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- Hackers Hiding Malicious Code in Exif Data of Images
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- Drupal Websites Not Receiving Security Updates in a Timely Manner
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Category Archives: Bad Security
With the state of web security being in such bad shape there is a need for good reporting on security issues. Unfortunately what we have seen is that the news organizations that exist are not doing a good job.
One indication of the poor job they are doing is that they are failing to take basic security measures on their own websites. In a previous post we looked at three major tech news websites that were running really out of date versions of Drupal, including one that is now over five years out of date. As of today they are still running the same out of date versions as they were then. In another cases we look at a news website specifically focused on security that was and still is running on an outdated and unsupported version of Plesk.
Another area of concern is that these news organizations have a habit of running stories based on information that rather simple research would show is false and on conjecture. In many cases this is due to reporters just repeating claims of security companies, which are often highly faulty. In a post from a couple of years ago we looked a couple of cases of this involving false claims about hacks of a version of WordPress. Today we have another example of this involving TYPO3. Recent reporting by heise Security claimed that there was a hack that only affects TYPO3 4.5 based websites due to an unknown vulnerability (German). We first spotted mention of this from claim from post on the TYPO3 blog calling in to question the reporting. Here what they said about the claim:
From our point of view this news coverage is not only incomplete – and therefore confusing to users – but also factually incorrect: According to our own analysis by the TYPO3 Security Team, none of the websites named by heise Security use the the current TYPO3 Version 4.5.32, for which there are no known security holes. In addition, several of the named websites do not use TYPO3 at all.
Because we clean up hacked TYPO3 websites we need to know what potential threats are out there, so that we can identify the source of hack in instances when we lack all of the evidence of how the hack occurred, we decided to do our own check into this to see if what TYPO3 was saying is accurate. To do this we looked what software the websites in the Google search result that heise Security reported showed the hacked websites were running. The first website in the search results was running Infopark CMS Fiona, so right there the claim that the hack only effects website is TYPO3 4.5 appears to be false. We then checked the rest of the websites listed on the first three pages of search results and found more that were not running TYPO3 4.5.
Here is what we found the website to be running:
Infopark CMS Fiona 1
TYPO3 4.1 1
TYPO3 4.2 2
TYPO3 4.4 3
TYPO3 4.5 16
TYPO3 4.6 1
Unidentified TYPO3 Version 1
TYPO3 4.5 does make up the majority, 53%, of the websites in our sample, but that is far different from the hack only affecting websites running that specific software. The fact that 80% of the websites running TYPO3 might indicate that the issue is related to TYPO3 in some way or it might just be a coincidence. The fact that TYPO3 4.5 made up 67% of the TYPO3 websites doesn’t seem to important as data from W3Techs.com indicates 90.6% of TYPO3 based websites are using some 4.x version and that 4.5 makes up 54.9% of the websites running 4.x.
Normally the pages of a TYPO3 based website will include a meta generator tag like this:
<meta name=”generator” content=”TYPO3 4.1 CMS” />
that lists the version of TYPO3, so heise Security should have been able to see that the websites were not all running TYPO 4.5 as they claimed.
By checking for the existence of a directory that was added in TYPO3 4.5.32 it does appear that some of the website TYPO3 4.5 based websites were are probably running 4.5.32, so the claim to the contrary in the TYPO3 blog post appears to be false.
Where heise Security reporting really fails, and too often other similar reporting does as well, is there is not even a mention of any attempt to determine how the websites were hacked. Determining how a website is hacked, to the extent possible, is a critical component of cleaning up a hacked website. What we see on a regular basis is that companies are hired to clean up a hacked website, they don’t determine how it was hacked so that the vulnerability is fixed, and then the website gets hacked again. While we are sure that creating stories about the fact that a bunch of websites were hacked draws readers, it doesn’t do anything to prevent websites from being hacked in the future. It also can be misleading as this article emphasizes a TYPO3 connection despite a lack of evidence that this hack was due to something in TYPO3.
If this hack was due to a vulnerability in TYPO3 it would show up in the logs of HTTP activity, so reviewing that would be one of the first steps in determining how a website with this hack was hacked. You can see an example of how that is done in a previous post where we looked at a website that had been hacked by exploiting a vulnerability in outdated versions of Joomla.
