This blog contains experience gained over the years of implementing (and de-implementing) large scale IT applications/software.

Hardening SAP Hostagent SSL Connections

You may have recently had a penetration test and in the report you find that the SSL port for the SAP Hosagent (saphostexec) are listed as allowing weak encryption cipher strength and older SSL protocols.
You want to know how you can remedy this.

In this post I will show how we can appease the Cyber Security penetration testing team, by hardening the SSL ciphers and protocols used for connections to the Hostagent.

What Are Weak Ciphers?

Ciphers, like Triple-DES and Blowfish use 64-bit block sizes (the cipher text is split up into blocks of 64-bit in length) which makes a block cipher more vulnerable to compromise, compared to a cipher that uses a larger 128-bit block size.

The cipher is agreed upon during the setup of the SSL connection between the client and the server (SAP Hostagent in our scenario).
If a server advertises that it supports weaker ciphers, and a client elected to use one of the supported weaker ciphers during the SSL connection negotiation, then the connection could be vulnerable to decryption.

What Are Older SSL Protocols?

Through time the SSL protocol has been improved and strengthened.
The SSL protocol versions go from SSL v1.0 to SSL v3.0, then re-named to TLS and the versions again incremented from TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, TLS 1.2 and the most recent TLS 1.3 (in 2018).

The old SSL versions of the protocol are deprecated and should not be used. The slightly newer TLS versions 1.0 and 1.1 are also now widely deprecated (do not confuse “deprecated” with “unused”).

It is therefore recommended, generally, to use TLS 1.2 and above.

Why Harden the Hostagent SSL Service?

Now we have an appreciation of our older ciphers and protocols, let’s look at the Hostagent.
Usually the PEN test report will highlight the SSL TCP port 1129, and the report will state two things:

  • The SSL ciphers accepted by the Hostagent include weaker ciphers (such as RC4).
  • The SSL protocols accepted by the Hostagent include TLS 1.0 and 1.1.

The above issues present opportunities for hackers that may allow them to more easily compromise a SAP Hostagent on a SAP server.
Whilst this may not sound too bad, it is just the Hostagent, when we realise that the Hostagent runs as the Linux root (or Windows SYSTEM user) and there are known vulnerabilities that allow remote exploitation, we can see that the Hostagent could be a window into the SAP system as the highest privileged user on the server!
It is therefore quite important to try and protect the Hostagent as much as possible.

How Can We Harden the Hostagent SSL Service?

To ensure that weak ciphers are not used, the server needs to be configured to not use them. In the context of SAP Hostagents, they are the SSL servers and they need to be configured to only use stronger ciphers.

The SAP Hostagent is really the same as the SAP Instance Agent in disguise.
Because of this, it is possible to find documented parameters that allow us to harden the SSL service of the Hostagent in the same way.

By following SAP note 510007, we can see two SAP recommended parameters and settings that can be used to harden the SSL ciphers used:

  • ssl/ciphersuites = 135:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
  • ssl/client_ciphersuites = 150:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

The SAP note 510007 includes an extremely good description of the SAP cryptographic library’s capabilities, the role of SSL and even some commentary on the probability of an older protocol being abused.
I feel that the note has been written by someone with a lot of experience.

The above two parameters apply a numeric calculation that selects an appropriate strength of cryptographic ciphers to be used for server and client connectivity.
With the Hostagent, we are more concerned with the server side, but the Hostagent can also do client calls, so we apply both parameters in unison.

The values assigned to the two parameters are described by the SAP note as being good, but also allow flexibility for backwards compatibility with the older SAP and non-SAP software. Again the SAP note stresses the importance of compatibility (and having stuff continue to work) versus security.

What is the Impact of the Parameters?

To be able to see the impact to the Hostagent, we first need to see what the Hostagent supports out-of-the-box.

