Four-year-old comment security bug affects 86 percent of WordPress sites

A Finnish IT company has uncovered a bug in WordPress 3 sites that could be used to launch a wide variety of malicious script-based attacks on site visitors’ browsers. Based on current WordPress usage statistics, the vulnerability could affect up to 86 percent of existing WordPress-powered sites.

The vulnerability, discovered by Jouko Pynnonen of Klikki Oy, allows an attacker to craft a comment on a blog post that includes malicious JavaScript code. On sites that allow comments without authentication—the default setting for WordPress—this could allow anyone to post malicious scripts within comments that could target site visitors or administrators. A proof of concept attack developed by Klikky Oy was able to hijack a WordPress site administrator’s session and create a new WordPress administrative account with a known password, change the current administrative password, and launch malicious PHP code on the server. That means an attacker could essentially lock the existing site administrator out and hijack the WordPress installation for malicious purposes.

“For instance, our [proof of concept] exploits first clean up traces of the injected script from the database,” the Klikki Oy team wrote in a blog post on the vulnerability, “then perform other administrative tasks such as changing the current user’s password, adding a new administrator account, or using the plugin editor to write attacker-supplied PHP code on the server (this impact applies to any WordPress XSS if triggered by an administrator). These operations happen in the background without the user seeing anything out of the ordinary. If the attacker writes new PHP code on the server via the plugin editor, another AJAX request can be used to execute it instantaneously, whereby the attacker gains operating system level access on the server.”

The current version of WordPress (version 4.0), which was released in September, is not vulnerable to the attack. However, WordPress issued a security update to version 4.0 last week to address unrelated cross-site scripting issues.

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