While keeping the software running a website up to date is a basic security measure, as it prevents the website from being exploited due to a known vulnerability in outdated versions of the software, we continue to see that the software isn’t being kept up to date. Our recent look at the stats of our tools for checking web software versions showed that a large percentage of websites checked were running outdated versions of Joomla, WordPress, and MediaWiki. Even websites that you would expect would be taking security seriously are failing to keep the software up to date. We recently looked at companies offering to clean up hacked Joomla websites and found that they were not keeping the software running their websites up to date. All of those companies are rather small, so what about higher profile organizations? The examples below show that even they are failing to do this basic task.
Threatpost is a security news website run by Kaspersky Lab, a major provider of security software. If you visit their website with our Server Details web browser extension you will be warned that the website is using outdated software. Clicking on the icon for the extension will let you know that they are using an outdated version of the nginx web server software:
The next version in 0.7 series of nginx was released in June of 2010 and the last release in the series was released in July of 2011. There have been two security vulnerabilities discovered – and resolved in newer versions of nginx – that impact the version being used, the older one being disclosed in November of 2011.
This isn’t an isolated issue at Kaspersky, in April of last year we posted about the fact that their US website was running an outdated version of Drupal. They are still are running the same outdated version, which is now over four years out of date.
University of Cambridge
The website for the University of Cambridge is running an outdated version of Drupal, with at least one security update missed:
The university’s computer science department has a Security Group, which you would expect would want to make sure that the university’s websites is being kept secure, but at this point they are not even doing for their own blog. Their Light Blue Touchpaper research blog is running a very out of date version of WordPress:
Three years ago we posted about the fact that trust marks shown on websites that claim to certify that the websites are secure cannot be trusted to identify if a website is actually secure for a number of reasons, including that in many cases they scan the websites from the outside so there are many things that they would never detect. What we recently noticed is that the Norton Secure Seal service fails to do a really basic security check that can be done from the outside. When it comes to the security of websites one of the basic security measures is to keep the software running the website up to date. This prevents the website from being hacked to the exploitation of a known vulnerability in the software that has been fixed in a subsequent release. As we have found the Norton Secure Seal service doesn’t check to make sure the software running the website they are claiming is secure is up to date.
As an example of this we will take a look at the website of an IT security company that carries the Norton Secure Seal as you can see here:
Using our Joomla Version Check web browser extension you can see that the website is running an outdated version of Joomla:
That version of Joomla, 3.1.1, is seven months out of date and more importantly subsequent versions have fixed four security vulnerabilities, including a vulnerability rated as having critical severity and a vulnerability rated as having high severity. A website with that level of security issue should not be labeled as being secure.
The technology our web browser extension uses to detect that Joomla is powering a web page and what version is in use is rather simple and there is no excuse for a major company such as Symantec, the maker of the Norton Secured Seal service, not being able to do the same. Providing more awareness that an outdated version of Joomla is in use is definitely needed as outdated versions of Joomla are widely used, including among companies that provide security services for Joomla websites, and some older versions contain a vulnerability that is being exploited by hackers.
It isn’t just Joomla that Norton Secured Seal service doesn’t check to make sure is up to date; the same website has a blog running an outdated and insecure version of WordPress as well:
We are frequently hired to clean up websites that another company was previously hired to clean up but then has been hacked again (or wasn’t actually cleaned up in the first place). In some cases we wouldn’t lay the blame on the company, sometimes hacks are well hidden and getting them cleaned up can take more than one cleanup (which you shouldn’t be charge extra for) and in other cases there are security issues that the company doing the cleanup can’t handle. For example, if your web host has a security issues then they are going to only ones who can fix that. What we find in most instances though is that company doing the hack cleanup has not done the basic elements of the hack cleanup.
When someone contact us about cleaning up a website that was previously cleaned the first question we asked is if the first company determined how the website was hacked. Determining how the website was hacked is important part of the cleanup as if you don’t know how it was hacked you won’t know if the security issue that allowed the website has been fixed. Considering that the websites have been hacked again it isn’t surprising that the answer we hear over and over is that they didn’t. But isn’t just that they didn’t determine how the website got hacked, the companies didn’t even try to determine how the website was hacked. Either these companies are knowingly cutting corners or they don’t care enough about the service they providing to know what work they should be doing. In either case what they are doing is highly unethical.
