ProxyLogon is Just the Tip of the Iceberg, A New Attack Surface on Microsoft Exchange Server!

Conference:  Defcon 29



The presentation discusses the importance of securing Exchange servers and the vulnerabilities that exist within them, particularly in the client access service (CAS) component. The speaker presents a new attack service and three logic bugs that were uncovered through it.
  • Exchange servers are high value assets for corporations as they store confidential information
  • Exchange servers have been a top target for nation-state actors
  • More than 400,000 Exchange servers are exposed on the internet
  • The CAS component is a fundamental part of Exchange and vulnerabilities in it can be dangerous
  • The speaker presents a new attack service and three logic bugs that were uncovered through it
  • The bugs are authentication-free and can be easily exploited
  • Exchange is a sophisticated application with a complex architecture that changes with each new version
The speaker mentions the Arsenal from Equation Group in 2017, which was the only practical and public pre-OSRCE in Exchange history. However, it only worked on an ancient version of Exchange. The speaker also highlights CVE 2020-0688, which revealed a hard-coded crypto key in Exchange, showing that even in 2020, common weaknesses can still be found in crucial software.


Microsoft Exchange Server is an email solution widely deployed within government and enterprises, and it is an integral part of both their daily operations and security. Needless to say, vulnerabilities in Exchange have long been the Holy Grail for attackers, hence our security research on Exchange. Surprisingly, we’ve found not only critical vulnerabilities such as ProxyLogon, but a whole new attack surface of Exchange. This new attack surface is based on a significant change in Exchange Server 2013, where the fundamental protocol handler, Client Access Service (CAS), splits into frontend and backend. In this fundamental change of architecture, quite an amount of design debt was incurred, and, even worse, it introduced inconsistencies between contexts, leading us to discover this new attack surface. To unveil the beauty of this attack surface and our novel exploitation, we’ll start by analyzing this architecture, followed by 7 vulnerabilities that consist of server-side bugs, client-side bugs, and crypto bugs found via this attack surface. In the end, these vulnerabilities are chained into 3 attack vectors that shine in different attack scenarios: ProxyLogon, ProxyShell, and ProxyOracle. These attack vectors enable any unauthenticated attacker to uncover plaintext passwords and even execute arbitrary code on Microsoft Exchange Servers through port 443, which is exposed to the Internet by ~400K Exchange Servers. This attack surface has its unparalleled impact for a reason: security researchers tend to find vulnerabilities from a certain perspective, such as digging for memory bugs, injections, or logic flaws, but we took a different approach by looking at Exchange from a high-level architectural view and captured this architecture-level attack surface, which yielded multiple vulnerabilities. We hope this brings a new paradigm to vulnerability research and inspires more security researchers to look into Exchange Server. Last but not least, we’ll provide hardening actions to mitigate such types of 0days in Exchange. # REFERENCES: * "Hunting for bugs, catching dragons" by Nicolas Joly in Black Hat USA 2019 * CVE-2020-0688 and CVE-2018-8302 from ZDI blog * CVE-2020-16875 from @steventseeley