Enabling the Cloudflare WAF and Cloudflare Specials ruleset protects against exploitation of unpatched CVEs: CVE-2021-26855, CVE-2021-26857, CVE-2021-26858, and CVE-2021-27065.

Cloudflare has deployed managed rules protecting customers against a series of remotely exploitable vulnerabilities that were recently found in Microsoft Exchange Server. Web Application Firewall customers with the Cloudflare Specials ruleset enabled are automatically protected against CVE-2021-26855, CVE-2021-26857, CVE-2021-26858, and CVE-2021-27065.

If you are running Exchange Server 2013, 2016, or 2019, and do not have the Cloudflare Specials ruleset enabled, we strongly recommend that you do so. You should also follow Microsoft’s urgent recommendation to patch your on-premise systems immediately. These vulnerabilities are actively being exploited in the wild by attackers to exfiltrate email inbox content and move laterally within organizations’ IT systems.

Edge Mitigation

If you are running the Cloudflare WAF and have enabled the Cloudflare Specials ruleset, there is nothing else you need to do. We have taken the unusual step of immediately deploying these rules in “Block” mode given active attempted exploitation.

If you wish to disable the rules for any reason, e.g., you are experiencing a false positive mitigation, you can do so by following these instructions:

  1. Login to the Cloudflare Dashboard and click on the Cloudflare Firewall tab and then Managed Rules.
  2. Click on the “Advanced” link at the bottom of the Cloudflare Managed Ruleset card and search for rule ID 100179. Select any appropriate action or disable the rule.
  3. Repeat step #2 for rule ID 100181.

Server Side Mitigation

In addition to blocking attacks at the edge, we recommend that you follow Microsoft’s urgent recommendation to patch your on-premise systems immediately. For those that are unable to immediately patch their systems, Microsoft posted yesterday with interim mitigations that can be applied.

To determine whether your system is (still) exploitable, you can run an Nmap script posted by Microsoft to GitHub: https://github.com/microsoft/CSS-Exchange/blob/main/Security/http-vuln-cve2021-26855.nse.

Vulnerability Details

The attacks observed in the wild take advantage of multiple CVEs that can result in exfiltration of email inboxes and remote code execution when chained together. Security researchers at Volexity have published a detailed analysis of the zero-day vulnerabilities.

Briefly, attackers are:

  1. First exploiting a server-side request forgery (SSRF) vulnerability documented as CVE-2021-26855 to send arbitrary HTTP requests and authenticate as the Microsoft Exchange server.
  2. Using this SYSTEM-level authentication to send SOAP payloads that are insecurely deserialized by the Unified Messaging Service, as documented in CVE-2021-26857. An example of the malicious SOAP payload can be found in the Volexity post linked above.
  3. Additionally taking advantage of CVE-2021-26858 and CVE-2021-27065 to upload arbitrary files such as webshells that allow further exploitation of the system along with a base to move laterally to other systems and networks. These file writes require authentication but this can be bypassed using CVE-2021-26855.

All 4 of the CVEs listed above are blocked by the recently deployed Cloudflare Specials rules: 100179 and 100181. Additionally, existing rule ID 100173, also enabled to Block by default, partially mitigates the vulnerability by blocking the upload of certain scripts.

Additional Recommendations

Organizations can deploy additional protections against this type of attack by adopting a Zero Trust model and making the Exchange server available only to trusted connections. The CVE guidance recommends deploying a VPN or other solutions to block attempts to reach public endpoints. In addition to the edge mitigations from the Cloudflare WAF, your team can protect your Exchange server by using Cloudflare for Teams to block all unauthorized requests.