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Solar Wind Attack Update


SolarWinds - an American software vendor for managing networks and infrastructure has been breached.

31 Jan 2021

Solar Wind Attack Update

SolarWinds - an American software vendor for managing networks and infrastructure has been breached. Orion, a network monitoring product was modified by a state-sponsored threat actor via embedding backdoor code into a legitimate SolarWinds library. This allowed remote access into the victim’s environment and a foothold in their networks; this enabled attacker to obtain privileged credentials.

The SolarWinds Orion products are designed to monitor the networks of systems and report on any security issues. Due to this, there are no comparable limiting boundaries on the scope or potential security impact; this has been made clear by the gradual revelation of more and more high-value targets. Even more worrisome is the fact that the attackers apparently made use of their initial access to targeted organizations, such as FireEye and Microsoft, to compromise tools and code that would then enable them to target other victims. After Microsoft discovered that they were breached via the SolarWinds compromise, they further discovered that their own products were then used “to further the attacks on others.”

The attack was initially disclosed by the cybersecurity firm, FireEye, as early as December 8th but published publicly on 13th. It was revealed that the attack on SolarWinds was conducted by an unknown APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) group. They were able to steal Red Team assessment tools, similarly, used by FireEye to probe its customers’ security. FireEye has made its countermeasures freely available on GitHub.

According to Microsoft, hackers acquired superuser access to SAML token-signing certificates. This SAML certificate was then used to forge new tokens to allow hackers to obtain trusted and highly privileged access to networks.

While analyzing further on this attack, it was discovered that there was another backdoor likely from a second threat actor. This malware was dubbed as SUPERNOVA. This was a web shell planted in the code of the Orion network and applications monitoring platform and enabled attackers to run arbitrary code on machines running the trojanized version of the software.


Hackers inserted malicious code into an updated version of the software, called Orion. Approximately 18,000 SolarWinds customers installed tainted updates, between March and June 2020, onto their systems. The malware was inserted in these Orion app versions:

  • Orion Platform 2019.4 HF5, version 2019.4.5200.9083
  • Orion Platform 2020.2 RC1, version 2020.2.100.12219
  • Orion Platform 2020.2 RC2, version 2020.2.5200.12394
  • Orion Platform 2020.2, 2020.2 HF1, version 2020.2.5300.12432

This disclosure was followed by a coordinated report issued by Microsoft, FireEye, SolarWinds, and the U.S. government. The report concluded that SolarWinds had been targeted by threat actors who aimed to gather undisclosed information from major customers of theirs, including FireEye.

Compromise: What is Known so Far

A key indicator of the attack was the conceived backdoor that was able to gain access to and breach the SolarWinds Orion build system. This backdoor was attached to the said system by rescripting the legitimate SolarWinds.Orion.Core.BusinessLayer.dll DLL file. This file was then distributed to SolarWinds’ clients in a supply chain attack. This was achieved due to an automatic update platform used to dispense new software updates; clients were unaware of this taking place.

According to reports, the threat actors may have performed trial runs of the distribution method as early as October 2019. Researchers believe that the attackers had already compromised networks previously; it is suggested that they had harvested information or performed other malicious activities silently for months. Due to this, FireEye eventually detected that they were hacked after the threat actors registered a device to the company’s multi-factor authentication (MFA) system using stolen credentials. The alert from the system, regarding an unknown device, was able to notify FireEye of the compromise.


Urgently update any exploited SolarWinds Orion software to Orion Platform version 2020.2.1 HF 2 and Orion Platform 2019.4 HF 6

Third party vendors who may be susceptible to exposure of this compromise should report as part of responsible disclosure and urgently remediate.

In case of possible exposure devise an incident response plan.

Prioritize the TTPs leveraged by the threat actor mapped to mitre att&ck. This is available in Adversary Intelligence within CTM360’s CyberBlindspot.

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