Thanks to a great post here: www.ise.io/using-openssl-determine-ciphers-enabled-server
we can use a super simple shell script (on Unix/Linux) to call the OpenSSL executable, make a connection to the target server (the Hostagent) and check the list of ciphers and protocols that are advertised.
The code from the above site is here:

for v in ssl2 ssl3 tls1 tls1_1 tls1_2; do 
   for c in $(openssl ciphers 'ALL:eNULL' | tr ':' ' '); do 
      openssl s_client -connect localhost:1129 -cipher $c -$v < /dev/null > /dev/null 2>&1 && echo -e "$v:\t$c" 
   done 
done

You can see that I have placed “localhost” and “1129” in the code.
This is because I am running the script on a Linux host with a SAP Hostagent installed, and the SSL port is 1129 (default).

The output is something like this (depending on your version of the Hostagent):

tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1: AES256-SHA 
tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1: AES128-SHA 
tls1: RC4-SHA 
tls1: RC4-MD5 
tls1: DES-CBC3-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: RC4-SHA 
tls1_1: RC4-MD5 
tls1_1: DES-CBC3-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: RC4-SHA 
tls1_2: RC4-MD5 
tls1_2: DES-CBC3-SHA

You can see that we have some RC4 and some DES ciphers listed in the TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 sections.
We now use SAP note 510007 to decide that we want to use the more secure settings that remove these weaker ciphers.

In the case of SAP Host Agents, we adjust the profile file /usr/sap/hostctrl/exe/host_profile (as root), and add our two SAP recommended parameters (mentioned previously):
ssl/ciphersuites = 135:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
ssl/client_ciphersuites = 150:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

NOTE: You should be running the latest SAP Hostagent, this is very important for security of your system. There are known vulnerabilities in older versions that allow remote compromise.

Once set, we need to restart the agent:

/usr/sap/hostctrl/exe/saphostexec -restart

We can re-execute our check script to see that we have a more secure configuration:

tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1: AES256-SHA 
tls1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: AES256-SHA 
tls1_1: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_1: AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA

The more insecure ciphers are removed, but we still see those older protocols (TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.2) in the list.
We decide that we would like to further harden the setup by removing those protocols.

If we look at SAP note 2384290, we can see that an alternate set of parameter values are provided:

  • ssl/ciphersuites = 545:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH
  • ssl/client_ciphersuites = 560:PFS:HIGH::EC_P256:EC_HIGH

Let’s apply these and re-run the test for a final time.
We can see that we get a super refined list of protocols and ciphers:

tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA384 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: AES256-GCM-SHA384 
tls1_2: AES256-SHA 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA 
tls1_2: AES128-GCM-SHA256 
tls1_2: AES128-SHA

Our Hostagent SSL service is now as secure as it can be at this point in time, within reason. If we try and adjust the ciphers any further, we may end up breaking compatibility with other SAP systems in your landscape.

Summary

We’ve seen how applying two SAP standard parameters to the SAP Hostagent and restarting it, can significantly strengthen the posture of the Hostagent’s SSL service.

However, we need to be cautious of compatibility with other SAP and non-SAP software in the landscape, which may talk to the Hostagent only with older protocols.

As a final note, you may be wondering if we can remove the HTTP service from the Hostagent? At this point in time I have not found a SAP note that would indicate this is possible or recommended. However, since the HTTP protocol is known to be insecure, just don’t use it. This is in comparison with SSL which should be secure, but might not be as secure as it could be.

HowTo: Check Netweaver 7.02 Secure Store Keyphrase

For Netweaver 7.1 and above, SAP provide a Java class that you can use to check the Secure Store keyphrase.
See SAP note 1895736 “Check if secure store keyphrase is correct”.
However, in the older Netweaver 7.02, the Java check function does not exist.

In this post I provide a simple way to check the keyphrase without making any destructive changes in Netweaver AS Java 7.02.

Why Check the Keyphrase?

Being able to check the Netweaver AS Java Secure Store keyphrase is useful when setting up SAP ASE HADR. The Software Provisioning Manager requests the keyphrase when installing the companion database on the standby/DR server.

The Check Process

In NW 7.02, you can use the following method, to check that you have the correct keyphrase for the Secure Store.
The method does not cause any outage or overwrite anything.
It is completely non-destructive, so you can run it as many times as you need.
I guess in a way it could also be used as a brute force method of guessing the keyphrase.

