As we write this post, you’ve likely heard about the FireEye and U.S. government agency breaches that occurred over the past week. We know now the breaches have been linked back to a supply chain attack on the SolarWinds Orion Platform, a software platform that manages IT operations and products for over 300,000 organizations, including over 425 of the Fortune 500, all ten of the top U.S. telecommunications companies, all five branches of the U.S. Military, all five of the top U.S. accounting firms, and many, many more.

While FireEye, the U.S. Treasury, and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) were the first to report a security breach, the breadth of SolarWinds’ customer base is an indicator that the breaches are seemingly the tip of the iceberg.

For the sake of information sharing, here is an overview of the attacks, immediate steps you can take to identify whether you have fallen victim, and tips for protecting your organization as communicated by FireEye, SolarWinds, and NetSPI. For the full technical deep-dive, we highly recommend the FireEye blog post.

Overview: SolarWinds Orion Manual Supply Chain Attack

On December 13, SolarWinds issued a security advisory alerting to a manual supply chain attack on its Orion Platform software builds for versions 2019.4 HF 5 through 2020.2.1, released between March 2020 and June 2020.

FireEye discovered the attack and suggests it is a state-sponsored global intrusion campaign by a group named UNC2452 – though many industry experts are attributing the attack to APT29, a group of hackers associated with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

  • Attack Origin: UNC2452 gained access to victims via trojan-based updates to SolarWinds’ Orion IT monitoring and management software, distributing malware called SUNBURST. Multiple trojanized updates were digitally signed and subsequently deployed via this URL: hxxps://downloads.solarwinds[.]com/solarwinds/CatalogResources/Core/2019.4/2019.4.5220.20574 /SolarWinds-Core-v2019.4.5220-Hotfix5.msp. The downloaded file is a standard Windows Installer Patch file, which includes the trojanized SolarWinds.Orion.Core.BusinessLayer.dll component.
  • How It Works: The digitally signed SolarWinds.Orion.Core.BusinessLayer.dll file is a component of the Orion Improvement Program (OIP) software framework that contains a backdoor that communicates with third party servers via the HTTP protocol. The malicious DLL gets loaded into the legitimate SolarWinds.BusinessLayerHost.exe or SolarWinds.BusinessLayerHostx64.exe executables and can run dormant for up to two weeks before beaconing to a subdomain of avsvmcloud[.]com. To avoid possible detection, the C2 traffic between the beaconing server and the victim is made to resemble legitimate SolarWinds communications. This includes HTTP GET, HEAD, POST and PUT requests with JSON payloads in their bodies. The HTTP responses from the C2 server communicating with the victim contain XML data that resembles .NET assembly data used for normal SolarWinds operations. Within the XML, however, is obfuscated command information that is deobfuscated and then executed by the SolarWinds process on the victim’s system.
  • Impact/Result: Following the initial compromise and deployment of SUNBURST, a variety of more capable payloads can be deployed to facilitate lateral movement and data theft. Common payloads include TEARDROP and Cobalt Strike BEACON, both of which can be loaded into memory to improve stealth of operations.

Known breaches include:

FireEye: On December 8, FireEye communicated a state-sponsored security breach through which the attackers accessed FireEye’s Red Team assessment tools used to test customers’ security. Following the breach, the company made its list of countermeasures public. FireEye has now confirmed that this attack was a result of the SolarWinds Orion supply chain attack.

U.S. Treasury and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA): On December 13, Reuters reported that Russian-associated hackers broke into the U.S. Treasury and Commerce department’s Microsoft 365 software and have been monitoring internal email traffic. Following a National Security Council meeting at the White House over the weekend, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an emergency directive for all federal agencies to power down SolarWinds Orion.

Organizations are frantically working to figure out if they have been a victim of the attack and how to protect themselves. Here are the immediate steps to take, according to SolarWinds, FireEye, and NetSPI’s team of offensive security experts:

  1. First, determine if SolarWinds Orion is deployed within your environment. If unsure, NetSPI recommends performing a network scan to identify the Orion agent. For example, this can be performed with Nmap by running: nmap –open -sT -p 17778,17790 x.x.x.x/xx, where x.x.x.x is the network address and xx is the subnet mask. If the Orion agent is found, follow SolarWinds’ recommendations.
  2. SolarWinds recommends customers upgrade to Orion Platform version 2020.2.1 HF 1 as soon as possible. It also asks customers with any of the products listed on the security advisory for Orion Platform v2019.4 HF 5 to update to 2019.4 HF 6. Additional suggestions can be found in the security advisory. While upgrading Orion will prevent future backdoored deployments from occurring, it will not remediate the potentially infected deployments that have already taken place via the Orion Platform.
  3. Additionally, FireEye provides a list of recommendations including its signatures to detect this threat actor and supply chain attack. Specific details on the YARA, Snort, and ClamAV signatures can be found on FireEye’s public GitHub page.

Get in Touch: To connect with NetSPI for support with testing efforts related to the SolarWinds Orion attack, email