We don’t ask our clients who they previously hired, but they do bring it up from time to time. During recent cleanup of a Joomla website the previous company was mentioned and when we went to their website we noticed that they were running an outdated version of Joomla. Keeping the software running on a website is a basic security measure, so any company that doesn’t bother to do that really shouldn’t have anything to do with the security of other people’s website. We took a look around at companies advertising to clean up Joomla websites and we found that all of the companies were running out of date software. As warning to the public and as a reminder of how bad the current state of companies providing security services is we have highlighted them below:
Dean Marshall Consultancy (http://www.deanmarshall.co.uk/)
Support for Joomla 1.5 ended in September 2012, so a websites shouldn’t be running it anymore (though many, including joomla.org, are still using it as we mentioned yesterday). As part of cleaning up a hacked website still running Joomla 1.5 you will eventually want to migrate it to a newer version, which doesn’t seem like a task for a company that still hasn’t done it for their own website.
Joomla Help Live (http://joomla.cmshelplive.com/)
Joomla 1.7 is over two years out of date and more importantly it has a serious security vulnerability that we have seen being exploited.
US Joomla Force (http://www.usjoomlaforce.com/)
One of the biggest obstacles we see to improving website security is that many of the organizations that should be leading on security are not even taking basic website security measures themselves. One type of organization we see that with is news organizations that cover web security. Previously we discussed several that were running very out of date and insecure versions of Drupal. This time we will use InfoRiskToday, which describes itself as providing “credible, timely information that security leaders can put to use as they craft comprehensive information security strategies”, to highlight a security risk and several tools that we provide that can make detecting it relatively easy.
Plesk is control panel software that runs under a website and permits management of the software on the server and configuring the server. It also has had serious security vulnerabilities that have lead to many websites being hacked (one example being a major hack at Media Temple). The way to remain relatively secure against that sort of thing is to keep Plesk up to date, as should be done with all software. Unfortunately what we have seen is that there are still servers using Plesk 9, for which extended support ended back in June of last year. Since it isn’t supported anymore, if a new security vulnerability was found it wouldn’t be fixed, so Plesk should be updated to a supported version as soon possible to keep it secure.
We have created a pair of web browser extensions available for Chrome that can make checking for such an outdated Plesk installation relatively easy. The first one, Control Panel Login, looks for HTTP headers that indicate that Plesk is in use and when found displays the Plesk logo in the URL bar. Here is how looks when you visit InfoRiskToday’s website:
Clicking on the icon takes you to the standard URL for logging on to Plesk from the website. Our second extension then comes in to play. Control Panel Version Check will display an icon in the URL bar if it detects that a page with Plesk version information is being visited. Clicking on the icon will then display the version information and indicate if it is outdated. In InfoRiskToday’s case you can see that they are still using Plesk 9:
When it comes to the security of your website, your web host plays an important part but too often they are failing do what they need to do to keep your website secure. One of things they should be doing is keeping software on the server up to date as that prevents your website from being exploited due to a known vulnerability in the software.
To make it easier to spot when web hosts are using outdated control panel software we released the Control Panel Version Check extension, available for Firefox and Chrome, back in December. Using it you can see that HostGator is using an outdated version of cPanel:
The version of cPanel they are running, 11.36, has only been unsupported for a week now so the situation isn’t nearly as bad as many of the hosts we highlight for running years out of date software. But what makes it worth highlighting is that on HostGator’s website they say that they provide the “Latest cPanel Control Panel”:
The latest version at this point is 11.42, which was released a couple of weeks ago. If you are going to tout that you are using the latest version of cPanel then it is really unacceptable to not even be using a supported version.
In addition to the outdated cPanel, HostGator is using a year out of date version of phpMyAdmin:
There have been a number of serious security vulnerabilities fixed in subsequent versions of phpMyAdmin.
When it comes to bad security advice, one of the most prominent items is that hiding what version of software you are running will provide you with protection. The reality is that in most cases hackers won’t even bother checking if you are running the software before attempting to exploit a hack. Will show you an example of that in a second, but the important take away is that if you are running software with known vulnerabilities the solution is to to update the software instead of trying to hide what version you are running because if you are running a vulnerable version you are going to get hacked no matter how hard you try to hide the version.