As the adm Linux user on the Java Central Instance, we first set up some useful variables:

setenv SLTOOLS /sapmnt/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}/global/sltools
setenv LIB ${SLTOOLS}/sharedlib
setenv IAIK ${SLTOOLS}/../security/lib/tools

Now we can call the java code that allows us to create a temporary Secure Store using the same keyphrase that we think is the real Secure Store keyphrase:
NOTE: We change “thepw” for the keyphrase that we think is correct.

/usr/sap/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}/J*/exe/sapjvm_*/bin/java -classpath "${LIB}/tc_sec_secstorefs.jar:${LIB}/exception.jar:${IAIK}/iaik_jce.jar:${LIB}/logging.jar" com.sap.security.core.server.secstorefs.SecStoreFS create -s ${SAPSYSTEMNAME} -f /tmp/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}sec.properties -k /tmp/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}sec.key -enc -p "thepw"

The output of the command above is 2 files in the /tmp folder, called sec.key and sec.properties.
If we now compare the checksum of the new temporary key file, to the current system Secure Store key file (in our case this is called SecStore.key):

cksum /sapmnt/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}/global/security/data/SecStore.key 
cksum /tmp/${SAPSYSTEMNAME}Sec.key


If both the check sum values are the same, then you have the correct keyphrase.

Is my GCP hosted SLES 12 Linux VM Affected by the BootHole Vulnerability

In an effort to really drag this topic out (it’s now a trilogy), I’ve taken my previous Azure specific post and also the AWS specific post and decided to do some further research into whether the same is true in Google Cloud Platform (a.k.a GCP).

Previously

(If I was writing this like a true screenwriter, it would get shorter and faster each recap).

In July 2020, a GRUB2 bootloader vulnerability was discovered which could allow attackers to replace the bootloader on a machine which has Secure Boot turned on.
The vulnerability is designated CVE-2020-10713 and is rated 8.2 HIGH on the CVSS (see here).

Let’s recap what this is (honestly, please see my Azure post for details, it’s quite technical), and how it impacts a GCP virtual machine running SUSE Enterprise Linux 12, which is commonly used to run SAP systems such as SAP HANA or other SAP products.

What is the Vulnerability?

Essentially, some evil input data can be entered into some part of the GRUB2 program binaries, which is not checked/validated.
By carefully crafting the data that is the overflow, it is possible to cause a specifically targeted memory area to be overwritten.

As described by Eclypsium here (the security company that detected this) “Attackers exploiting this vulnerability can install persistent and stealthy bootkits or malicious bootloaders that could give them near-total control over the victim device“.

Essentially, the vulnerability allows an attacker with root privileges to replace the bootloader with a malicious one.

What is GRUB2?

GRUB2 is v2 of the GRand Unified Bootloader (see here for the manual).
It can be used to load the main operating system of a computer.

What is Secure Boot?

There are commonly two boot methods: “Legacy Boot” and “Secure Boot” (a.k.a UEFI boot).
Until Secure Boot was invented, the bootloader would sit in a designated location on the hard disk and would be executed by the computer BIOS to start the chain of processes for the computer start up.

With Secure Boot, certificates are used to secure the boot process chain.
This BootHole vulnerability means a new CA certificate needs to be implemented in every machine that uses Secure Boot!

But the attackers Need Root?

Yes, the vulnerability is in a GRUB2 configuration text file owned by the root user. Additional text added to the file can cause the buffer overflow.
Anti-virus can’t remove the bootloader if the bootloader boots first and “adjusts” the anti-virus.

NOTE: The flaw also exists if you also use the network boot capability (PXE boot).

What is the Patch?

Due to the complexity of the problem (did you read the prior Eclypsium link?), it needs more than one piece of software to be patched and in different layers of the boot chain.

The vulnerable GRUB2 software needs patching.
To be able to stop the vulnerable version of GRUB2 being re-installed and used, three things need to happen:

  1. The O/S vendor (SUSE) needs to adjust their code (known as the “shim”) so that it no longer trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2. Again, this is a software patch from the O/S vendor (SUSE) which will need a reboot.
  2. Since someone with root could simply re-install O/S vendor code (the “shim”) that trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2, the adjusted O/S vendor code will need signing and trusting by the certificates further up the chain.
  3. The revocation list of Secure Boot needs to be adjusted to prevent the vulnerable version of the O/S vendor code (“shim”) from being called during boot. (This is known as the “dbx” (exclusion database), which will need updating with a firmware update).

