Microsoft Outlook users advised to urgently apply the security patches provided by Microsoft

Hannover, Germany – 16 March 2023 – A severe security vulnerability has been discovered in Microsoft Outlook, which is currently being exploited by cybercriminals. The vulnerability, identified as CVE-2023-23397 with a CVSS score of 9.8, permits a remote, unauthorized attacker to compromise systems simply by transmitting a specifically crafted email. This malicious email enables the attacker to gain unauthorized access to the recipient’s credentials.

More widespread attacks that target this vulnerability are expected

Umut Alemdar, Head of the Security Lab at Hornetsecurity, said, “We expect that the likelihood of more widespread attacks targeting the CVE-2023-23397 vulnerability to increase, as public proof-of-concepts have already been released. We therefore highly recommend that all users of Microsoft Outlook apply the security patches provided by Microsoft as soon as possible.”

He confirmed that Hornetsecurity detects emails that exploit the vulnerability and quarantines them to prevent emails from reaching the victim’s inbox, and added, “The Security Lab at Hornetsecurity is continuing to monitor the threat landscape to ensure that customers are protected from the latest cyber threats.”

Exploitation occurs even before the email is displayed in the preview pane

The exploit is initiated by fetching and processing a malicious email by the Outlook client, potentially leading to exploitation even before the email is displayed in the preview pane. It triggers a connection from the victim to a location controlled by the attacker. This results in the leakage of the victim’s Net-NTLMv2 hash, a challenge-response protocol used for authentication in Windows environments. The attacker can then relay this information to another service and authenticate as the victim, further compromising the system.

The complexity of the attack is low, and it has been seen in the wild according to Microsoft, with the exploit being used to target the European government, military, energy, and transportation organisations. It was initially reported to Microsoft by CERT-UA (the Computer Emergency Response Team for Ukraine). A proof-of-concept created by the Hornetsecurity’s Security Lab team demonstrates that the exploit is hard-to-detect since all anti-malware and sandbox services incorporated into VirusTotal were unable to recognize it as malicious.

Recommended actions

For a list of affected versions, and recommended action to secure your organization, please click here.

About Hornetsecurity

Hornetsecurity is a leading global provider of next-generation cloud-based security, compliance, backup, and security awareness solutions that help companies and organisations of all sizes around the world. Its flagship product, 365 Total Protection, is the most comprehensive cloud security solution for Microsoft 365 on the market. Driven by innovation and cybersecurity excellence, Hornetsecurity is building a safer digital future and sustainable security cultures with its award-winning portfolio. Hornetsecurity operates in more than 30 countries through its international distribution network of 8,000+ channel partners and MSPs. Its premium services are used by more than 50,000 customers.

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