When people promote hiding the version in use they are actually making website less secure because it makes it harder for people to see that someone is running an outdated version that needs to updated and warn them. Google’s Webmaster Tools provides alerts when outdated software is in use, but that only works when the version information is available. We have created a web browser extension that warns when various outdated software is in use according to the meta generator on the page, but that only works if that version information hasn’t been removed from the page.
BOT for JCE
Outdated versions of the Joomla extension JCE contain a very serious security vulnerability that allows a hacker to upload files to a website. Exploitation of this vulnerability has been a common cause of the hackings among the hacked Joomla websites we have cleaned up. This would seem to due in part due to ease that someone can exploit it due to the fact that the disclosure included PHP code that handles exploiting the vulnerability. It easy to spot if that code has been used as the user agent left in the log files is “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”. Our website doesn’t even run on Joomla, but we have had numerous attempts to exploit outdated versions of the JCE extensions anyway. Some of the attempts just appear to completely untargeted (probably someone trying the exploit on every website), while a lot of others appear to be based simply on the word joomla being in a URL on the website. Our recent logs show a significant spikes in attempts after we had a post on a security vulnerability in Joomla. The log entries for one of those attempts is shown below and the important element to note is that the hacker starts out by trying to exploit the vulnerability. They make no attempt to check if a vulnerable version of JCE is in use, that JCE is in use, or that Joomla is even in use first. Any attempt to hide what version of JCE or Joomla would have no impact of the vulnerability being exploited.
126.96.36.199 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:08 -0500] “POST /index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&method=form&cid=20&6bc427c8a7981f4fe1f5ac65c1246b5f=cf6dd3cf1923c950586d0dd595c8e20b HTTP/1.1″ 500 885 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
188.8.131.52 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:08 -0500] “POST /index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&version=1576&cid=20 HTTP/1.1″ 404 5923 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
184.108.40.206 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:08 -0500] “POST /blog/2014/01/14/vulnerability-in-joomla-1-6-1-7-and-2-5-0-2-5-2-being-exploited-now/index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&method=form&cid=20&6bc427c8a7981f4fe1f5ac65c1246b5f=cf6dd3cf1923c950586d0dd595c8e20b HTTP/1.1″ 500 885 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
220.127.116.11 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:08 -0500] “POST /blog/2014/01/14/vulnerability-in-joomla-1-6-1-7-and-2-5-0-2-5-2-being-exploited-now/index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&version=1576&cid=20 HTTP/1.1″ 404 6290 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
18.104.22.168 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:10 -0500] “POST /blog/2014/01/14/vulnerability-in-joomla-1-6-1-7-and-2-5-0-2-5-2-being-exploited-now/index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&method=form&cid=20&6bc427c8a7981f4fe1f5ac65c1246b5f=cf6dd3cf1923c950586d0dd595c8e20b HTTP/1.1″ 500 885 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
22.214.171.124 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:10 -0500] “POST /blog/2014/01/14/vulnerability-in-joomla-1-6-1-7-and-2-5-0-2-5-2-being-exploited-now/index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&version=1576&cid=20 HTTP/1.1″ 404 6290 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
126.96.36.199 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:11 -0500] “GET /blog/2014/01/14/vulnerability-in-joomla-1-6-1-7-and-2-5-0-2-5-2-being-exploited-now/images/stories/food.php?rf HTTP/1.1″ 404 6237 “-” “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.2) Gecko/20100115 Firefox/3.6″
188.8.131.52 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:09 -0500] “POST /index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&method=form&cid=20&6bc427c8a7981f4fe1f5ac65c1246b5f=cf6dd3cf1923c950586d0dd595c8e20b HTTP/1.1″ 500 885 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
184.108.40.206 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:19 -0500] “POST /index.php?option=com_jce&task=plugin&plugin=imgmanager&file=imgmanager&version=1576&cid=20 HTTP/1.1″ 404 5923 “-” “BOT/0.1 (BOT for JCE)”
220.127.116.11 – - [03/Feb/2014:01:01:20 -0500] “GET /images/stories/food.php?rf HTTP/1.1″ 404 5921 “-” “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.2) Gecko/20100115 Firefox/3.6″
We previously touched on Rackspace’s bad security when it comes to their clients, but they also don’t feel the need to take a basic security measure with their own website. That basic security measure being that that you should keep software running on your website up date. By doing that you prevent your website from being able to exploited though a known vulnerability in older versions of the software.
