Cisco patches Equation group exploit in IOS, IOS XE and IOS XR devices

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A large sign at the curb greets arrivals at Building 9 of the Cisco Systems campus in San Jose, California, on Oct. 5, 2015.

Credit: Stephen Lawson

Investigation of a leaked Equation group exploit lead to the discovery of a similar vulnerability


Cisco Systems has patched a vulnerability similar to one exploited by a cyberespionage group believed to be linked to the U.S. National Security Agency.

The vulnerability affects networking devices running Cisco's IOS, IOS XE and IOS XR operating systems that process IKEv1 (Internet Key Exchange version 1) packets. When exploited, it allows remote unauthenticated attackers to extract contents from a device's memory, potentially leading to the exposure of sensitive and confidential information.

IKE is a key exchange protocol used by several popular features including LAN-to-LAN VPN (Virtual Private Network), remote access VPN, Dynamic Multipoint VPN (DMVPN) and Group Domain of Interpretation (GDOI). It is likely to be enabled on many Cisco devices in enterprise environments.

Cisco rates the vulnerability as high severity and has released patched versions of the affected operating systems. Tables with the affected IOS, IOS XE and IOS XR releases and the recommended updates are included in a security advisory published Friday.

It's worth noting that this vulnerability was identified after a group called Shadow Brokers leaked a set of attack tools and exploits that are used by Equation, a cyberespionage team believed to be tied to the NSA.

One of the Equation group's exploits, dubbed BENIGNCERTAIN, exploited a vulnerability in legacy Cisco PIX firewalls and inspired Cisco's security team to search for similar flaws in other devices. This led to the discovery of this new vulnerability in IOS, IOS XE and IOS XR.

"Cisco Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) is aware of exploitation of the vulnerability for some Cisco customers who are running the affected platforms," Cisco said in its advisory.

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