Attackers install DDoS bots on Amazon cloud, exploiting Elasticsearch weakness

Attackers are targeting Amazon EC2 instances with Elasticsearch 1.1.x installed

Attackers are exploiting a vulnerability in distributed search engine software Elasticsearch to install DDoS malware on Amazon and possibly other cloud servers.

Elasticsearch is an increasingly popular open-source search engine server developed in Java that allows applications to perform full-text search for various types of documents through a REST API (representational state transfer application programming interface).

Because it has a distributed architecture that allows for multiple nodes, Elasticsearch is commonly used in cloud environments. It can be deployed on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine and other cloud platforms.

Versions 1.1.x of Elasticsearch have support for active scripting through API calls in their default configuration. This feature poses a security risk because it doesn't require authentication and the script code is not sandboxed.

Security researchers reported earlier this year that attackers can exploit Elasticsearch's scripting capability to execute arbitrary code on the underlying server, the issue being tracked as CVE-2014-3120 in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database.

Elasticsearch's developers haven't released a patch for the 1.1.x branch, but starting with version 1.2.0, released on May 22, dynamic scripting is disabled by default.

Last week security researchers from Kaspersky Lab found new variants of Mayday, a Trojan program for Linux that's used to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The malware supports several DDoS techniques, including DNS amplification.

One of the new Mayday variants was found running on compromised Amazon EC2 server instances, but this is not the only platform being misused, said Kaspersky Lab researcher Kurt Baumgartner Friday in a blog post.

The attackers break into EC2 instances -- virtual machines run by Amazon EC2 customers -- by exploiting the CVE-2014-3120 vulnerability in Elasticsearch 1.1.x, which is still being used by some organizations in active commercial deployments despite being superseded by Elasticsearch 1.2.x and 1.3.x, Baumgartner said.

The Kaspersky researchers managed to observe the early stages of the Elasticsearch attacks on EC2. They said that the attackers modified publicly available proof-of-concept exploit code for CVE-2014-3120 and used it to install a Perl-based Web shell -- a backdoor script that allows remote attackers to execute Linux shell commands over the Web. The script, detected by Kaspersky products as Backdoor.Perl.RShell.c, is then used to download the new version of the Mayday DDoS bot, detected as Backdoor.Linux.Mayday.g.

The Mayday variant seen on compromised EC2 instances didn't use DNS amplification and only flooded sites with UDP traffic. Nevertheless, the attacks forced targets, which included a large regional bank in the U.S. and a large electronics maker and service provider from Japan, to switch their IP (Internet Protocol) addresses to those of a DDoS mitigation provider, Baumgartner said.

"The flow is also strong enough that Amazon is now notifying their customers, probably because of potential for unexpected accumulation of excessive resource charges for their customers," he said. "The situation is probably similar at other cloud providers."

Users of Elasticsearch 1.1.x should upgrade to a newer version and those who require the scripting functionality should follow the security recommendations made by the software's developers in a blog post on July 9.

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