15 Dec

When a Security Company Does the Right Thing and The WordPress Plugin Directory Drops the Ball

Due to how bad the security industry is we rarely have the ability to point to a situation where the a security company has done the right thing, but today we have one to discuss.

Yesterday, we discussed how security companies rarely do one of the three basic components of a proper hack cleanup, which is to try to determine how the website was hacked. As we mentioned in that post, in instances where that isn’t done we are frequently brought in to re-clean the websites after they get hacked again. The problem of not determining how the websites are hacked doesn’t always just impact that website, if the vulnerability exploited exists in the current version of software on the website then spotting an early exploitation has the possibility of limiting the amount of additional websites that get hacked due to it. That possibility occurred with an arbitrary file upload vulnerability that exists in the WordPress plugin Delete All Comments. On November 20 the security company NinTechNet was looking into a hacked website and found the website was hacked due to that vulnerability. It wasn’t all that hard to spot with the combination of the logging and the code in the plugin, but since so many security companies don’t even try to determine how the websites they are cleaning up have  been hacked, something like that can easily get missed.

The vulnerable code was introduced in version 2.0, which was the first release put out by a new committer and that lead someone that mentioned the vulnerability to us, to believe this might have been intentional. To us it also looks like something that could have happened when someone writes code without having a good grasp of the security implications of what they wrote.

After NinTechNet spotted this they did the following:

The author was informed on November 20th but did not respond. We contacted the WordPress plugin department and the plugin was removed from the repository the same day.

On Saturday they publicly disclosed the vulnerability. Subsequent to that we added it to the service’s data and added it to the free data that comes with the service’s companion plugin on Monday, so even those not using the service yet could have gotten notified of the issue (if you haven’t installed the plugin, now would be a good time to do that).

Looking at the logging from our websites and the third-party data we monitor we don’t see any evidence of wide scale attempt to exploit this until Monday. So between when NinTechNet came across this and that there was a chance for the WordPress Plugin Directory to mitigate the threat from this when the developer didn’t.

The easier thing they could do is to start warning people when they are using vulnerable plugins that have been removed from the Plugin Directory, but they are refusing to do that on the basis that it puts people at more risk. As we discussed before that doesn’t make much sense as hackers can still figure out that the vulnerabilities exist even if they keep quiet about it.

The other option would be for them to put out a new secured version of the plugin, which they have the ability to do. They even have the ability to have the update to that version of the plugin happen automatically, in the same way that minor WordPress updates now occur automatically (and in the same way all plugin updates can happen with our Automatic Plugin Updates plugin). Like a lot of security related items involving the Plugin Directory, the process for deciding to release a secured version is rather opaque. In one instance when we tried to raise the issue over the lack of this happening on the wordpress.org Support Forum our post was deleted without explanation and the plugin being discussed was never fixed. If they decide to improve the situation we would love to help with it.

Instead they did neither, leaving everyone using the plugin vulnerable.

Until WordPress gets better about this you can help protect your website for free by installing the service’s companion plugin and installing one of our other plugins that lists plugin you are using plugins that have been removed from the Plugin Directory. For those with the budget you can sign up for our service, where you get data on all plugin vulnerabilities, not just ones that are already being exploited, and you also have the ability to suggest and vote for plugins to have a security review done by us, which could help catch more security vulnerabilities in plugins before they have a chance to be exploited by hackers.