What is SUSE doing about it?

There needs to be a multi-pronged patching process because SUSE also found some additional bugs during their analysis.

You can see the SUSE page on CVE-2020-10713 here, which includes the mention of the additional bugs.

How does this impact GCP VMs?

In the previous paragraphs we found that a firmware update is needed to update the “dbx” exclusion database.
Since GCP virtual machines are hosted in a KVM based hypervisor, the “firmware” is actually software.

Whilst looking for details on “Secure Boot” in GCP virtual machines, we come across the Google Compute Engine’s “Shielded VM” option.
You can read about it in detail here.
In brief, in GCP a Shielded VM is deployed using a pre-defined set of Google specific guest operating systems:

As noted above, the documentation specifically mentions that the “firmware” underpinning the virtual machine contains Google’s Certificate Authority (CA) certificate, as the root of the trust chain.
This is important because the Eclypsium description of the vulnerability is specifically citing a problem with the Microsoft CA.
What this means is that Google actually decide on the trust chain themselves and can probably more rapidly adjust the firmware with a new CA certificate.
To reiterate, this is specific to Google specific VM images that you deploy as a Shielded VM.

Another point worth noting is that when creating a Shielded VM, you can enable the vTPM (virtual trusted platform module), which allows integrity monitoring of the boot process. Any change to the boot process and a validation alert is triggered. Whilst this would not prevent compromise, it would at least alert an administrator.

Reading the Google infrastructure security document, we find that just like AWS, Google have designed and are implementing their own security chip called Titan, on the physical hosts. This is used to ensure that physical hosts boot securely, but it is not clear if this chip is used in anyway for Shielded VMs booted on the physical host.

If we delve further into the GCP documentation we find that we also have the option to create a custom image for deployment into a Shielded VM.
See the documentation on how to create a custom Shielded VM image:

The above states that you can create your own Secure Boot capable VM image for deployment in GCP as a Shielded VM.
If we read further down that page under section “Default certificates“, we find a slight difference compared to the Google “curated” images:

The above is telling us, by default the standard Microsoft CA certificates are used for the Secure Boot setup of VMs created using a custom image (remember non-custom Secure Boot images use Google’s root CA) in GCP.
When it says “default values”, right now, they are the only values because of a small note further up the page:

OK, so you can only use the defaults for now. The same compromised defaults that will need fixing. 🤷‍♂️

What do we think needs to happen once Google create the ability to replace the certificates?
From reading those previously mentioned documents, I would guess that to rebuild the certificate database used during the creation of the custom Shielded VM image, you are going to need to re-create the VM image and then re-deploy a VM from that image!

The question remains, is SLES 12 supported as a Shielded VM guest-OS on GCP?
According to the Shielded VM page here, it is not by default. You will need to therefore create your own image:

Summary:

The BootHole vulnerability is far reaching and will impact many, many devices (servers, laptops, IoT devices, TVs, fridges, cars?).
However, only those devices that actually *use* Secure Boot will truly be impacted, since the devices not using Secure Boot do not need to be patched (it’s fruitless).

If you run SLES 12 on GCP virtual machines, using public images, then by default you will not being using the Shielded VM instances, so there is no point patching to fix a vulnerability for which you are not affected.
You are only introducing more risk by patching.

If however, you do decide to patch (even if you don’t need to) then follow the advice from SUSE and patch to fix GRUB2, the “shim” and the other vulnerabilities that were found.

On a final closing point, you could be running a custom SLES image deployed in GCP as a Shielded VM. An image that your company has built and which uses Secure Boot. You would be wise to contact your cloud administrators to ensure that they are preparing for a VM rebuild and subsequent patching required to ensure that Secure Boot remains secure.

Useful Links:

Is my AWS hosted SLES 12 Linux VM Affected by the BootHole Vulnerability

In an effort to spin this story out a little further, I’ve taken my previous Azure specific post and decided to do some further research into whether the same is true in Amazon Web Services (a.k.a AWS).

