Citrix ADC CVE-2019-19781 exploited! What now?

Citrix recently (17.12.2019) released an advisory warning of a critical vulnerability in all Citrix ADC and Gateway platforms. Late Friday (10.1.2020) multiple working exploits were posted for everyone to be accessible. Here are some tipps on how to identify whether your device is compromised.


First things first. The exploits allow anonymous remote code execution and allow unauthenticated attackers to take over the appliances with root privileges. I’ve tested several of the exploits myself and can confirm their functionality.

Only few hours later several security researches recognised a tremendous growth in attacks of their Citrix ADC honeypots

Source: SANS Institute /

According to my current research all functional exploits are mitigated by the workaround published by Citrix alongside the advisory.

Even upfront researchers noticed massive scanning for vulnerable Citrix ADC devices to setup a catalog of potential targets for later use. Now those targets are getting actively attacked! Therefore, if you haven’t applied the workaround you should consider your Citrix ADC compromised!

But even systems with the mitigations in place should receive a in-depth review because you can never tell for sure at what time attacks might have started before they went broad.

Indicators of compromise

To get an idea wether your Citrix ADC is compromised I’d recommend to perform (at least!) the following steps

Template files

The exploits all write files to two different directories. Scan those via:

shell ls /netscaler/portal/templates/*.xml
shell ls /var/tmp/netscaler/portal/templates
shell ls /var/vpn/bookmark/*.xml

If you find files similar to the following you are likely to be compromised

Apache Log files

In addition, attempts to exploit the system leave traces in the Apache httpaccess log files. Those you can validate via:

shell cat /var/log/httpaccess.log | grep vpns | grep xml
shell cat /var/log/httpaccess.log | grep "/\.\./"
shell gzcat /var/log/httpaccess.log.*.gz | grep vpns | grep xml
shell gzcat /var/log/httpaccess.log.*.gz | grep "/\.\./"

The following output is found on a system that was exploited:

However, a guarantee can never been given as attackers also might clean up their traces of the initial exploitation. A few more things to validate are…

Cron jobs

Attackers have been observed to obtain persistent access via scheduled tasks (“cron jobs” in Linux/BSD) to maintain their access even if the vulnerability gets patched. Check your crontab file for anomalies:

shell cat /etc/crontab
shell crontab -l -u nobody

The following is the output of a non-compromised system for you to compare:

Backdoor scripts

Running backdoors or other malicious tasks are often executed as Perl or Python scripts. Check for the presence of active running Perl or Python tasks:

shell ps -aux | grep python
shell ps -aux | grep perl

If you see more then the “grep” commands itself check the running scripts.

But beware, several Citrix ADC system-native tasks might appear as well. Some run scheduled so run the query again a few seconds later. Some are permanent (custom monitoring scripts for Storefront for example). Check those scripts to make sure they weren’t altered.

Crypto miners

Several attacks have been observed to install crypto miners. You can identifiy those by looking at the CPU intense processes by running:

shell top -n 10

Should you see any other processes but NSPPE-xx displaying high CPU usage you might have found a crypto miner:

Bash logs

In addition to the apache logs, some payloads run bash commands which can be traced in the bash log files. Check for those via:

shell cat /var/log/bash.log | grep nobody
shell gzcat /var/log/bash.*.gz | grep nobody

Attackers will land with the rights of apache (which is “nobody”). So if they execute commands via bash – which a few of the payloads I’ve seen did – or if they spawn a remote shell they are likely to end up being logged here:

But beware, these logs rotate rather quickly (1-2 days) because ADC spams them with quite a bunch of messages each minute with its own scheduled tasks!

Apache error logs

A bit more tricky is the analysis of the apache error logs. These log failed execution attempts (and I’ve seen a few misspelled commands or syntax errors). You might be able to use the following filter to catch some events:

shell "cat /var/log/httperror.log | grep -B2 -A5 Traceback"
shell "gzcat /var/log/httperror.log.*.gz | grep -B2 -A5 Traceback"

The following is a failed attempts at executing python because the path wasn’t referenced correctly:

But again, this might only be one type of error, ideally you may want to review them manually, especially if you’re in doubt:

shell cat /var/log/httperror.log
shell gzcat /var/log/httperror.log.*.gz


In addition to Citrix ADC local indicators observe your surrounding firewalls for any irregular traffic. Most likely attackers will use the Citrix ADC as a jump host to penetrate the network further.

Attacks in the wild

Unfortunately, beside issuing warnings to all my customers well in advance, I had to observe a few real world compromises. Luckily so far they all failed at some point – as far as I can tell.

I’ve observed the following behaviours in the wild so far:

Actually the SANS Institute published a very comprehensive list of payloads observed in the wild which covers most of the payloads I have seen as well, a good read if you want to dig deeper into what happens once a compromise took place:

What to do if you are compromised?

First thing you should do (after taking the appliance offline if possible!) is try to reverse engineer what the attacker did investigating the logs and files further. Here’s a sample of a simple ns.conf exfiltration via the template XML files for example:

But that’s a simple one, there are more complicated multi-encoded payloads and commands, scripts that download other scripts and much more.

Once you know what happened, you might be able to clean up after them. However, again, attackers might have performed several steps to hide their presence already. If you’re unsure about the state of your device or if you have been involved in a more complex/successful attack, your safest bet will be to (yes, painful, but…):

…and I’ve probably forgot a few vectors, let me know and I’ll update the list!

Also thanks @_POPPELGAARD on the great discussion and valuable input on the topic!

Firmware updates

Citrix currently has no patch available – however, according to a recent blog post Citrix announced release dates for a permanent fix throughout January.

The announced release dates are:

I recommend to schedule an update ASAP after release and monitor the official advisory closely!