Authored by Willem Zeeman and Yun Zheng Hu

This blog is part of a series written by various Dutch cyber security firms that have collaborated on the Cactus ransomware group, which exploits Qlik Sense servers for initial access. To view all of them please check the central blog by Dutch special interest group Cyberveilig Nederland [1]

The effectiveness of the public-private partnership called Melissa [2] is increasingly evident. The Melissa partnership, which includes Fox-IT, has identified overlap in a specific ransomware tactic. Multiple partners, sharing information from incident response engagements for their clients, found that the Cactus ransomware group uses a particular method for initial access. Following that discovery, NCC Group’s Fox-IT developed a fingerprinting technique to identify which systems around the world are vulnerable to this method of initial access or, even more critically, are already compromised.

Qlik Sense vulnerabilities

Qlik Sense, a popular data visualisation and business intelligence tool, has recently become a focal point in cybersecurity discussions. This tool, designed to aid businesses in data analysis, has been identified as a key entry point for cyberattacks by the Cactus ransomware group.

The Cactus ransomware campaign

Since November 2023, the Cactus ransomware group has been actively targeting vulnerable Qlik Sense servers. These attacks are not just about exploiting software vulnerabilities; they also involve a psychological component where Cactus misleads its victims with fabricated stories about the breach. This likely is part of their strategy to obscure their actual method of entry, thus complicating mitigation and response efforts for the affected organizations.

For those looking for in-depth coverage of these exploits, the Arctic Wolf blog [3] provides detailed insights into the specific vulnerabilities being exploited, notably CVE-2023-41266, CVE-2023-41265 also known as ZeroQlik, and potentially CVE-2023-48365 also known as DoubleQlik.

Threat statistics and collaborative action

The scope of this threat is significant. In total, we identified 5205 Qlik Sense servers, 3143 servers seem to be vulnerable to the exploits used by the Cactus group. This is based on the initial scan on 17 April 2024. Closer to home in the Netherlands, we’ve identified 241 vulnerable systems, fortunately most don’t seem to have been compromised. However, 6 Dutch systems weren’t so lucky and have already fallen victim to the Cactus group. It’s crucial to understand that “already compromised” can mean that either the ransomware has been deployed and the initial access artifacts left behind were not removed, or the system remains compromised and is potentially poised for a future ransomware attack.

Since 17 April 2024, the DIVD (Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure) and the governmental bodies NCSC (Nationaal Cyber Security Centrum) and DTC (Digital Trust Center) have teamed up to globally inform (potential) victims of cyberattacks resembling those from the Cactus ransomware group. This collaborative effort has enabled them to reach out to affected organisations worldwide, sharing crucial information to help prevent further damage where possible.

Identifying vulnerable Qlik Sense servers

Expanding on Praetorian’s thorough vulnerability research on the ZeroQlik and DoubleQlik vulnerabilities [4,5], we found a method to identify the version of a Qlik Sense server by retrieving a file called product-info.json from the server. While we acknowledge the existence of Nuclei templates for the vulnerability checks, using the server version allows for a more reliable evaluation of potential vulnerability status, e.g. whether it’s patched or end of support.

This JSON file contains the release label and version numbers by which we can identify the exact version that this Qlik Sense server is running.

Figure 1: Qlik Sense product-info.json file containing version information

Keep in mind that although Qlik Sense servers are assigned version numbers, the vendor typically refers to advisories and updates by their release label, such as “February 2022 Patch 3”.

The following cURL command can be used to retrieve the product-info.json file from a Qlik server:

curl -H "Host: localhost" -vk 'https://<ip>/resources/autogenerated/product-info.json?.ttf'

Note that we specify ?.ttf at the end of the URL to let the Qlik proxy server think that we are requesting a .ttf file, as font files can be accessed unauthenticated. Also, we set the Host header to localhost or else the server will return 400 - Bad Request - Qlik Sense, with the message The http request header is incorrect.

Retrieving this file with the ?.ttf extension trick has been fixed in the patch that addresses CVE-2023-48365 and you will always get a 302 Authenticate at this location response:

> GET /resources/autogenerated/product-info.json?.ttf HTTP/1.1
> Host: localhost
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 302 Authenticate at this location
< Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store, must-revalidate
< Location: https://localhost/internal_forms_authentication/?targetId=2aa7575d-3234-4980-956c-2c6929c57b71
< Content-Length: 0

Nevertheless, this is still a good way to determine the state of a Qlik instance, because if it redirects using 302 Authenticate at this location it is likely that the server is not vulnerable to CVE-2023-48365.

