Killing a Zero-Day in the Egg: Adobe CVE-2016-1019

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On April 2, 2016, Proofpoint researchers discovered that the Magnitude exploit kit (EK) [1] was successfully exploiting Adobe Flash version Because the Magnitude EK in question did not direct any exploits to Flash, we initially suspected that the exploit was for CVE-2016-1001 as in Angler [2], the combination exploit "CVE-2016-0998/CVE-2016-0984" [3], or CVE-2016-1010.

In the course of our investigation, we shared our findings with fellow researchers in the security community in order to accelerate identification of the exploit. A colleague at FireEye determined  [4] that the exploited vulnerability was unknown. Adobe was promptly notified of the issue, and they verified that although  a mitigation integrated in appeared to cause the exploit to fail, it was a previously unreported vulnerability and assigned it CVE-2016-1019. An emergency patch for the vulnerability was released on April 7 [5].

Despite the fact that this new exploit could potentially work on any version of Adobe Flash, including a fully patched instance of Flash, the threat actors implemented it in a manner that only targeted older versions of Flash. In other words, equipped with a weapon that could pierce even the latest armor, they only used it against old armor, and in doing so exposed to security researchers a previously unreported vulnerability. We refer to this type of faulty implementation as a “degraded” mode, and it is something that we have observed in the past with CVE-2014-8439 [6] [7] and CVE-2015-0310 [8] in Angler. While there will be a period of time when systems are not yet patched for CVE-2016-1019 and thus vulnerable to new exploits, “degraded” implementations of potential zero-day exploits offer security researchers and vendors a valuable opportunity to identify and mitigate previously unknown vulnerabilities.

Let’s look at this ‘degraded’ implementation of CVE-2016-1019 in action:

Magnitude exploiting CVE-2016-1019 to spread ransomware
Figure 1: 2016-04-02 Magnitude exploiting CVE-2016-1019 in “degraded” mode to spread Cerber ransomware

Magnitude exploiting CVE-2016-101 on Windows 10 build 1511
Figure 2 : 2016-04-06 Magnitude exploiting CVE-2016-1019 in “degraded” mode on Windows 10 build 1511 (Feb 2016) with Flash


In recent months, Magnitude seems to be used by only one actor, who was spreading Cryptowall crypt1001 until the middle of March 2016. The actor then switched to distributing Teslacrypt ID=39, and since the end of March has switched to distributing Cerber [9].

We looked back at a Nuclear Pack Flash exploit move we spotted on March 31, 2016. As we did not witness a new Flash version being exploited, we did not investigate before but the embedded exploit is the same as that discovered in Magnitude (CVE-2016-1019) according to Anton Ivanov (Kaspersky), and researchers at ESET and FireEye.

Nuclear Pack not exploiting Flash despite integrating CVE-2016-1019 code
Figure 3: 2016-03-31 Nuclear Pack not exploiting Flash despite integrating CVE-2016-1019 code (that is, not dropping the expected Locky or Necurs from the actor behind this infection chain [10])

Intriguing CVE-2016-1001 string in Nuclear Pack exploit

Figure 4: Intriguing CVE-2016-1001 string spotted by Denis O'Brien (Malwageddon), the 2016-04-05 in Nuclear Pack exploit

Summarizing the main findings of this analysis:

  • Magnitude EK was found to be exploiting a previously unreported vulnerability in Adobe Flash, now assigned CVE-2016-1019.
  • Due to a faulty implementation of the exploit, it was not targeting the latest, fully patched versions of Adobe Flash in a way that could result in infection.
  • The exploit has been in the wild since at least March 31, 2016.
  • The exploit was observed spreading the Cerber and Locky ransomware, among others.
  • There is evidence that Nuclear Pack was also equipped with code to exploit CVE-2016-1019 but did not run it against fully patched systems.
  • Adobe has issued an emergency patch and advisory (APSA16-01) for this vulnerability.

If Adobe Flash Player is required in your environment, we advise an immediate installation of the update.


