November 20th, 2007 at 20:31 UTC by Steven J. Murdoch
In my previous post, I discussed how I analyzed the recent attack on Light Blue Touchpaper. What I did not disclose was how the attacker gained access in the first place. It turned out to incorporate a zero-day exploit, which is why I haven’t mentioned it until now.
As a first step, the attacker exploited an SQL injection vulnerability. When I noticed the intrusion, I upgraded Wordpress then restored the database and files from off-server backups. Wordpress 2.3.1 was released less than a day before my upgrade, and was supposed to fix this vulnerability, so I presumed I would be safe.
I was therefore surprised when the attacker broke in again, the following day (and created himself an administrator account). After further investigation, I discovered that he had logged into the “admin” account — nobody knows the password for this because I set it to a long random string. Neither me nor other administrators ever used that account, so it couldn’t have been XSS or another cookie stealing attack. How was this possible?
From examining the Wordpress authentication code I discovered that the password hashing was backwards! While the attacker couldn’t have obtained the password from the hash stored in the database, by simply hashing the entry a second time, he generated a valid admin cookie. On Monday I posted a vulnerability disclosure (assigned CVE-2007-6013) to the BugTraq and Full-Disclosure mailing lists, describing the problem in more detail.
It is disappointing to see that people are still getting this type of thing wrong. In their 1978 summary, Morris and Thompson describe the importance of one way hashing and password salting (neither of which Wordpress does properly). The issue is currently being discussed on LWN.net and the wp-hackers mailing list. Hopefully some progress will be made at getting it right this time around.