09 Окт, 2023

Exploring a Government Network Penetration Test

Defending Government Networks in a Changing World

The digital age has ushered in an era of boundless connectivity and technological marvels, but with it comes an unprecedented wave of cyber threats, each more sophisticated and insidious than the last. As cybercriminals evolve and adapt, their tactics have transcended mere nuisances; they now pose a dire and tangible risk to governments worldwide. The consequences of a successful cyberattack on government networks are far-reaching, with potential impacts extending beyond the digital realm. National security, economic stability, and the safety and privacy of citizens hang in the balance.

At CQR Company, we stand as sentinels in the ever-escalating battle for cybersecurity. As a dedicated cybersecurity firm, we offer a comprehensive suite of services, from proactive assessments to rigorous training, with the mission of fortifying digital defenses. Through articles like this, we aim to disseminate the crucial principles of cybersecurity to the masses, underscoring their importance in today’s interconnected world. In this narrative, we delve into the pivotal role of cybersecurity within government networks, focusing on a remarkable triumph — a successful penetration test that sheds light on the evolving landscape of digital defense.

Setting the Stage – Establishing the Framework

Our journey with the government agency began when they approached us with a critical mission: to assess the security posture of their network and digital assets. This agency recognized the evolving landscape of cyber threats and understood the paramount importance of safeguarding their sensitive information.

To ensure the most realistic evaluation possible, our team of cybersecurity specialists embarked on a two-week on-site engagement at the agency’s facilities. Here, they were provided with a local workstation, granting access to the network under standard user conditions. This setup mirrored the everyday experience of an employee, adhering to all organizational policies, including user account restrictions, firewalls, and antivirus software. We believed in assessing the network’s vulnerabilities from a perspective that closely mimicked real-world conditions, as if a potential threat actor had infiltrated the organization as an ordinary employee.

Following the on-site phase, our specialists continued their work for an additional two weeks, operating remotely with access to the same local workstation. This approach allowed us to maintain a comprehensive assessment, regardless of physical location.

The primary goal of this engagement was to perform an exhaustive penetration test, thoroughly assessing the agency’s cybersecurity defenses. We aimed to uncover vulnerabilities and weaknesses across the entire spectrum, from critical high-risk findings to those of medium and low severity. Our objective was to provide the government agency with a detailed report outlining these discoveries, ensuring clarity and transparency in our findings.

In this article, we will shed light on some of the most notable and intriguing discoveries made during this engagement, keeping in mind the principles of ethical pentesting and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). While we have substituted all real data, paths, and names to preserve confidentiality, the essence of our findings remains unaltered.

As we delve into the intricacies of our assessment, we hope to offer valuable insights and knowledge to our readers, ultimately contributing to the broader discourse on cybersecurity in government networks.

Exploring Security Vulnerabilities

As we dive deeper into the heart of our engagement with the government agency’s network, we embark on a journey through the realm of security findings. In this section, we will unveil a series of discoveries, each shedding light on vulnerabilities and potential risks within the governmental network’s infrastructure. These findings not only emphasize the critical nature of cybersecurity but also serve as valuable insights into the continuous battle to protect sensitive data and uphold national security.

Vulnerability # 1
Elasticsearch Data Leak

Elasticsearch, while powerful, comes with certain security challenges, especially if not configured correctly. By default, after installation, Elasticsearch exposes data information through web interfaces on Port 9200. This openness, combined with the absence of proper permission controls on its HTTP connections, creates a potential avenue for data leaks.

During our assessment of the government network agency’s Elasticsearch deployment, we uncovered a critical issue. We found that sensitive data, totaling 890,000 exposed accounts, could be accessed with ease via a simple HTTP request http://10.15.3.10:9200/_cat/indices/agency_sector1_index_1. This discovery underscored the urgency of addressing the Elasticsearch vulnerability.

The impact of this Elasticsearch data leak vulnerability cannot be overstated. In the wrong hands, the exposed information could lead to breaches of privacy, identity theft, and unauthorized access to sensitive government data. Furthermore, it raises concerns about the security practices of the agency in question.

