Thoughts on WordPress Security and Vulnerabilities


As avid readers of this blog know, we’ve discovered or written about multiple vulnerabilities within the WordPress ecosystem over the last couple of weeks specifically relating to popular plugins. MailPoet and Custom Contact Forms drove the bulk of the engagement, but those using WPTouch, TimThumb and vBulletin were also made aware of vulnerabilities.

If it seems like most of the problems occur with plugins, it’s because it’s the truth. In fact, it’s not just restricted to Plugins, but includes Themes and any number of other extensions or services that a website might make use of. This actually applies beyond the realm of WordPress and is something that all website owners should be mindful of.

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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, raw unfiltered data, and left to our thoughts and perceptions as to 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 fingertips?
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Highly Effective Joomla Backdoor with Small Profile

It feels like every day we’re finding gems, or what appear to be gems to us. We try to balance the use of the term, but I can’t lie – these are truly gems. The methods that attackers are implementing are, in some instances, ingenious. I think you’ll agree that this case falls into that category.

In short, this is a highly effective backdoor that carries small profile, making it High Speed Low Drag.

Understanding Attackers

As we’ve discussed in the past, most attackers have a pretty standard workflow when compromising websites. Here’s that process in its simplest form:

  1. Identify point of entry / weakness.
  2. Exploit the entry / weakness.
  3. Ensure that they can retain access.
  4. Cover your tracks.

I agree, nothing earth shattering, but it does help us understand what it is we need to be looking for.
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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
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:


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.”

New WordPress and Joomla Updates Available

If you are a WordPress or Joomla user, you better start updating your sites now.

Joomla 2.5.14

Joomla 2.5.14 was released containing some critical security fixes. They didn’t provide much details, but by the summary is seems serious enough to allow users to bypass upload restrictions:

Project: Joomla!
Severity: Critical
Versions: 2.5.13 and earlier 2.5.x versions. 3.1.4 and earlier 3.x versions.
Exploit type: Unauthorised Uploads
Reported Date: 2013-June-25
Fixed Date: 2013-July-31
Description: Inadequate filtering leads to the ability to bypass file type upload restrictions.

More information on Joomla 2.5.14 update here:

WordPress 3.6

WordPress 3.6 (a major release) was also announced with multiple new features and bug fixes. It doesn’t have any specific security fix, but keeping your site updated is a must, so we recommend all users to update.

More information on WordPress 3.6 is available here:

We recommend upgrading as soon as possible to reduce the risk of issue. Make sure you test your upgrades in a development environment before you go hot.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop an email.

Dissecting a WordPress Brute Force Attack

Update: Brute force protection now available:

Over the past few months there has been a lot of discussion about WordPress Brute Force attacks. With that discussion has come a lot of speculation as well. What are they doing? Is it a giant WordPress botnet? Is it going to destroy the internet? Well, as you would expect of any good geeks we set out to find a way to find out.

This is not to be exhaustive case study or meant to be a representative sample of what all attacks look like, but it does have similar characteristics to the types of attacks and infections we deal with on a daily basis.

In this post, my goal is to highlight a hack that occurred this weekend, July 20th to be exact, against one of our several honeypots. In this specific instance, it was setup and configured approximately 2 months ago. It had been hacked about a month and a half ago and silly me I forgot to configure what I needed to do real forensics, oops. In any event, everything was cleared and pushed out again to see what happened, it was nothing more than a matter of sitting back and waiting.

Sure enough, about 30 days later and it was hacked, this time we were ready to see what happened..

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W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache Vulnerability Being Targeted in the Wild

As if on queue, almost 7 days since we released the post about the latest W3TC and WP Super Cache remote command execution vulnerability, we have started to see attacks spring up across our network.

In our post you might remember this:

<!–mfunc echo PHP_VERSION; –><!–/mfunc–>

In this example we explained how it was a very simple approach to displaying the version of PHP on your server. There were a lot of questions following that saying, well what’s so harmful in that. Etc… With little help from us the attackers go on to show us what they can do.

Taking a Look at the Attacks

In this section I’ll show you three of the various attacks we’re seeing. In each you can see how they abuse the mfunc vulnerability, one in a more traditional approach of injecting a backdoor and other in a more creative way that allows them to abuse HTTP headers. In either case they all seem to be getting passed via comments, and we give an example of that below. This is obviously for educational purposes only.

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LivingSocial Hacked — More Than 50 Million Accounts Compromised

Just as we were thinking we were going to avoid any major enterprise compromises this week, LivingSocial announces that it has been compromised and some 50 million accounts have been compromised. Based on the reports, it doesn’t seem that any financial data is at risk, but things like usernames and passwords are all fair game.

To put this into perspective, if you think back to last years major compromise, LinkedIn, that was only 6 million accounts. The data compromised here is about 8.5 times that size.

That’s pretty freaking big.

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Joomla Version 2.5.10 Released – Security Updates

This morning the Joomla development team released a new version of the Joomla platform. This is a Security release, so please be sure to update if you’re on the 2.x branch. If you’re on the 1.x branch the odds of updating seamlessly is highly unlikely so please do so only if you’re engaging a developer to assist you.

This release address 7 security issues, all of them appear to be low to moderate and revolve around Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), Denial of Service (DOS) and Privilege Escalation. It also contains another 38 bug fixes.

Security Fixes include:

If you can, please be sure to update, you can get your latest releases off the Joomla website here.

Update WP Super Cache and W3TC Immediately – Remote Code Execution Vulnerability Disclosed

Shame on us for not catching this a month ago when it was first reported, but it seems that two of the biggest caching plugins in WordPress have what we would classify a very serious vulnerability – remote code execution (RCE), a.k.a., arbitrary code execution:

…arbitrary code execution is used to describe an attacker’s ability to execute any commands of the attacker’s choice on a target machine or in a target process. – Wikipedia

It appears that a user by the name of kisscsaby first disclosed the issue a month ago via the WordPress forums. As of 5 days ago both plugin authors have pushed new versions of their plugins disabling the vulnerable functions by default. The real concern however is the seriousness of the vulnerability and the shear volume of users between both plugins.

There are a few posts, released within the past few hours that do a great job of explaining what the issue was and what was being exploited. You can find some good after action thoughts on Frank Goosens’ blog and on Acunetix’s blog as well.

Why Such a Big Deal?

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