01 Aug

What Happened With WordPress Plugin Vulnerabilities in July 2017

If you want the best information and therefore best protection against vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins we provide you that through our service.

Here is what we did to keep those are already using our service secure from WordPress plugin vulnerabilities during July (and what you have been missing out on if you haven’t signed up yet):

Plugin Security Reviews

Customers of the service can suggest and vote on plugins to have a security review done by us. This month we released details for a review of:

Plugin Vulnerabilities We Discovered and Publicly Disclosed This Month

We don’t just collect data on vulnerabilities in plugins that others have discovered, we also discover vulnerabilities while monitoring hackers activity, reviewing other vulnerabilities, and by doing additional checking on the security of plugins.

This month the most concerning vulnerability is a PHP object injection vulnerability in Product Reviews, since that type of vulnerability is likely to be exploited and the vulnerability hasn’t been fixed yet.

Plugin Vulnerabilities We Helped Get Fixed This Month

Letting you know that you are using a vulnerable version of plugin is useful, but it is much more useful if you can fully protect yourself by simple updating to a new version. So we work with plugin developers to make sure that vulnerabilities get fixed. This month we helped to get vulnerabilities fixed in plugins that have 702,300+ active installs:

Plugin Vulnerabilities Added This Month That Are In The Current Version of the Plugins

Keeping your plugins up to date isn’t enough to keep you secure as these vulnerabilities in the current versions of plugins show:

Additional Vulnerabilities Added This Month

As usual, there were plenty of other vulnerabilities that we added to our data during the month. Most of the new vulnerabilities that were fixed this month are relatively minor.

28 Nov

Authenticated Remote Code Execution (RCE) Vulnerability in NextGEN Gallery

In reviewing reports of vulnerabilities to add them to our data, two of the important things we do is determining what type of vulnerability there actually is, as sometimes vulnerabilities are mislabeled, and we also check to make sure that vulnerability has actually been fixed. Those two can together when looking at a recent report of a local file inclusion (LFI) vulnerability in NextGEN Gallery.

Worth noting before we get in to the details is that the changelog entry for the version that was supposed to fix this, 2.1.57, lacked any mention of a security update.

The report didn’t really make a lot of sense. While it refers to an authenticated local file inclusion issue multiple times it also states that the vulnerability “may allow an authenticated user to read arbitrary files from the server”, which would seem to indicate that this is another type of vulnerability, an authenticated arbitrary file viewing vulnerability.

The report lacked a proof of concept for us to see how the issue would be exploited, which  should have cleared up what the vulnerability actually was, but with the knowledge that issue involved a failure to”properly validate user input in the cssfile parameter of a HTTP POST request” and the changes made in the version that was supposed to have fixed this we had a better idea of what was being referred to.

On the page /wp-admin/admin.php?page=ngg_other_options there is a section labeled Styles, normally the content in the File Content section of that will be saved to the file /wp-content/ngg_styles/nggallery.css. The problem is that the value of the filename is user specified with the input “style_settings[CSSfile]”. The change made in 2.1.57 would strip out two periods in a row from that input:

$cssfile = str_replace('..', '', $this->object->param('cssfile')); 
$abspath = $styles->find_selected_stylesheet_abspath($cssfile);

That would prevent directory traversal, that is moving up a directory by using “../”. That change though did nothing to stop someone from naming the file something like “rce.php”. You could place PHP code in the File Content section and that would lead to remote code execution (RCE) when the new file with .php extension is requested. That would be more serious issue than a local file inclusion vulnerability. We haven’t been able to find a local file inclusion or arbitrary file viewing vulnerability caused by this, so maybe there was just confusion as how the vulnerability should be referred to.

Normally the ability to have done this would be restricted to Administrator level users (who would normally already have the ability to do the equivalent of this vulnerability), but the plugin allows for lower level users to gain be provided to the plugin’s capabilities. For lower level users to have access to this they would need to have been given the ability to “Change options” and “Change style”.

Within an hour of us contacting the developer about the issue they responded and starting working on better fix.

The next week version 2.1.59 was released, that attempted to fix this but ran into a common issue. Code was added to try to restrict the extension of the file to css:

if (strpos($settings['CSSfile'], '.css', -0) == FALSE) { 
    return FALSE; 

That checks to make sure the filenames contains “.css”, so the filename “rce.php” wouldn’t be acceptable. The problem is that “rce.css.php” would be acceptable and since it ends with “.php” it would treated by the server as a PHP file.

After we notified the developers of that issue version 2.1.60 was released, which uses PHP’s functionality for getting a file’s extension and avoids the previous solution’s bypass problem:

$file_info = pathinfo($settings['CSSfile']); 
if (strpos($file_info['extension'], 'css') === FALSE) { 
    $valid = FALSE; 

Proof Of Concept

One the page http://path to WordPress]/wp-admin/admin.php?page=ngg_other_options use your web browser’s developer tools to modify the value of the input “style_settings[CSSfile]” to rce.php, place PHP code in the File Content textarea in the Styles section, and save. Requesting the URL http://path to WordPress]/wp-content/ngg_styles/rce.php will cause the PHP code to execute.

Make sure to replace “[path to WordPress]” with the location of WordPress


  • November 16, 2016 – Original report released.
  • November 16, 2016 – Developer notified.
  • November 16, 2016 – Developer responds.
  • November 23, 2016 – Version 2.1.60 released, which fixes vulnerability.
06 Jan

Ridiculous Vulnerability Report: NextGEN Gallery Cross site Scripting (XSS) Vulnerability

All too often we see that very serious security issues are not treated with the significance they should. What doesn’t help that situation is when security companies and other in the security community take relatively minor issues and try to make them in to something much larger than they actually are. Let’s take a look at an example that we came across the other day while reviewing new reports of vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins.

A company named Cyber Security Works put out a report claiming there is a “High” risk cross-site scripting vulnerability in the NextGEN Gallery plugin. The vulnerability report describes it as such:

Cross Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability in WordPress plugin Gravity Forms. By exploiting a Cross-site scripting vulnerability the attacker can hijack a logged in user’s session by stealing cookies. This means that the malicious hacker can change the logged in user’s password and invalidate the session of the victim while the hacker maintains access.

That sounds serious, but near the end of the report it becomes clear that it is not a serious issue at all:

Users: You MUST be an Administrator and logged into the site as an Administrator in order to enter/test XSS html testing code in the reported variables. Please do NOT actually try this test. It has been updated for security awareness

If a “malicious hacker” has access to an Administrator level account you have much bigger problems than the potential of the being able to exploit a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in a plugin, since that user would usually have almost unlimited access to the website. For example, they don’t need to exploit a vulnerability in a plugin to change someone’s password they can just do that from the Edit User page:


They would normally be able to modify plugins with that level of access as well, so the relative security of a plugin is of little importance at that point since the hacker could just change the plugin in any way they wanted.

The other issue with this is that Administrator level users (as well as the lower level Editor users) are specifically given the capability to use unfiltered HTML, so even without any plugins even installed they can do the equivalent of cross-site scripting and therefore in most cases what Cyber Security Works is labeling as a vulnerability is not that. The only time this could be considered a vulnerability is if the unfiltered HTML capability was disabled on a website, which it almost never is.