Several years ago we noted a pretty big problem when it came to the security of WordPress plugins; many plugins with known security vulnerabilities in their most recent version were still available in the wordpress.org Plugin Directory. That was a big failure as making sure that those vulnerabilities were fixed or the plugin was pulled until it was fixed was such a low hanging fruit towards better plugin security. For a while after that we were keeping a watch for unfixed vulnerabilities to make sure that wasn’t occurring, but after a while we were simply too busy with services unrelated to security of WordPress that we didn’t have time to do this anymore. Recently we again had time to focus on the security of WordPress plugins, as part of that we started working a new plugin, Plugin Vulnerabilities, which lets you know of security vulnerabilities that exist and existed in the plugins you have installed.
When we started working on the plugin we quickly found that the issue of plugins with known vulnerabilities in their most recent versions still being available in the wordpress.org Plugin Directory hasn’t gone away. In less than a month we have helped to get known vulnerabilities in seven plugins fixed by either contacting the developers of the plugins – who in many are not notified by the person who discovered the vulnerability – or letting the people running the Plugin Directory know that a vulnerability exists in the plugin. Some of them were rather serious, one that we mentioned before involved a backup plugin that permitted any logged in user to download backups made by the plugin. In that case within a day of us passing along the issue to the Plugin Directory people the issue was resolved, that was after almost a month had gone by since the developer had been notified of the issue and two weeks after it was made public.
While looking into another vulnerability we found something more troubling. On September 10 a claimed vulnerability was disclosed in the plugin Rich Counter. In late November when we took a look at it to verify that it was real before add it to our plugin, we found that as described the exploit didn’t work. To exploit the vulnerability it said you should change your web browser’s user agent to “Mozilla<script>alert(document.cookie)</script>”. For us it didn’t work that way, but it did work if you removed “Mozilla” from the start of the user agent. We were somewhat curious as to what had happened to cause a situation where a vulnerability was correctly identified but the explanation of the exploitation of it to not work. We thought it might be case where someone else had actually discovered the issue and someone else was trying to take credit for it. We didn’t find anything to explain the situation, but while doing that we found that several WordPress related security projects had mentioned the disclosure of the vulnerability. We are rather troubled that they were aware of the vulnerability but had not made sure it was fixed or the plugin was pulled from the directory. What made this worse was that within days of us alerting the developer to the issue a partial fix was made and after further message the issue appears to be fully fixed. It would have been quite easy for them to have done the same, but they didn’t leaving website vulnerable when they didn’t have to be, so we feel it is worth highlighting their irresponsible behavior.
First up is Wordfence, which sells a WordPress security service. They mentioned the vulnerability back on October 30 in a post about plugins with vulnerabilities they wanted “to draw your attention to”, unfortunately they were more interested in drawing your attention to their website then actually drawing the attention of the developer to the issue who would have actually fixed the issue if they had contacted them as we did (or if the developer was unwilling at that time Wordfence should have then contacted the WordPress.org Plugin Directory about it).
The other place we found it mentioned was the in WPScan Vulnerability Database, a website that lists WordPress vulnerabilities, in an entry added on October 18. Again this came from someone selling WordPress security services and the project is also sponsored by another security company Sucuri. You have to question why security companies would be in the business of providing wider notice of security vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins but not letting the developer, who could actually fix the issue, or the people at the Plugin Directory know about the issue if their interest was truly in security versus making you more vulnerable and then selling you their security services.