Recently Trend Micro, through their Zero Day Initiative, published a critical flaw for the Exim mail server. It’s described as allowing remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on the Exim server without authentication. On the face of it, any server running Exim and listening on the internet can immediately be taken over by an attacker. What makes this worse is that they claim they reported this in June 2022, and the Exim team have ignored fixing it.
ZDI say ‘The only salient mitigation strategy is to restrict interaction with the application.’ and have allocated a scarily high severity score of 9.8/10.
Mythic Beasts make pretty heavy use of Exim in our mail infrastructure, and mitigating the security risk by turning off email is a pretty severe step while we wait for a fix. On top of that amongst servers we manage for ourselves and clients there’s nearly a thousand installed copies of Exim that will need to be updated.
The Exim team have a different view on the severity, as do other reputable security specialists. Watchtowr have a nice write-up explaining that, by default, none of the six issues can be exploited. Cross checking to Mythic Beasts mail infrastructure we can quickly confirm we’re not affected, and we believe that none of the managed customers should be either.
As this is now not especially time critical, we can wait for the supported operating systems to release updated packages which we can install.
The security issue is definitely significant enough to meet our 0-day policy of patching immediately as it’s network listening software with a risk of compromise. Debian released packages with the most important fixes on Monday 2nd October. Because this issue covers a very large number of affected machines, some of which are absolutely critical we decided to stage the rollout. First we did our staging servers, then one of our core mailhubs. We then paused for a short while to check no functionality was affected. Then we completed the full roll-out to all managed servers both customer and internal. The final step is our audit – recheck the Exim package on every managed server to make sure the update had applied everywhere. The full rollout and audit completed in around three hours.
We’re expecting updated packages from Ubuntu shortly, which will then be rolled out to all supported managed Ubuntu customers when available.