Previously

In July 2020, a GRUB2 bootloader vulnerability was discovered which could allow attackers to replace the bootloader on a machine which has Secure Boot turned on.
The vulnerability is designated CVE-2020-10713 and is rated 8.2 HIGH on the CVSS (see here).

Let’s recap what this is (honestly, please see my other post for details, it’s quite technical), and how it impacts an AWS virtual machine running SUSE Enterprise Linux 12, which is commonly used to run SAP systems such as SAP HANA or other SAP products.

What is the Vulnerability?

Essentially, some evil input data can be entered into some part of the GRUB2 program binaries, which is not checked/validated.
By carefully crafting the data that is the overflow, it is possible to cause a specifically targeted memory area to be overwritten.

As described by Eclypsium here (the security company that detected this) “Attackers exploiting this vulnerability can install persistent and stealthy bootkits or malicious bootloaders that could give them near-total control over the victim device“.

Essentially, the vulnerability allows an attacker with root privileges to replace the bootloader with a malicious one.

What is GRUB2?

GRUB2 is v2 of the GRand Unified Bootloader (see here for the manual).
It can be used to load the main operating system of a computer.

What is Secure Boot?

There are commonly two boot methods: “Legacy Boot” and “Secure Boot” (a.k.a UEFI boot).
Until Secure Boot was invented, the bootloader would sit in a designated location on the hard disk and would be executed by the computer BIOS to start the chain of processes for the computer start up.

With Secure Boot, certificates are used to secure the boot process chain.
This BootHole vulnerability means a new CA certificate needs to be implemented in every machine that uses Secure Boot!

But the attackers Need Root?

Yes, the vulnerability is in a GRUB2 configuration text file owned by the root user. Additional text added to the file can cause the buffer overflow.
Anti-virus can’t remove the bootloader if the bootloader boots first and “adjusts” the anti-virus.

NOTE: The flaw also exists if you also use the network boot capability (PXE boot).

What is the Patch?

Due to the complexity of the problem (did you read the prior Eclypsium link?), it needs more than one piece of software to be patched and in different layers of the boot chain.

The vulnerable GRUB2 software needs patching.
To be able to stop the vulnerable version of GRUB2 being re-installed and used, three things need to happen:

  1. The O/S vendor (SUSE) needs to adjust their code (known as the “shim”) so that it no longer trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2. Again, this is a software patch from the O/S vendor (SUSE) which will need a reboot.
  2. Since someone with root could simply re-install O/S vendor code (the “shim”) that trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2, the adjusted O/S vendor code will need signing and trusting by the certificates further up the chain.
  3. The revocation list of Secure Boot needs to be adjusted to prevent the vulnerable version of the O/S vendor code (“shim”) from being called during boot. (This is known as the “dbx” (exclusion database), which will need updating with a firmware update).

What is SUSE doing about it?

There needs to be a multi-pronged patching process because SUSE also found some additional bugs during their analysis.

You can see the SUSE page on CVE-2020-10713 here, which includes the mention of the additional bugs.

How does this impact AWS VMs?

In the previous paragraphs we found that a firmware update is needed to update the “dbx” exclusion database.
Since AWS virtual machines are hosted in a KVM based hypervisor, the “firmware” is actually software.

Whilst looking for details on “Secure Boot” in AWS virtual machines, there is absolutely no mention of it being supported for Linux.
If we dig into the the VM import/export documents here on the AWS docs site, we find:

So the above states that for VMs imported/exported, “UEFI/EFI boot partitions are supported only for Windows boot volumes with VHDX as the image format. Otherwise, a VM’s boot volume must use Master Boot Record (MBR) partitions.“.
The words “…only for Windows…” are the key part of this.
Because if we scan just a little further down the page, it says that the UEFI boot partitions are actually “supported” for Windows, by being converted to MBR (not Secure Boot compatible):

I feel we can surmise that AWS does not support running Linux VMs with Secure Boot.
Apart from this little gem of information here.
This slide shows that the launch of the AWS Graviton2 chip enables ARM based Linux distributions to support Secure Boot.
We can read the Amazon EC2 User Guide here (updated August 28, 2020), to find that SLES 15 is the only SUSE Linux that supports ARM cpus on AWS:

So we know that Secure Boot is not available in AWS on any of the SLES x86 operating systems, and SLES 12 on ARM is not supported on Graviton based cpus.