Upon discovering the Elasticsearch data leak vulnerability, we immediately communicated our findings to the client, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the issue to prevent potential data exposure. Recognizing the critical nature of the problem, the client took prompt action to rectify the vulnerability even before the final report was prepared. We recommended implementing immediate access controls and authentication measures for Elasticsearch. Isolate Elasticsearch from the public network, encrypt data in transit using TLS, enable comprehensive auditing and monitoring, and keep Elasticsearch updated with security patches.

Vulnerability # 2
Predictable Passwords in Government Networks

The usage of easily guessable passwords stands as a menacing threat, capable of compromising the security triad – confidentiality, integrity, and availability of a system. Such a vulnerability can expose the system to brute-force and dictionary attacks, potentially leading to the complete compromise of sensitive information and system resources.

During our recent penetration test of the government network agency, we unearthed a glaring security pitfall – the rampant utilization of predictable and feeble passwords. To illustrate this vulnerability, we uncovered 17 user accounts with the username “name.last_name” accompanied by the password “P@ssw0rd.”

We accessed user accounts with the identified password and opened the command prompt (cmd). From there, we executed the whoami command to demonstrate unauthorized access. The evidence is supported by an attached screenshot of the desktop, showing the terminal window with the whoami output.

This vulnerability serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of robust password management within an organization. In an era where cyber threats continuously evolve, relying on weak, easily guessable passwords constitutes a significant lapse in security.

To mitigate this vulnerability and fortify overall security, we strongly recommended implementing stringent password complexity requirements, conducting regular user education on secure password practices, and instituting account lockout policies to deter brute-force attacks. Additionally, we suggested to consider incorporating multi-factor authentication (MFA) to provide an additional layer of defense against unauthorized access.

It’s also imperative that organizations move away from the use of predictable usernames, such as “adam.smith,” and instead adopt unique, non-standardized usernames to bolster their security posture.

Vulnerability # 3
YSoft SafeQ Default Credentials

During a recent penetration test on a government network agency, our team discovered a critical security flaw in the YSoft SafeQ administrative information panel. This vulnerability allowed local users to access the administrative panel using default credentials, posing a significant risk to the confidentiality of printed data within the organization.

Given that YSoft SafeQ is a powerful corporate software managing access to multiple printers utilized by company employees, access to printed data becomes a potential weak point for potential malicious or dishonest employees who could gain access to the company’s confidential information.

We opened a web portal with the address “http://10.21.1.200/” – an entryway to the heart of the YSoft SafeQ system. At first glance, the login page appeared quite ordinary, but it held a secret, a chink in the armor that, if left unattended, could expose sensitive agency data.

With a sense of anticipation, we entered the default credentials “admin” for both the username and password. And just like that, we got access to the YSoft SafeQ administrative panel.

Inside, we had unfettered access to view all printed documents and peruse shared folders and files.

This discovery was a wake-up call for the agency, underscoring the critical importance of securing their YSoft SafeQ system.

The client understood the urgency of addressing this issue promptly to safeguard their sensitive information. Recognizing the importance of our recommendations, they wasted no time in taking action. Within a matter of days, the client had changed the default credentials for the YSoft SafeQ administrative account as per our guidance. Additionally, they initiated the process of updating both the YSoft SafeQ version and the Windows server to bring them up to date with the latest security measures.

Vulnerability # 4
Malicious File Upload

Here we stumbled upon a treacherous flaw that had the potential to wreak havoc.

This security chink in the agency’s armor presented itself in the form of a file upload feature gone rogue. The program responsible for handling file uploads failed to perform server-side data validation, leaving a glaring opening for malevolent actors to exploit. The consequences could be dire, ranging from remote code execution to a host of other vulnerabilities.

Our journey into this vulnerability began with a seemingly innocuous task. We navigated to the agency’s public website, specifically the “Contacts” page, a gateway accessible to anyone. It was here that the first sign of trouble surfaced.