Rackspace’s Knowledge Center website is still running Drupal 7.18:
That version is now a year out of date and Rackspace has failed to apply four security updates (7.19, 7.20, 7.24, and 7.26). With each of those security updates it has been urged that “Sites are urged to upgrade immediately after reading the security announcement.”. Updating between versions of Drupal 7 is relatively easy, so there isn’t any excuse for them not to have updated it. It also raises the question if Rackspace is handling the rest of their security, much of which is not as visible, as poorly as they are with this.
In the past we have mentioned a number of web hosts who were not keeping the MySQL administration software phpMyAdmin running on their servers up to date. In addition to the risk that directly poses to the websites hosted with them, due to the fact that the web host is running software with known vulnerabilities, it is indication that the web host might not be handling other parts of the security properly either.
Go Daddy is yet another web host who hasn’t kept phpMyAdmin up to date on their system. They are currently running phpMyAdmin 18.104.22.168. Support, including security updates, for the 2.11.x series ended on July 12, 2011. While running software that hasn’t been supported for two and half years is pretty bad, it pales in comparison to other web hosts who we have seen running up to seven years out of date versions. What makes Go Daddy worth mentioning is they promoted that they were using 22.214.171.124 after support had ended.
On the day after support for 2.11.x ended they put out notification about the need to update newer versions of phpMyAdmin to fix several vulnerabilities. The notification reads in part (the emphasis is theirs):
The developers of the popular browser-based MySQL tool, phpMyAdmin, recently released updates to patch multiple critical security vulnerabilities in phpMyAdmin 3.4.3 and earlier. The vulnerabilities could let attackers overwrite session information to bypass authentication, inject malicious code, or perform other actions.
Good news, though. The 2.11.x versions aren’t affected. We use phpMyAdmin version 126.96.36.199, so you don’t need to worry if you’re using our shared hosting. (But, it’s a good time to make sure all your other hosting apps are up to date. For more information, see Upgrading to a New Version of a Hosting Quick-Install Application.)
If you use phpMyAdmin 3.4.3 or earlier on a virtual or dedicated server, you must download and install the patch or latest version.
That shows that Go Daddy was aware that phpMyAdmin could contain security vulnerabilities and that it needs to be kept up to date. Yet they were touting that they were running a version that was no longer supported with security updates.
It does appear that Go Daddy made attempt to upgrade their phpMyAdmin installation around a year ago, as the phpMy Admin documentation on the server is for phpMyAdmin 3.5.5, which was released on December 20, 2012. Other web hosts are able to handle upgrading phpMyAdmin in timely manner, so it would appear Go Daddy has some serious problems if they are not even able to complete an upgrade.
When it comes to the security of your website, your web host plays an important part but too often they are failing do what they need to do to keep your website secure. One of the areas we have see web hosts fail at is keeping the control panel software running under website’s up to date. With the Plesk control panel that has lead to large amounts of website being hacked due to vulnerabilities that existed in older versions of the software. In attempt to make it easier to spot when web hosts are failing to keep control panel software up to date we have just released a web browser extension Control Panel Version Check, available for Firefox and Chrome, that provides version information for cPanel and Plesk based control panels and warns when an outdated version is in use.
To show how the extension comes can highlight unsafe hosting let’s take a look at one host. HostMonster claims that “By design our servers are secure.” and that “The security level of your site depends on the code that is uploaded to HostMonster’s Servers.”. You would think when they make such a definite statement about their security and faulting customers for any security breach they would at least being doing basic security, but that isn’t the case. The second item on their basic security check list is to “Update all scripts/applications to the newest versions available.” and there reason for this is that “Old security holes are updated and remedied in new versions of software, so updating to the newest versions available ensures that you are running the most secure option available.”. That sounds like reasonable advice; unfortunately they don’t follow it, despite claiming they are secure by design:
Support for version 11.32 of cPanel ended in August. Since then cPanel has put out several security announcements for vulnerabilities in cPanel. With support ended for cPanel 11.32 none of those vulnerabilities would be fixed in that version.
It doesn’t end there, with our phpMyAdmin Version Check extension you can see that they are also running an outdated version of phpMyAdmin:
That version is over a year out of date and there have been numerous security fixes released in subsequent versions.