06 Oct

Wordfence Doesn’t Want You to Know We Discovered the Vulnerability in Postman SMTP

We have seen a lot sleazy stuff out of the WordPress focused security company Wordfence, including claiming that they care more about security than the WordPress team as justification for creating a fake threat, so it shouldn’t be surprising to find their post about the removal of the plugin Postman SMTP from the Plugin Directory, which people assume is due to a reflected cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability we discovered, doesn’t mention us or link to our post despite being about the only substantive thing mentioned in their post. They clearly are aware of who the source was as the second paragraph clearly references our post:

On June 29, an unnamed security researcher published the details of the vulnerability, including a proof of concept. A proof of concept is a demonstration that shows the plugin author (and in this case the entire internet, including potential attackers) how to exploit the security vulnerability. The security researcher had apparently attempted to reach the author but had been unable to.

It is worth noting that here that this type of vulnerability is highly unlikely to be exploited on the average website (contrary to a recent claim by Wordfence that this type of  vulnerability “will be exploited by attackers“) and the proof of concept included just reiterates what is already mentioned in detailing the vulnerability, so someone that would be exploiting this type of vulnerability shouldn’t have a problem without it. Someone looking to do a targeted attack against a website using this plugin, likely could have easily found this vulnerability on their own (and who knows, they might already have).

One of the reasons we include a proof of concept on how to exploit vulnerabilities is so that others can double check our work, as among other things we often find that vulnerabilities that are being disclosed and claimed to be fixed, haven’t actually been. If there is a proof of concept it is easier to catch that vulnerability hasn’t been fixed and then we can work with the developer to get it fixed (and usually in that situation it can be fixed very fast). It also helps to check if there are other related vulnerabilities that have been missed, as has been the case with Wordfence’s discovered vulnerabilities in the past (or more recently them missing that vulnerable code still was in a plugin, though not accessible). There also was the situation where they told people to update the plugin despite the vulnerability having existed in the most recent version of it.

It is also important to note that all major web browsers other than Firefox have XSS filtering to protect against this type of vulnerability for years, which is likely plays an important role in it not being likely to be exploited.

When we have discussed things that Wordfence has written we have properly credited them.

Advertising Over Improving Security

We wouldn’t mind them not mentioning us if they had finally decided to actually help the effort to get WordPress to properly handle removed plugins, since that is so important. Instead their post is mostly just an ad for their plugin and service, which both leave people not knowing why plugins are removed.

Wordfence clearly understands there is an issue with people not knowing why plugins are removed as the first paragraph of their posts states:

We have received a number of questions regarding the Postman SMTP plugin which was removed from the WordPress.org directory this week.

We assume it was removed because it contains a publicly known reflected cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that has not been fixed.

And later they write:

Since they don’t publicly announce that plugins have been removed, nor why, it is prudent for site owners to treat the plugin as a potential security risk and take reasonable precautions.

They didn’t write anything about doing anything to resolve that situation, which is easily resolvable if WordPress wanted to take action, but here is all the advertising they had time to include in the post instead:

Both Wordfence Free and Premium users who have the firewall enabled have been protected against attempts to exploit this vulnerability from day one. In addition, we alerted all Wordfence users who have the plugin installed when it was removed from the plugin directory.

It should be noted they didn’t provide any evidence that their plugin actually can protect against this type of vulnerability (or for that matter do they provide evidence that it does for other types and our testing hasn’t shown it to provide much protection). As we mentioned before the major web browsers other than Firefox provide protection against this type of vulnerability as well, something Wordfence didn’t note.

Wordfence Firewall Includes Robust XSS Protection

The Wordfence firewall includes protection against new and emerging XSS attacks. Both Wordfence free and Premium users have been protected against this attack since (and before) it was made public. This is a great example of why using a firewall to protect your website is so important: you are immediately protected against most new threats.

In cases where we don’t already protect against a new threat, we develop a new firewall rule, deploying it to our Premium customers in real-time and free customers 30 days later. This ‘virtual patching’ by our security analysts and developers keeps your sites safe.

Wordfence Alerts You When Plugins Are Removed From WordPress.org

When plugins you have installed on your site are removed from WordPress.org, Wordfence alerts you. There is a long list of reasons why the plugin team at WordPress.org might remove a plugin from the directory. One common reason is that someone has discovered a security vulnerability that has not yet been fixed. Since they don’t publicly announce that plugins have been removed, nor why, it is prudent for site owners to treat the plugin as a potential security risk and take reasonable precautions.

 

If you haven’t already, we suggest that you install Wordfence on all of your WordPress websites. It will alert you when your plugins have been abandoned or removed from the the WordPress directory. Its firewall will also protect you against new and emerging attacks.

Finally, consider upgrading to Wordfence Premium if you haven’t already. The real-time firewall rule updates will protect you from the latest threats. In addition, the real-time IP blacklist will stop all attacks from the most malicious IPs, regardless of what they’re up to.

Our Advertising

Since Wordfence is going to use a vulnerability we discovered to advertise their service so garishly, we will quickly plug our service, which would have not only warned you about the vulnerability in you were using the plugin back when it was disclosed in June, but we would have also have been available to help you make the best decision as to deal with.

The more customers we have the more we are able to improve the security of WordPress plugins for everyone using them. While this vulnerability has gone unfixed, this week we help get vulnerabilities fixed in plugins with 140,200+ active installs and we have contacted developers of plugins with another 500,000+ active installs about vulnerabilities in them that need to be fixed.

Fixing the Vulnerability

As we said before the vulnerability isn’t something that is a big concern, so it wouldn’t be a big risk to keep using the plugin in its current form, but fixing the vulnerability is easy.

On line 346 of the file /Postman/Postman-Email-Log/PostmanEmailLogController.php in the plugin replace this line:

346
value="<?php echo $_REQUEST['page'] ?>" />

with

346
value="<?php echo esc_attr($_REQUEST['page']) ?>" />

The esc_attr() added will escaping the value, which prevents the possibility of reflected cross-site scripting (XSS).

4 thoughts on “Wordfence Doesn’t Want You to Know We Discovered the Vulnerability in Postman SMTP

  1. One interesting point in this article -besides the observations about the rather commercial advertising communication of Wordfence- is that since WordPress started to actively remove plugins from the repo, but did not started to disclose a list, and the possible reasons of removal (which is not necessarily hurting the authors reputation). Also some removals were disputed by the authors, saying, that a constructive resolution was not possible with the plugin moderators.

    And the one who is suffering from all this is the “user”.

    If wordpress would take care of publishing removals, Wordfence could not create a win from doing that.

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