Summary:

The BootHole vulnerability is far reaching and will impact many, many devices (servers, laptops, IoT devices, TVs, fridges, cars?).
However, only those devices that actually *use* Secure Boot will truly be impacted, since the devices not using Secure Boot do not need to be patched (it’s fruitless).

If you run SLES 12 on AWS virtual machines, you cannot possibly use Secure Boot, so there is no point patching to fix a vulnerability for which you are not affected.
You are only introducing more risk by patching.

If however, you do decide to patch (even if you don’t need to) then follow the advice from SUSE and patch to fix GRUB2, the “shim” and the other vulnerabilities that were found.

If you are running SLES 12 on AWS, then there is no specific order of patching, because you do not use Secure Boot, so there is no possibility of breaking the trust chain that doesn’t exist.

On a final closing point, you could be running a HANA system in AWS on what is known as “Bare Metal” (“High Memory Instances” or a.k.a “*.metal”). These are physical machines using the Nitro based hyper-visor. So whilst EC2 Virtual Machines can’t use Secure Boot, these “Bare Metal” machines may well do so through the use of the Nitro Security Chip (see a good deep dive here). You would be wise to contact your AWS account representative to establish if they will be patching the firmware.

Useful Links:

Is my Azure hosted SLES 12 Linux VM Affected by the BootHole Vulnerability

In July 2020, a GRUB2 bootloader vulnerability was discovered which could allow attackers to replace the bootloader on a machine which has Secure Boot turned on.
The vulnerability is designated CVE-2020-10713 and is rated 8.2 HIGH on the CVSS (see here).

Let’s look at what this is and how it impacts a Microsoft Azure virtual machine running SUSE Enterprise Linux 12, which is commonly used to run SAP systems such as SAP HANA or other SAP products.

What is the Vulnerability?

It is a “Classic Buffer Overflow” vulnerability in the GRUB2 bootloader for versions prior to 2.06.
Essentially, some evil input data can be entered into some part of the GRUB2 program binaries, which is not checked/validated.
The input data causes an overflow of the holding memory area into adjacent memory areas.
By carefully crafting the data that is the overflow, it is possible to cause a specifically targeted memory area to be overwritten.

As described by Eclypsium here (the security company that detected this) “Attackers exploiting this vulnerability can install persistent and stealthy bootkits or malicious bootloaders that could give them near-total control over the victim device“.

Essentially, the vulnerability allows an attacker with root privileges to replace the bootloader with a malicious one, boot into it and then have further capability to effectively set up camp (a backdoor) on the server.
This backdoor would be hard to remove because the bootloader is one of the first things to be booted (anti-virus can’t remove the bootloader if the bootloader boots first and “adjusts” the anti-virus).

What is GRUB2?

GRUB2 is v2 of the GRand Unified Bootloader (see here for the manual).
It is used to load the main operating system of a computer.
Usually on Linux virtual machines, GRUB is used to load Linux. It is possible to install GRUB on machines that then boot into Windows.

What is Secure Boot?

There are commonly two boot methods: “Legacy Boot” and “Secure Boot” (a.k.a UEFI boot).
Until Secure Boot was invented, the bootloader would sit in a designated location on the hard disk and would be executed by the computer BIOS to start the chain of processes for the computer start up.
This is clearly quite insecure, since any program could put itself at the designated location and then be executed at boot up.

With Secure Boot, certificates are used to secure the boot process chain.
As with any certificate based process, at the top (root) level there needs to exist a certificate which is valid for many years and is ultimately trusted – the Certificate Authority (CA).
The next levels in the chain trust that CA certificate implicitly and if any point in the chain is compromised, then the trust is broken and will need re-establishing with new certificates.
Depending which level of the chain is compromised, will dictate the amount of effort needed to fix it.

This BootHole vulnerability means a new CA certificate needs to be implemented in every machine that uses Secure Boot!

But the attackers Need Root?

