Revolution Slider Vulnerability: Negligence Through Security Through Obscurity

September 4, 2014

Yesterday, a vulnerability in an old version of Revolution Slider was reported. The vulnerability allows visitors to view arbitrary files on the web server, like wp-config.php, without being logged in. All you need to view any file on the server is to know the location of the file and for the web-server user to have permission to view it.

According to ThemePunch, the plugin developer, the vulnerability was patched 29 versions ago in February, but they decided not to publicize the severity of the issue, aside from a single ‘fixed security issue’ line in their change log. This was because:

“[We were] told not to make the exploit public by several security companies so that the instructions of how to hack the slider will not appear on the web.”

As a result of this negligence and the way that Revolution Slider is Updated and bundled with themes, this simply left any website not running a recent version of Revolution Slider vulnerable for months to an extremely serious file inclusion vulnerability.

Its Your Fault For Not Updating

This seems to be the company line for this issue. After the vulnerability was made public, they have stated:

“You should always keep the slider up to date like any other WordPress component but urgently need to do this when using Version 4.1.4 or below in order to fix the security issue. […] We are sorry for you guys out there whose slider came bundled with a theme and the theme author did not update the slider. Since you cannot use the included autoupdate function please contact your theme author and inform him about his failure!”

And it is true, you should keep your plugins updated.

However, this is a paid plugin and doesn’t allow easy updates like a normal wordpress plugin does. Further, on all of the sites I fixed, they didn’t appear to have a nag telling the user an update was available from the backend. So, unless you are a developer and actively visited the plugin’s website, you wouldn’t even know the plugin needs to be updated, let alone an extremely serious security vulnerability.

As they mention, they sell a developer license that allows developers to include the plugin in their theme. When the plugin is included with themes, you can’t update it without updating the theme. So, any theme that isn’t regularly updated is at risk. And, since some shoddy developers edit the theme directly, rather than making a proper child theme, it isn’t always easy to update the theme. This, of course, isn’t the fault of ThemePunch, nor is it good practices to develop like this, but it does happen and is going to be a legitimate problem for people.

Even if you actually have the premium plugin itself, you can’t just update it. There is no auto-update feature(at least not in the vulnerable versions I saw,) so you can’t update it like you would a regular WordPress plugin. Nor, to my knowledge, is there an update nag on the plugin page telling users they need to update. Instead, you need to download the premium plugin, which requires a login to the site that sells it. 

The catch here is that most website owners aren’t going to have access to the login information needed to update the plugin. Your average website owner isn’t a developer. They probably paid someone to create the theme, who presumably installed a valid copy of the plugin. Unfortunately due to the nature of web design, this simply means that hundreds(thousands?) of sites are silently vulnerable to an extremely serious vulnerability and won’t even know it, unless they have a responsible web developer or host. Again, this isn’t the fault of ThemePunch, but is a fault with the premium plugin model when it doesn’t allow for quick/easy updates.

Negligence Through Security Through Obscurity

According to the plugin author, this vulnerability was fixed in February, but they chose not to report it. It has been reported that this vulnerability was publicly disclosed months ago and regardless, it is safe to say that it was known by some people for the past few months.

By choosing not to report the vulnerability and making site owners aware of this huge security risk, they effectively pushed back the date where we found out about it leaving their customer’s sites vulnerable to a known attack. And, now that is is released and being exploited like mad, we are left scrambling to fix it anyway. So, not reporting it only helped the bad guys.

I understand fully that this is a paid plugin and the need for them to protect it. I get that. And, I understand that you should keep your plugins updated. Nothing in their statements that I have seen is untrue.

However, in the event of a serious vulnerability like this, not making a valid attempt at reporting it, especially when you know that your plugin doesn’t get updated frequently and the vulnerability likely impacts a large number of sites, is negligent.

Updating a Plugin You Can’t Update

I don’t use this plugin on WordPress templates I develop, but it is used by several clients that I host. I found it bundled in two client’s themes and installed as a plugin for two other clients. All 4 had their wp-config.php file downloaded already and all sites on my servers have been scanned for this vulnerability already.

I wrote a quick and dirty patch for the outputImage function, which you can view here. This is only meant as a temporary fix, until you can assess the issue and do a proper update, but since this attack is ongoing and widespread, you should take some sort of action asap.

Mod_Security also appears to block the attack.

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One Response to “Revolution Slider Vulnerability: Negligence Through Security Through Obscurity”

  1. MValdez Says:

    Thanks for posting this. Lot of sites mentioned the plugin developers “patched silently” the vulnerability but nobody talks about the elephant in the room: themepunch was irresponsible for not alerting their customers. I mean, they have ways to contact their clients directly (end users and developers who paid for the plugin) or indirectly (through the resellers like themeforest) but decided to hide it to save face (they excuse was pretty silly excuse).

    Regards, MV.


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