An example response from a vulnerable server would return the JSON file:

> GET /resources/autogenerated/product-info.json?.ttf HTTP/1.1
> Host: localhost
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Set-Cookie: X-Qlik-Session=893de431-1177-46aa-88c7-b95e28c5f103; Path=/; HttpOnly; SameSite=Lax; Secure
< Cache-Control: public, max-age=3600
< Transfer-Encoding: chunked
< Content-Type: application/json;charset=utf-8
< Expires: Tue, 16 Apr 2024 08:14:56 GMT
< Last-Modified: Fri, 04 Nov 2022 23:28:24 GMT
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< ETag: 638032013040000000
< Server: Microsoft-HTTPAPI/2.0
< Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2024 07:14:55 GMT
< Age: 136
{"composition":{"contentHash":"89c9087978b3f026fb100267523b5204","senseId":"qliksenseserver:14.54.21","releaseLabel":"February 2022 Patch 12","originalClassName":"Composition","deprecatedProductVersion":"4.0.X","productName":"Qlik Sense","version":"14.54.21","copyrightYearRange":"1993-2022","deploymentType":"QlikSenseServer"},

We utilised Censys and Google BigQuery [6] to compile a list of potential Qlik Sense servers accessible on the internet and conducted a version scan against them. Subsequently, we extracted the Qlik release label from the JSON response to assess vulnerability to CVE-2023-48365.

Our vulnerability assessment for DoubleQlik / CVE-2023-48365 operated on the following criteria:

  1. The release label corresponds to vulnerability statuses outlined in the original ZeroQlik and DoubleQlik vendor advisories [7,8].
  2. The release label is designated as End of Support (EOS) by the vendor [9], such as “February 2019 Patch 5”.

We consider a server non-vulnerable if:

  1. The release label date is post-November 2023, as the advisory states that “November 2023” is not affected.
  2. The server responded with HTTP/1.1 302 Authenticate at this location.

Any other responses were disregarded as invalid Qlik server instances.

As of 17 April 2024, and as stated in the introduction of this blog, we have detected 5205 Qlik Servers on the Internet. Among them, 3143 servers are still at risk of DoubleQlik, indicating that 60% of all Qlik Servers online remain vulnerable.

Figure 2: Qlik Sense patch status for DoubleQlik CVE-2023-48365

The majority of vulnerable Qlik servers reside in the United States (396), trailed by Italy (280), Brazil (244), the Netherlands (241), and Germany (175).

Figure 3: Top 20 countries with servers vulnerable to DoubleQlik CVE-2023-48365

Identifying compromised Qlik Sense servers

Based on insights gathered from the Arctic Wolf blog and our own incident response engagements where the Cactus ransomware was observed, it’s evident that the Cactus ransomware group continues to redirect the output of executed commands to a True Type font file named qle.ttf, likely abbreviated for “qlik exploit”.

Below are a few examples of executed commands and their output redirection by the Cactus ransomware group:

whoami /all > ../Client/qmc/fonts/qle.ttf
quser > ../Client/qmc/fonts/qle.ttf

In addition to the qle.ttf file, we have also observed instances where qle.woff was used:

Figure 4: Directory listing with exploitation artefacts left by Cactus ransomware group

It’s important to note that these font files are not part of a default Qlik Sense server installation.

We discovered that files with a font file extension such as .ttf and .woff can be accessed without any authentication, regardless of whether the server is patched. This likely explains why the Cactus ransomware group opted to store command output in font files within the fonts directory, which in turn, also serves as a useful indicator of compromise.

Our scan for both font files, found a total of 122 servers with the indicator of compromise. The United States ranked highest in exploited servers with 49 online instances carrying the indicator of compromise, followed by Spain (13), Italy (11), the United Kingdom (8), Germany (7), and then Ireland and the Netherlands (6).

Figure 5: Top 20 countries with known compromised Qlik Sense servers

Out of the 122 compromised servers, 46 were not vulnerable anymore.

When the indicator of compromise artefact is present on a remote Qlik Sense server, it can imply various scenarios. Firstly, it may suggest that remote code execution was carried out on the server, followed by subsequent patching to address the vulnerability (if the server is not vulnerable anymore). Alternatively, its presence could signify a leftover artefact from a previous security incident or unauthorised access.

While the root cause for the presence of these files is hard to determine from the outside it still is a reliable indicator of compromise.

Responsible disclosure by the DIVD
We shared our fingerprints and scan data with the Dutch Institute of Vulnerability Disclosure (DIVD), who then proceeded to issue responsible disclosure notifications to the administrators of the Qlik Sense servers.

Call to action

Ensure the security of your Qlik Sense installations by checking your current version. If your software is still supported, apply the latest patches immediately. For systems that are at the end of support, consider upgrading or replacing them to maintain robust security.

Additionally, to enhance your defences, it’s recommended to avoid exposing these services to the entire internet. Implement IP whitelisting if public access is necessary, or better yet, make them accessible only through secure remote working solutions.

If you discover you’ve been running a vulnerable version, it’s crucial to contact your (external) security experts for a thorough check-up to confirm that no breaches have occurred. Taking these steps will help safeguard your data and infrastructure from potential threats.


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