Yes, the vulnerability is in a GRUB2 configuration text file owned by the root user. Additional text added to the file can cause the buffer overflow.
Once the attacker has used malware to instigate the overflow, and installed a malicious bootloader, they then have a backdoor to the server, which would be executed every time the server is rebooted.
This backdoor would be hard to remove because the bootloader is one of the first things to be booted (anti-virus can’t remove the bootloader if the bootloader boots first and “adjusts” the anti-virus).

NOTE: The flaw also exists if you also use the network boot capability (PXE boot).

What is the Patch?

Due to the complexity of the problem (did you read the prior Eclypsium link?), it needs more than one piece of software to be patched and in different layers of the boot chain.

First off, the vulnerable GRUB2 software needs patching; this is quite easy and will require a reboot of the Linux O/S.
The problem with patching just GRUB2, is that it is still possible for an attacker with root to re-install a vulnerable version of GRUB2 and then use that vulnerable version to compromise the system further.
Remember, the chain of trust is still trusting that vulnerable version of GRUB2.
Therefore, to be able to stop the vulnerable version of GRUB2 being re-installed and used, three things need to happen:

  1. The O/S vendor (SUSE) needs to adjust their code (known as the “shim”) so that it no longer trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2. Again, this is a software patch from the O/S vendor (SUSE) which will need a reboot.
  2. Since someone with root could simply re-install O/S vendor code (the “shim”) that trusts the vulnerable version of GRUB2, the adjusted O/S vendor code will need signing and trusting by the certificates further up the chain.
  3. The revocation list of Secure Boot needs to be adjusted to prevent the vulnerable version of the O/S vendor code (“shim”) from being called during boot. (This is known as the “dbx” (exclusion database), which will need updating with a firmware update).

What is SUSE doing about it?

There needs to be a multi-pronged patching process because SUSE also found some additional bugs during their analysis.

You can see the SUSE page on CVE-2020-10713 here, which includes the mention of the additional bugs.

They key point is that you *could* start patching, but if it were me, I would be tempted to wait until the SUSE “shim” has been updated with the new chain certificate, patch GRUB2 and then update the “dbx”.

How does this impact Azure VMs?

In the previous paragraphs we found that a firmware update is needed to update the “dbx” exclusion database.
Since Microsoft Azure is using the Hyper-V hypervisor, the “firmware” is actually software in Hyper-v.
See here, which says: “Secure Boot or UEFI firmware isn’t required on the physical Hyper-V host. Hyper-V provides virtual firmware to virtual machines that is independent of what’s on the Hyper-V host.

So the above would indicate that the Virtual Machine contains the necessary code from Hyper-V.
I would imagine that this is included at VM creation time.

If we dig into the VM details a little bit here on the Microsoft sites, we find:

So the above states that “…generation 2 VMs in Azure do not support Secure Boot…“.
The words “…in Azure…” are the key part of this.

OK, then how about Hyper-V in general (on-premise):

The above states “To Secure Boot generation 2 Linux virtual machines, you need to choose the UEFI CA Secure Boot template when you create the virtual machine.“.
BUT this is for Hyper-V in general, not for Azure virtual machines.

So we know that Secure Boot is not available in Azure on any of the generation 1 or generation 2 VMs (as of writing there are only 2).

Summary:

The BootHole vulnerability is far reaching and will impact many, many devices (servers, laptops, IoT devices, TVs, fridges, cars?).
However, only those devices that actually *use* Secure Boot will truly be impacted, since the devices not using Secure Boot do not need to be patched (it’s fruitless).

If you run SLES 12 on Azure virtual machines, you cannot possibly use Secure Boot, so there is no point patching to fix a vulnerability for which you are not affected.
You are only introducing more risk by patching.

If however, you do decide to patch (even if you don’t need to) then follow the advice from SUSE and patch to fix GRUB2, the “shim” and the other vulnerabilities that were found.

If you are running SLES on Azure, then there is no specific order of patching, because you do not use Secure Boot, so there is no possibility of breaking the trust chain that doesn’t exist.

On a final closing point, you could be running a HANA system in Azure on what is known as “HANA Large Instances” (HLI). These are physical machines. So whilst Virtual Machines can’t use Secure Boot, these physical machines may well do so. You would be wise to contact your Microsoft account representative to establish if they will be patching the firmware.

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