Report DIVD-2021-00005-Pulse Secure Preauth RCE

Report DIVD-2021-00005-Pulse Secure Preauth RCE

Written on 23 Nov 2021 by Gerard Janssen

Case lead: Matthijs Koot
Researchers: Lennaert Oudshoorn , Victor Gevers
Case file: DIVD-2021-00005

Pulse Secure VPN is the market leader in online security solutions for enterprises. With Pulse Connect Secure (PCS), enterprises ‘can enable Zero Trust secure access to hybrid IT resources for an increasingly mobile workforce.’ Pulse VPN is widely used at universities, hospitals, energy companies, and banks. The company behind this software is Pulse Secure LLC, located in San Jose, California. (December 2020 Pulse Secure was acquired by the company Ivanti)

On April 20, 2021, Pulse Secure published an advisory in response to recently discovered critical vulnerabilities in the (VPN) product Pulse Connect Secure (PCS), version 9.0R3 and higher. Those vulnerabilities were discovered because they were exploited by foreign state actors. Security firm Mandiant (FireEye) investigated intrusions at defense, government, and financial organizations worldwide. Mandiant observed UNC2630 harvesting credentials from Pulse Secure login flows. With these credentials, an attacker can gain access to the internal networks and move laterally through the compromised networks. Mandiant already found 16 malware families exclusively designed to infect Pulse Secure VPN devices.

Based on an analysis by Pulse Secure (Avanti), it is suspected that some intrusions were due to the exploitation of previously disclosed Pulse Secure Vulnerabilities from 2019 (see also Other intrusions were due to the exploitation of a previously unknown authentication bypass vulnerability that was discovered in April 2021 (CVE-2021-22893).

Since April 21, DIVD has been investigating all the Netherlands-linked Pulse Connect Secure systems that could be found in Shodan and BinaryEdge on that same day. On this basis, DIVD sent out notifications after the (security) update of Pulse Secure.


Date Description
20-04-2021 Pulse Secure (Ivanti) publishes a temporary measure (workaround).
20-04-2021 FireEye publishes extensive technical details.
20-04-2021 NCSC publishes the initial version of security advisory NCSC-2021-0345.
21-04-2021 DIVD starts investigation.
21-04-2021 Upon request, DIVD will share an initial (unevaluated) list of ~650 Netherlands-linked PCS systems on which the temporary measure is not yet active with the Dutch CERT community.
03-05-2021 Pulse Secure (Ivanti) makes a new PCS version available to all PCS customers.
10-05-2021 DIVD sends out first targeted notifications about systems on which a vulnerable PCS version is active without the temporary measure.
06-06-2021 Second round notifications sent by DIVD CSIRT.
16-06-2021 DIVD shares data with the Digital Trust Center of the Ministry of Economic Affairs so that they can approach companies that still use these vulnerable systems.
15-07-2021 DIVD shares data about the last vulnerable systems with a Pulse software reseller in the Netherlands, hoping that they can still reach some stragglers.
01-08-2021 After four notification attempts through different channels, the case is closed.