12 January 2020
In report “Mean Time to Hardening: The Next-Gen Security Metric”,(1) published at 12/30/2019 on ThreatPost, Richard Melick proposes a new metric MMTH (Mean time to Hardening) to tackle the patch problem. I like the 24/72 MTTH approach. But when it comes to attacks of APTs on critical infrastructures this approach is from my point of view not effective.
Let me illustrate this with an example. CVE-2017-5638, a remote command execution vulnerability in the Apache Struts framework, was used in the Equifax attack (2) in 2017. In the case of remote command execution vulnerabilities, especially if the systems are operated in the DMZ, the 24/72 MTTH approach is the best strategy to survive. But let us look on the timeline.
|CVE-2017-5638||EDB-ID 41570||EDB-ID 41614|
|Published NDV||Published Exploit-DB||Published Exploit-DB|
Exploit 41570 was published 4 days before the CVE was published. The 24/72 MTTH strategy will fail in this case. Exploit 41614 was published 4 days after the CVE was published, so the 24/72 MTTH strategy is successful.
This is not an isolated case. Between 2013 and 2019 56% of the exploits were published before or at the same day the vulnerability was published in the NVD. For mapping the exploits in the Exploit-DB to the CVEs the NVD reference map for the Exploit-DB (3) is used. Figure 2 shows the details in the range 30 days before and after the CVE publication date.
34% of the exploits for Remote Code/Command Execution (RxE) vulnerabilities like CVE-2017-5638 or CVE-2017-0144 (WannaCry) were published before or at the same day the vulnerability was published. Figure 4 shows the details. RxEs are selected from the NVD as follows: CVSS V2.0: Attack Vector: Network, Attack Complexity: Low + Medium, Authentication: None, Loss of Integrity: Complete, Keywords “remote code execution” or “exec arbitrary”.
So, the 24/72 MMTH approach falls short if the exploit is published before the vulnerability.
Please keep in mind that we only investigated published vulnerabilities and exploits. We can expect, that many yet unpublished, and unused, vulnerabilities exist in the arsenals of the APTs.
In the case of critical infrastructures, we are well advised to invest in solutions which increase the resilience against cyber-attacks. A simple Apparmor profile would probably have prevented the attack on Equifax. Whitelisting solutions should be considered in environments where industrial control systems are operated. This makes the 24/72 MTTH approach to patching not obsolete. We just buy time.
Have a great week.
- Melick R. Mean Time to Hardening: The Next-Gen Security Metric [Internet]. threatpost. 2019 [cited 2020 Jan 12]. Available from: https://threatpost.com/mean-time-hardening-next-gen-security-metric/151402/
- Brook C. Equifax Confirms March Struts Vulnerability Behind Breach [Internet]. threatpost. 2017 [cited 2020 Jan 12]. Available from: https://threatpost.com/equifax-confirms-march-struts-vulnerability-behind-breach/127975/
- NIST NVD. CVE – CVE Reference Map for Source EXPLOIT-DB [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 12]. Available from: https://cve.mitre.org/data/refs/refmap/source-EXPLOIT-DB.html