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Indicators of Compromise (IOC’s)

md5 sha256 Comment
  b3ce4f4e70a8e750205f1452d4820d3397a9d1feb495e7514602554918b582d5 Zip with most of the content mentioned below
6591857d49cae0d2976a60160e7f7fee 301f163644a525155d5e8fe643b07dceac19014620a362d6db4dded65d9cad90 CVE-2016-1019 Nuclear Pack 2016-03-31
db953d3847e3c1ff63d6eed54e9fb046 0a664526d00493d711ee93662a693eb724ffece3cd68c85df75e1b6757febde5

CVE-2016-1019 Magnitude

5a59b3fa1dbb5849cec4cc84d386b5d3 7f31af42154cfc3609ca8e7b185a43c9a1d9704e6faf56b2928e32d5190592f0

CVE-2016-1019 Magnitude

da9fa0250214891ecf0539d04fdbfa3f 32557944d18cc3b3d80de1597b74dc505297751d9440e4a9d8064cf329dd7141

CVE-2016-1019 Magnitude

575e7b41d4dcb0e181f289d82f6f7c79 f7c5a855dd17ac50c8de364117a96ab711daa5c723d471c19a92bf5b9e5bd2ae

CVE-2016-1019 Magnitude

9b79b29d7914ad09066b8f1bdbfea92d 9d92fb315830ba69162bb7c39c45b219cb8399dd4e2ca00a1e21a5457f92fb3c Cerber
8bcafee60ef0101891494f16348a3e2d 57032a0c84b6ed24fca740f9ff0f4cb183c78eeb87e0f7f386849f0b92b49816 Cerber
ac193f297233d7efe1236da311affad3 ea71c1eec6e2f2f14a643f90fd4efcec10a0f6aae43950171f7b0384572a74df Cerber
6a8ff8f206511a1d95c46741a2e00894 7229ab31adc3184f399be4f453d5a9d61f3c7e1347d5464d4de63a56d4762c7f Cerber


Domain/IP Comment IP Range hosting some Magnitude proxies IP Range hosting some Magnitude proxies IP Range hosting some Magnitude proxies IP Range hosting proxies redirecting (mostly but not exclusively) to Magnitude
futuremygames[.]com Redirector to EK
my-playcity[.]com Redirector to EK
goodsandgames[.]com Redirector to EK
playenjoymy[.]com Redirector to EK
nextdaysgame[.]com Redirector to EK
orealore[.]com Redirector to EK











Select ET Signatures that would fire on such traffic:

2816837 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Evil Redirector Leading to EK Mar 30 M3

2816832 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Evil Redirector Leading to EK Mar 30 M2

2816800 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Magnitude EK Landing Mar 29 2016

2816329 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Possible Magnitude EK Flash Exploit URI Struct Feb 19 2016

2816339 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Magnitude EK Flash Payload Feb 19 2016

7016687 || ET LUAJIT WEB_CLIENT Suspicious Adobe Flash file (Compressed)

2012088 || ET SHELLCODE Possible Call with No Offset TCP Shellcode

2000419 || ET POLICY PE EXE or DLL Windows file download

2009897 || ET MALWARE Possible Windows executable sent when remote host claims to send html content

2016538 || ET INFO Executable Retrieved With Minimal HTTP Headers - Potential Second Stage Download

2021076 || ET INFO SUSPICIOUS Dotted Quad Host MZ Response

2816505 || ETPRO TROJAN Cerber Ransomware UDP Scanning

2816506 || ETPRO TROJAN Possible Cerber Ransomware IP Check

2816763 || ETPRO TROJAN Ransomware/Cerber Checkin 2

2816764 || ETPRO TROJAN Ransomware/Cerber Checkin Error ICMP Response

2816772 || ETPRO TROJAN Ransomware/Cerber Onion Domain Lookup

2814492 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Nuclear EK Landing Oct 20 2015 M1

2814493 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Nuclear EK Landing Oct 20 2015 M2

2814389 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS possible Nuclear EK DHE traffic client to server

2815818 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Possible Nuclear EK Flash URI Struct Jan 14 M2

2815810 || ETPRO CURRENT_EVENTS Possible Nuclear EK Payload VarLen XOR (Nulls)