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Thursday, 16 September 2021 07:53

Software agent used by Microsoft Azure exposes Linux VMs to numerous flaws Featured

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Software agent used by Microsoft Azure exposes Linux VMs to numerous flaws Courtesy Wiz.io

A software management agent silently installed by Microsoft's cloud platform Azure on Linux VMs has a number of remote code execution and local privilege escalation flaws, security firm Wiz.io has revealed.

As the presence of the agent is unknown to the owner of the VM, and Microsoft has no auto update mechanism for these agents, it has to be manually upgraded, British security expert Kevin Beaumont said in a tweet.

"...so now you need to manually upgrade the agents you didn’t know existed as you didn’t install them," Beaumont, who formerly worked as a threat researcher for the Redmond giant, added, with a touch of sarcasm.

As the agent is known as Open Management Infrastructure or OMI, Nir Ohfeld of Wiz gave the vulnerability the catchy name OMIGOD. The agent runs as root, with the maximum privileges.

Microsoft appeared to be uncertain about having fixed the flaw, though it listed four CVEs in its Patch Tuesday releases, judging from messages that were cited by Ohfeld in the blog post about the flaw.

Ohfeld said the OMI agent was embedded in many popular Azure services.

"When customers set up a Linux virtual machine in their cloud, the OMI agent is automatically deployed without their knowledge when they enable certain Azure services," he explained.

"Unless a patch is applied, attackers can easily exploit these four vulnerabilities to escalate to root privileges and remotely execute malicious code (for instance, encrypting files for ransom).

"We named this quartet of zero-days 'OMIGOD' because that was our reaction when we discovered them. We conservatively estimate that thousands of Azure customers and millions of endpoints are affected. In a small sample of Azure tenants we analyzed, over 65% were unknowingly at risk."

More than half of all Azure instances run Linux as a VM, according to Microsoft.

Ohfeld said these VMs were at risk if they were running any of the following services or tools:

  • Azure Automation
  • Azure Automatic Update
  • Azure Operations Management Suite
  • Azure Log Analytics
  • Azure Configuration Management
  • Azure Diagnostics

He hastened to add that this was just a partial list, and invited Azure users to contact him if they were aware of other services running OMI.

But Linux VMs were not the only source of worry. "In addition to Azure cloud customers, other Microsoft customers are affected since OMI can be independently installed on any Linux machine and is frequently used on-premise," Ohfeld pointed out.

"For example, OMI is built in System Center for Linux, Microsoft’s server management solution."

Ami Luttwak, the chief technology officer of Wiz.io, said: "The RCE is the simplest RCE you can ever imagine. Simply remove the auth header and you are root. remotely. on all machines.

And he added, sarcastically, "Is this really 2021?"

In his post, Ohfeld wrote: "This is a textbook RCE vulnerability that you would expect to see in the 90s – it’s highly unusual to have one crop up in 2021 that can expose millions of endpoints. With a single packet, an attacker can become root on a remote machine by simply removing the authentication header. It’s that simple.

"Thanks to the combination of a simple conditional statement coding mistake and an uninitialised auth struct, any request without an Authorisation header has its privileges default to uid=0, gid=0, which is root."

He said the company had reported the four vulnerabilities to Microsoft and they had been patched effective September 14 US time.

"Upgrading OMI happens through the parent Azure service that installed it. However, we urge customers to verify that their environment is indeed patched and they are running the latest version of OMI (Version 1.6.8.1)," Ohfeld added.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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