Advanced hackers are actively exploiting a critical remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability, CVE-2022-22954, that affects in VMware Workspace ONE Access (formerly called VMware Identity Manager).
The issue was addressed in a security update 20 days ago along with two more RCEs – CVE-2022-22957 and CVE-2022-22958 that also affect VMware Identity Manager (vIDM), VMware vRealize Automation (vRA), VMware Cloud Foundation, and vRealize Suite Lifecycle Manager.
Soon after the public disclosure of the flaws, proof of concept (PoC) exploit code emerged in the public space, enabling hackers leveraged to target vulnerable VMware product deployments. VMware confirmed CVE-2022-22954 exploitation in the wild.
Now, researchers at Morphisec report seeing exploitation from advanced persistent threat (APT) actors, particularly an Iranian hacking group tracked as APT35, aka “Rocket Kitten.”
The adversaries gain initial access to the environment by exploiting CVE-2022-22954, the only one in the RCE trio that doesn’t require administrative access to the target server and also has a publicly available PoC exploit.
The attack starts with executing a PowerShell command on the vulnerable service (Identity Manager), which launches a stager.
The stager then fetches the PowerTrash loader from the command and control (C2) server in a highly obfuscated form and loads a Core Impact agent into the system memory.
The APT35 attack flow (Morphisec)
Core Impact is a legitimate penetration testing tool that is abused for nefarious purposes in this case, similar to how Cobalt Strike is deployed in malicious campaigns.
This isn’t a novel element, though. Trend Micro has reported Core Impact abuse in the past by APT35, the activity dating as far back as 2015.
“Morphisec research observed attackers already exploiting this vulnerability (CVE-2022-22954) to launch reverse HTTPS backdoors—mainly Cobalt Strike, Metasploit, or Core Impact beacons” – Morphisec
Morphisec CTO Michael Gorelik told BleepingComputer that the attacker tried lateral movement on the network, although the backdoor was stopped.
“With privileged access, these types of attacks may be able to bypass typical defenses including antivirus (AV) and endpoint detection and response (EDR),” Morphisec adds in the report.
Links to hosting firm
Morphisec was able to retrieve the stager server’s C2 address, the Core Impact client version, and the 256-bit encryption key used for C2 communication, and eventually linked the operation to a specific person named Ivan Neculiti and a company named Stark Industries.
BleepingComputer found a couple of companies in a fraud exposure database that listed the name Neculiti as an associate or beneficiary. The database included a hosting firm that allegedly supports illegal websites used in spam and phishing campaigns.
It is unclear if Neculiti or the associated companies were in any way, knowingly or not, involved in cybercriminal campaigns.
Update [April 26, 12:04PM]: BleepingComputer received a statement from P.Q. Hosting S.R.L., headquartered in Moldova and the parent company of Stark Industries, dismissing their deliberate involvement in illegal activities:
“We have over 15,000 active clients, among them of course there are intruders whom we are fighting. None of the hosting companies is immune from the fact that the same attackers will come to them tomorrow.”
“The Stark Industries company was created only to provide our resellers with a white label and they could resell our services more easily, and not because we hide anything.”