Windows.Data.ObjectDataProvider: "Arbitrary Method Invocation"

In addition to their findings they had a look at .NET open source projects which made use of any of those different JSON libraries with type support and found several vulnerabilities:

Both the white paper[pdf] and the slides[pdf] are available on the Black Hat site.

24 Feb 2017 | Peter Stöckli

The Cloudflare leak


On the 23rd of February Tavis Ormandy of Google’s Project Zero made following security vulnerability accessible to the public: Cloudflare Reverse Proxies are Dumping Uninitialized Memory. The vulnerability affects many Cloudflare customers and especially their users. A vulnerable software component in Cloudflare’s reverse proxies led to the disclosure of Personally identifiable information (PII) of users around the world. Since Cloudflare reverse proxies are shared between customers, user information could emerge in a totally different place on the Internet.

The report describes how the security researchers at Google experienced the “cloudbleed” situation:

We fetched a few live samples, and we observed encryption keys, cookies, passwords, chunks of POST data and even HTTPS requests for other major cloudflare-hosted sites from other users. Once we understood what we were seeing and the implications, we immediately stopped and contacted cloudflare security.

The report contains redacted user information from the ride-sharing unicorn Uber, health tracking company FitBit and dating site OkCupid.

How Cloudflare works

Let’s have a quick look at how Cloudflare works. Typically Cloudflare’s customers use their services for DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection. Often the customers use DNS services provided by Cloudflare and/or their traffic is redirected via Cloudflare’s reverse proxies before the traffic is sent to the customers web server. From a user’s point of view: the user’s traffic to the reverse proxy is encrypted, where it’s decrypted and analyzed by Cloudflare’s algorithms.

+---------+             +------------+               +--------------+
|  User   |  via HTTPS  | Cloudflare |  via HTTP(S)  |   Customer   |
|(Browser)+------------>+ (Reverse   +-------------->| (Web server) |
|(Mobile) |             |   Proxy)   |               |              |
+---------+             +------------+               +--------------+

Cloudflare’s Response

Cloudflare has published a detailed report, where Cloudflare’s talented security guys describe the technical part of the vulnerability: Incident report on memory leak caused by Cloudflare parser bug.

They write that the earliest leaking could have started on the 22th September of 2016.

They also write:

The infosec team worked to identify URIs in search engine caches that had leaked memory and get them purged. With the help of Google, Yahoo, Bing and others, we found 770 unique URIs that had been cached and which contained leaked memory. Those 770 unique URIs covered 161 unique domains. The leaked memory has been purged with the help of the search engines. We also undertook other search expeditions looking for potentially leaked information on sites like Pastebin and did not find anything.

However users on Twitter reported that they still found cached web pages using Google or Bing.

What’s important?

One important point is that not necessarily a Cloudflare customer’s site was leaking information about their users, but a totally different site of another Cloudflare customer could have been leaking that user information.

Another important point is that the listed search engines are not the only ones collecting and storing information from websites in the Internet. Think of caches, web crawlers, archive sites, solutions that store the content of websites for legal reasons, the list goes on…

Even our newly developed web application security scanner called SecBot, that continuously scans web applications for vulnerabilities stores the HTTP responses of the requests. Since we’re still in the development phase, SecBot hasn’t yet tested a site hosted behind a Cloudflare Reverse Proxy. If that would have been the case the database of SecBot could contain sensitive data of Cloudflare customers. And so could many other crawlers in the world.

And now?

If you want to act proactively you can change your passwords on sites to be known using Cloudflare (however not all sites using Cloudflare services are affected). Many different websites will probably request you to change your password and revoke OAuth tokens in the next days. As said before the infosec guys working at Cloudflare are found to be competent and will hopefully find a solution that prevents such a huge issue from ever happening again.

26 May 2016 | Peter Stöckli

RUAG APT report published by government agency


The Swiss governmental computer emergency response team ( has published a detailed technical report about the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) that targeted RUAG. RUAG, best-known for RUAG Defence is originally a spin-off of the Swiss army and is fully owned by the Swiss state. Remarkable and applaudable is the fact that it was decided to share this kind of information. The motivation of the GovCERT is explained in the conclusion:

"[..] One of the most effective countermeasures from a victim’s perspective is the sharing of information about such attacks with other organizations, also crossing national borders. This is why we decided to write a public report about this incident, and this is why we strongly believe to share as much information as possible. If this done by any affected party, the price for the attacker raises, as he risks to be detected in every network he attacked in different countries. [..]"


The attack that lasted from an unknown date (assumed in 2014) to the the 3rd May of 2016 is introduced like this:

"The cyber attack is related to a long running campaign of the threat actor around Epic/Turla/Tavdig. The actor has not only infiltrated many governmental organizations in Europe, but also commercial companies in the private sector in the past decade. RUAG has been affected by this threat since at least September 2014. The actor group used malware that does not encompass any root kit technologies (even though the attackers have rootkits within their malware arsenal). An interesting part is the lateral movement, which has been done with a lot of patience. [..]"

The report goes into technical details and reveals interesting details of the inner workings and communication channels of the observed malware. The researches that disassembled the binaries analyzed the encryption algorithms and communication methods used.

E. g. According to page 20 of the report the malware asymmetrically encrypted the stolen data, encoded it with Base64 and put it into a server response like this:

        <title>Authentication Required</title>

This seems like a fairly uncharacteristically move for a host that does normally not act as a web server and should be detectable for an Application Firewall.


The report makes some generic recommendations that should help companies to prevent such attacks or at least reduce their impact and improve the forensic readiness in case something happens. Some of those countermeasure recommendations on the system level are:

  • Consider using Applocker, a technique from Microsoft, which allows you to decide, based on GPOs (Group Policy Objects), which binaries are allowed to be executed, and under which paths. [..]
  • Reduce the privileges a user has when surfing the web or doing normal office tasks. High privileges may only be used when doing system administration tasks.
  • This actor, as well as many other actor groups, relies on the usage of “normal” tools for their lateral movement. The usage of such tools can be monitored. E.g. the start of a tool such as psexec.exe or dsquery.exe from within a normal user context should raise an alarm.
  • Keep your systems up-to-date and reduce their attack surface as much as possible (e.g.: Do you really need to have Flash deployed on every system?)
  • Use write blockers and write protection software for your USB/Firewire devices, or even disable them for all client devices
  • Block the execution of macros, or require signed macros

Side note: On the 19th of April 2016 Casey Smith disclosed an AppLocker Bypass that instruments regsvr32 to execute remote scripts.

Other areas of recommendations concern the Active Directory, the network, logging, system management and organizational aspects. Most of the recommendations sound straightforward and should already be in place in similar manner in secure environments of bigger companies. Interestingly the report does not reference ISO 27001, ISO 27002 or any other standards in the information security field, while its generic recommendations would align very well. Most likely the main focus of the authors was to give practical tips free of management lingo, reaching a broad, heterogeneous audience.

In general, the work that went into creating and publishing this report is appreciated and will hopefully have an impact.

03 May 2016 | Peter Stöckli

Alphabot Security Blog

We slightly redesigned our website and started the Alphabot Security Blog where we will write about security vulnerabilities and development tips for web applications.