The website’s file upload form lacked the critical server-side validation that should have scrutinized incoming data with a discerning eye. With this critical security measure missing, an attacker could surreptitiously upload a malicious file disguised as an innocuous one. For instance, they could upload a PHP file masquerading as a harmless PDF.

Here’s where the plot thickens. Armed with the knowledge of this vulnerability, we decided to put it to the test. We intercepted the form submission, modified the file extension from “.pdf” to “.php,” and cunningly altered the content-type to “application/php“. Our aim was to demonstrate just how vulnerable the system was to such manipulations.

Request example:

Malicious *.php file example:

Server response example:

Our plan bore fruit as we successfully sent the request, tricking the system into thinking it was receiving an innocuous PDF file when, in reality, it was a potentially malicious PHP script. This discovery sent shockwaves through the agency, as it realized the gaping hole in its website’s security.

The implications of this vulnerability were clear. To ensure the integrity of their web application, the agency needed to implement robust server-side validation for file uploads. This process should include thorough checks for file type and content, and the website should remain vigilant against malicious content, all part of a defense strategy against potential attacks.

This episode in our penetration testing odyssey underscores the importance of scrutinizing every aspect of web security, even seemingly routine features like file uploads. It’s a reminder that, in the world of cybersecurity, no detail is too small, and no vulnerability should be left unchecked.

Highlights from Our Governmental Network Penetration Test

In the result of the governmental network pentest the security findings were categorized by severity:
18 as Critical / High; 27 as Medium; 15 as Low; and 8 as Info.

This classification provides a comprehensive view of our discoveries.

Lessons Learned and Success Achieved

In the world of governmental networks, where the safeguarding of sensitive information is paramount, the recent penetration test conducted by our cybersecurity experts shed light on vulnerabilities that could have had far-reaching consequences. As we explored the labyrinth of security defenses, we uncovered not only the critical, high, medium, and low-severity vulnerabilities but also some particularly noteworthy threats that demanded immediate attention.

One such discovery was the Elasticsearch Data Leak, a vulnerability that exposed sensitive data to potential adversaries. This finding underscored the critical importance of robust access controls and data protection measures.

Additionally, our assessment unveiled the risks associated with Predictable Passwords in Government Networks, a situation that could have left the network susceptible to brute-force and dictionary attacks. It served as a stark reminder of the need for stringent password policies and multifactor authentication.

Furthermore, the YSoft SafeQ Default Credentials issue revealed a potential gateway for unauthorized access to confidential information. This highlighted the significance of revising default login credentials to prevent malicious actors from exploiting such vulnerabilities.

Last but not least, the Malicious File Upload vulnerability exposed a potential avenue for remote code execution and other security breaches. This discovery emphasized the critical importance of input validation and security controls for file uploads.

The response to our findings was swift and decisive. The client promptly addressed and rectified the most critical vulnerabilities, and a retest was commissioned to validate the effectiveness of these corrective measures. Plans were also set in motion to address the low-severity vulnerabilities, with adjustments to the agency’s security posture underway.

In the spirit of ongoing vigilance, we agreed to conduct another penetration test in one year, ensuring that the network’s defenses remain resilient against evolving threats. Additionally, discussions were initiated regarding the inclusion of a “social engineering” component in future assessments, recognizing the need to fortify not only technical but also human defenses.

Our engagement with this government agency exemplifies the proactive stance required in the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity. By identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities, strengthening defenses, and fostering a culture of security awareness, we contribute to the protection of critical government infrastructure and the confidentiality of sensitive data. In the end, a satisfied client and a more secure governmental network are our ultimate goals, and this successful penetration test brought us one step closer to achieving them.

We hope that this article has provided you with valuable insights into the world of governmental network security. Our mission extends beyond securing networks; we aim to share knowledge and empower individuals and organizations to fortify their defenses. As the saying goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.” By staying informed and proactive, we can collectively strengthen our cybersecurity posture and safeguard critical assets. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and we look forward to sharing more insights and expertise in the future.

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